Harassment is no longer just disrespectful in Saudi Arabia
It is ironic that harassment is a problem in civilized societies and not developing ones. How can it be curbed? After years of debate, Saudi Arabia has issued an anti-harassment law based on an order by King Salman and the interior minister. The new law, adopted by the Shoura Council and approved by the Cabinet, was issued four weeks before the end of the ban on women driving. It is indeed an important step at a delicate moment.
Sticking out tongues at others is no less hurtful than physically attacking them. Under the new law, harassment is punishable by two years in prison. The sentence may be extended to five years in some cases. The aim is to protect human rights and preserve people’s dignity and privacy.
The law’s importance lies in organizing society and protecting its members, particularly women, from bullying. Thousands of women will soon be driving their cars, and may be verbally harassed on the streets, in the media and on social media. Thousands of women are already engaged in new and unprecedented business fields, something the Kingdom’s patriarchal society has not gotten used to yet.
Furthermore, allowing women to go to artistic shows, cinemas, sport facilities, stores and other places will require the law’s protection against insults, humiliation and verbal intimidation. Protection will also be required in common workplaces.
Over the last two years, women have been given the right to a normal life like men, and now there is a law to support and protect them.
In the past, some condoned insults, humiliation and verbal intimidation, regarding them as necessary to deter women from being socially active. The new law has become the reference governing society, ending the days of individual guardianship. The new law highlights the new Saudi Arabia.
Over the last two years, women have been given the right to a normal life like men, and now there is a law to support and protect them. The new law, however, is not really new as it reflects the true values of religion and society. But these needed to be upheld, formulated and established legally because yesterday’s culture, which considered a woman’s job or life outside the home a vice, was tarnished by imported ills and pre-Islamic deviations.
Such a culture was difficult to tolerate. Who would accept insulting or humiliating a woman? Who would condone the strong bullying the weak? One of the pretexts of those who worry about their female relatives working in public places was that they feared harassment. Today, the law protects these women. The state is sovereign, and its laws are the reference for everyone.
The law is developing just like everything else in our life, and combating harassment is another milestone. The new law focuses on protecting the weak: Children, the disabled, and those who work for or under their harassers. Today, harassment is no longer just a breach or an act of disrespect, but a crime whose punishment is a prison sentence and a fine.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.