It’s a duty of all to stop sexual harassment

Everyone in society has a responsibility to stamp out sexual harassment before it grows into something far worse

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The notable rise in the number of cases of sexual harassment suffered by women in the UAE is something that should be dealt with before it becomes worse. As The National reported yesterday, lawyers and psychologists have expressed concern that incidents are becoming more common and are urging women – and men – to report incidents and seek professional support.

Based on the number of court appearances involving charges related to sexual harassment, the incidence is increasing every year. In the past week, the Dubai courts dealt with a man accused of groping an Indian housewife while they were in an elevator. The attack was presaged by him harassing her on many other occasions, showing that bad conduct, if not halted quickly, can escalate into something worse.

Another case involved an Emirati student who was traumatised after being repeatedly sexually harassed. She said she viewed such conduct as "the norm in conservative societies" where women were segregated from men. Even her brothers, she said, would laugh and say it is normal.

But is this really “normal”? And should it be? In a multicultural society like the UAE, the cultural differences between the many different segments of the community further complicate this matter.

This issue requires our immediate attention because it affects the whole society, not just the specific victims of abuse. It is humiliating for women to have to be constantly alert while walking in public, ready in case something happens to them purely because of their gender – even if it wasimply being ogled by men. As the Indian housewife’s case showed, by failing to protest against harassment, more inappropriate actions could be tolerated with time. If women remain silent, questioning themselves instead of questioning society, the problem can get worse.

Sexual harassment is a global issue, and many women in countries affected by war or conflict face far worse conduct. Cultural restraints mean there is a paucity of research into the phenomenon in the Middle East but a recent study published by The Lancet, the medical journal, suggests 4.5 per cent of women in the region have been victims of sexual harassment, with the true figure is likely to be much higher.

Both men and women must speak up, confront and condemn such behaviour. Everyone in society has a responsibility to stamp out sexual harassment before it grows into something far worse.