Many expatriate and Saudi women here say men harass them routinely in public places. They also face discrimination in the workplace in terms of pay and career advancement.
Halimah Kamal, an accountant at a public relations agency, said harassment is a problem for women at malls and at work.
“Many young men, mostly Yemenis and Saudis, harass women in shopping malls while others create difficulties for them in the workplace, despite (the women's) competence and education,” said Kamal.
She said many young men chase women at malls. They follow them into the parking lots and even with their cars. “This happens because of the lack of security at malls and markets,” she said. Maria Ali, a Saudi student, said this has become a major headache for her. “Many young and even old men are a big problem for us. I'm not confident enough to handle them. They don’t show any respect for women,” she said.
She said there is discrimination against women in the workplace too. “Many professional women often work harder than men but are paid less. This discrimination affects their creativity and passion for work.”
Arab News reported this week that a group of young men harassed and verbally abused five young women at a Dhahran mall. The video of the incident went viral, causing widespread anger and calls for new laws to counter sexual harassment.
Arab News also reported recently that many young men pay money or befriend security guards to gain access to malls.
Maleeha Ahmad, a general dentist in Riyadh, said: “With access to satellite television, the Internet and therefore the world, women in Saudi Arabia have become empowered to study, work and become active members of society. But in a male-dominated society there are always obstacles.”
She said a "big factor" holding women back was the driving ban. "Once this is addressed, women will take one huge step closer to finding their rightful place alongside their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons in society.”
Dr. S. Riaz Ali Shah, a general physician at a local hospital, said harassment could cause severe emotional and physical problems for victims including "frustration, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches, high blood pressure and fatigue.”
“In such cases, the harassed person feels uncomfortable and depressed and can’t perform his or her work well,” he said.
Sondos Al-Jazairy, a Saudi woman, said changes are taking place in the country compared to the past when it was difficult for women to work in a mixed environment.
“Now you'll find men colleagues who treat you with respect, and of course you'll find the opposite. Also, many companies take harassment seriously, and there are consequences and grievance committees to deal with any incident,” she said.
“I'm positive that with more exposure, knowledge and respectful interaction on a daily basis, things will change, and we'll have a safer, positive and healthier environment.”