Sexual harassment in the Arab world is a real problem, yet authorities have frequently failed to take action against it. Instead, women are shamed and blamed as if sexual harassment knows some kind of dress code.
In a recently published report by The Arab Barometer, a nonpartisan research network, the prevalence of sexual harassment in the past 12 months in several Arab countries was exposed. The countries included in the study are Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Libya, and Tunisia.
Here are some of the major highlights of the report:
Sexual harassment is most common in Egypt
According to the report, verbal sexual harassment in public places happens more frequently than physical harassment in all the Arab countries included in the study.
Sexual harassment is the highest, in terms of percentages, in Egypt where 44 percent of those surveyed said they experienced some kind of verbal harassment in the country during the past 12 months. Overall, 62 percent of the women in Egypt have been sexually harassed, whether verbally or physically. The phenomenon in the North African country was pretty common among the younger respondents (aged 17-28) as 90 percent of women in that age group reported being sexually harassed over the period studied. After all, Cairo was once named the "worst megacity" for women. Surprisingly, though, the report revealed that harassment against women is the highest in the Dumyat governorate, located about 200 km north of Cairo, where 93 percent of women reported being sexually harassed.
In Sudan, the country with the second-highest rates, 38 percent of those surveyed said they've been sexually harassed over the stated period of time.
The Arab countries with the lowest sexual harassment rates include Libya (20 percent) and Tunisia (15 percent).
Women are sexually harassed more than men, with the exception of Iraq and Tunisia
The Arab Barometer says that sexual harassment is a "gendered problem," an unfortunate statement that's been proven with numbers this time around.
In the majority of the countries surveyed, 39 percent of the women reported being sexually harassed over the past 12 months compared to 22 percent of men. The only exceptions in this case are Iraq and Tunisia.
In the former, more men reported being sexually harassed in public spaces (42 percent) versus women (35 percent). In the latter country, the percentage of men and women who reported being sexually harassed is equal, standing at 16 percent.
As for Iraq and Tunisia, the areas where men and women are sexually harassed differ as well.
For women in Iraq, Erbil is the worst place for them as 57 percent have reported being sexually harassed there. For men (88 percent) in the country, Dhi Qar is the worst area for them.
In Tunisia, women are more prone to being sexually harassed in Kairouan, where 28 percent reported being sexually harassed. As for men, around 43 percent reported being sexually harassed in Bizerte, located 65 km north of the capital Tunis.
In Lebanon, sexual harassment occurs mostly in Beirut
In Lebanon, the capital city of Beirut recorded the highest rate of sexual harassment, with 47 percent of women saying they've experienced some kind of harassment. Governorates in the South of Lebanon have also reported high rates of harassment.
The Arab Barometer revealed the rates of harassment in several governorates in countries included in the study. For example, in Palestine, the data revealed that people living in refugee camps are more vulnerable to sexual harassment (25 percent) than those living in rural areas (15 percent).
The highest rate of sexual harassment in Palestine is in the Rafah governorate (around 51 percent), a refugee camp in the southern Gaza strip.
Here's a breakdown of the governorate with the highest rates of sexual harassment in the remaining Arab countries included in the study:
- Algeria: Ain Timouchent (86 percent)
- Jordan: Madaba shows (58 percent)
- Libya: Tobrouq (46 percent)
- Morocco: Rabat, Salé and Kenitra (68 percent)
- Sudan: River Nile (91 percent)
- Yemen: Abyan (94 percent)
A look at domestic violence
According to The Arab Barometer, respondents were asked to answer "yes/no" to questions describing violent acts such as being pushed, grabbed, or shoved; having an object thrown at the victim; or being slapped.
Over the past 12 months, roughly half of the respondents in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen reported that one of their household members has been physically abused over the stated period. In Iraq, Libya, and Palestine that percentage rises to 70 percent.
The split between the genders in terms of domestic violence differs from country to country.
Males are victims of domestic violence in the majority of the participating countries: Algeria (34 percent), Iraq (49 percent), Jordan (48 percent), Libya (66 percent), Palestine (51 percent), Sudan (41 percent), and Tunisia (52 percent).
Females make up the majority of domestic violence victims in Egypt (43 percent), Lebanon (56 percent), and Morocco (35 percent).
The problems of violence against women at a glance
In the Arab world, the topic of "violence against women" is rarely ever addressed explicitly. Women are often shamed for speaking out about harassment, rape, domestic violence, or any type of abuse they've encountered in their lifetime. The laws - that have supposedly passed in an attempt to counter the violence - are rarely ever implemented properly.
The fact that these topics are still deemed "taboo" pushes women to stay silent in the midst of violence. Some don't report their experience because such gender-based violence has been normalized in their communities.
Sexual harassment and rape are often dismissed as "mistakes" committed by men who "deserve second chances." Even Arab celebrities who have publicly been exposed for harassing and raping women are let go without so much as a scratch.
Sexual harassment and domestic violence won't disappear in the region until the social stigma surrounding the issues is addressed. Luckily, many activists in the region have been pushing for (and achieving in some cases) change.