The #MeToo movement is making strides in the US, but there is no such movement for the vast majority of women around the world. From equality in the home to safe public spaces for women, the fight for equality is far from won.
Jordan and the surrounding region are not particularly known for gender equality, but regardless, sometimes female experiences in the region reach new lows and genuinely shock us.
These experiences need not be so overt that they make headline news, but these stories must be recorded so that in time, the pervasiveness of these experiences are known and can eventually be eradicated.
Allow me to put this into some perspective: no more than a week ago I was at an external office of the Ministry of Justice in Jordan filing some paperwork on behalf of my Jordanian mother. Disregarding the inconvenience of being a Lebanese daughter to a Jordanian mother (yes, women cannot pass down their nationality here) as I stood in a cue – that was more of a heavy metal mosh pit – two rather large (in a looming sense) typically Jordanian men we’re gawking at me.
From my peripheral vision, it was clear they were having a discussion: so I tuned in. It was not pleasant; assuming I was a foreigner, they made comments on my body and my clothing that were appalling to say the least. So, I yelled, in Arabic, that I am not deaf and I am not blind, respect yourselves.
They responded by snorting.
I went downstairs like any self-righteous woman would, straight to the police officer at the door of the building.
I admit, I continued my yelling rant, “Is there no where in this country that a woman can feel safe? We’re in the Ministry of Justice, Justice!”
His reaction? Well, he started to laugh – a lot – and without shame. I couldn’t believe it but in retrospect I really should have, having lived in the Arab world my whole life. I stormed back upstairs, papers still needed filing. I had stirred a considerable commotion and I could see plainly that the men were trying to hide.
An older officer came and found me, with a cigarette in his hand, “Are you the one who’s complaining? Where are the guys?” At this point, I let it go. He looked exactly the same as my harassers.
As Woman’s Day draws nearer, it made me think, what other “safe spaces” in the region aren’t really safe for women? I posted a status on my personal Facebook account asking my female friends if they would share any of their experiences. Lo and behold, a full inbox.
I will share some of these stories, briefly and anonymously, because it is crucial to understand the depth and breadth of harassment and the absolute breach of social contract of harassment taking place in “safe” spaces.
A 28-year-old Pakistani woman working for an International NGO in Islamabad, shared that as part of yearly check up, she visited an upper class hospital in the city. While she was there, she told her male doctor that she was having slight chest pains.
Now, typically in this scenario (and doctors correct me if I am mistaken) but a stethoscope would be placed on her chest to check her breathing. Rather than do this, however, the doctor groped her breast in a painfully overt manner. She stayed silent. He then insisted she raise her skirt so that he could check for varicose veins, which again correct me if I am wrong, is a common ailment of the elderly.
In the UAE a 29-year-old Iranian business woman had a blatantly disturbing incident with a police officer. As someone who was raised in Dubai, this story is no less than shocking as the caliber of police officers in the country was, in my mind, unmatched in terms of professionalism.
As she was driving home one evening, at a relatively late hour, a police car began to follow her – he did not signal for her to pull over. Instead he drove so that he was in parallel to her and when she was in view he stuck his tongue out in a very vulgar manner.
She was afraid so she pulled into the nearest valet to hide. An hour later she returns to find the police man still waiting for her. Rather than taking her car home, she jumped into a taxi and when he approached her asking in Arabic, “What’s your phone number? Let me call you.” She replied, “I don’t speak Arabic.” He followed her halfway home before giving up.
At this point, we might stop and wonder why hadn’t these women raised these incidents with the authorities; and the reality is because first, these women feel ashamed, and that’s quite natural. Second, because the legal mechanisms tend to drag on with no end, and finally, because these men hold some position of authority and at the end of the day, it’s a man’s word versus a woman’s. And we all know how those situations typically play out.
The US is having it’s #MeToo movement where women are being heard and men are being punished for their transgressions. It’s a positive development but even in the US it hasn’t necessarily trickled down the most vulnerable women. On International Women’s Day this year it’s important to remember that there is no #MeToo movement in the Arab world or wider region, and women still face massive obstacles to being heard – and men are far from being held accountable for their behavior.
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