SHARJAH // Police and officials are taking steps to stamp out what they describe as "immoral" behaviour in Sharjah's public parks. The emirate has more than 50 parks, designed to be havens of tranquility in the busy emirate, where families come to relax and play. But 26 are said to be blighted by problems including rough sleepers, fights and men intimidating women.
Now, police and the municipality are to co-operate in stepping up patrols to ensure parks and gardens remain safe for all to use. Col Ahmed bin Darwish, the Director of Sharjah Police's Anjad Patrol Unit, said: "You only need to wait until it gets dark and you will see all sorts of immoral behaviour in our parks. This trend is alien to our culture and society, and it inconveniences people. "Nothing that is immoral and a crime will be tolerated."
Mr Darwish said the campaign involved uniformed and plain-clothes police patrolling the parks from 5pm until they close. Park security guards have also been given a dedicated hotline to call police. Yaseen Mohammed, the director of Sharjah Municipality's Agriculture Department, said single men were a particular problem in parks after dark. He said they often stared at women, especially those jogging in the morning. As a consequence, park opening hours had changed.
Last month, it was announced that parks would be closed until 4pm each day after complaints about maintenance staff staring at women. That decision, however, was swiftly reversed after complaints from residents that they were being deprived of a jogging route. Maintenance and cleaning work now takes place between 1pm and 3pm to ensure men working outdoors were kept away from women exercising. Hanan Jassim, head of the parks section at Sharjah Municipality, said: "We have already committed three parks to female-only use - Green Belt Ladies Park, Al Zubair Park, and Mazeraa Ladies Park.
"We now have 99 security guards in the emirate's parks to help keep them safe, and to prevent men from misbehaving in parks that are mixed." Aisha Faisal Mohammed, a resident of Sharjah, welcomed the moves. She said it was common to see groups of men staring at women. "Imagine walking when you know some people are staring at you - not just one person, but groups of guys," she said. "Sometimes, they will comment and other times laugh at you."
Shifa Ali, also a resident of Sharjah, said: "Our religion tells us that men should lower their gaze when a woman passes. This rule is never respected in Sharjah parks." But one security guard said the campaign was going too far. "I still don't understand what they want us to do," he said. "Do they want us to report any man we see looking at a woman?" firstname.lastname@example.org