February 11, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9178

Syrian Writer: #MeToo Campaign Not Enough To Prevent Sexual Harassment In Arab Countries; Punishment And Public Censure Are Also Needed

February 11, 2021
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 9178

In a December 12, 2020 article on the website of the London-based daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, Syrian poet and journalist Rasha 'Omran writes that, while the global #MeToo campaign has encouraged women in the Arab world to speak out about the sexual harassment they experience, this campaign is not sufficient to deter the offenders in the absence of sufficiently strict legislation and in the absence of broad public censure. She adds that the problem of harassment in Arab societies is prevalent even among educated and liberal circles, whose members could be expected to rise above the patriarchal mindset that views women as a "commodity." 'Omran also bemoans the fact that many women in the Arab world justify the harassment and abuse of women and blame the victims. This, she said, reflects the Arab women's ignorance of their rights and the stagnation of Arab society, and perpetuates men's control over women.

Rasha 'Omran (Source:, December 1, 2020)

The following are translated excerpts from her article: [1]

"It appears that the international #MeToo campaign, launched by women's and feminist organizations across the world about two years ago, made a significant impression on our Arab countries. It encouraged Arab women to speak out about the sexual harassment and abuse they experience and about the resulting anxiety, worry and fear [they suffer] in their societies, which do not protect women at all and are prepared to blame them even when they are murdered by a man… This is due to the mentality that prevails in our societies, on the religious, tribal and family levels, which is chauvinistic, authoritarian, patriarchal [and characterized by] violence and arrogance, and regards it permissible to control the destiny of women (the female members of the tribe) and harm their bodies, their liberty, their [free] choice and their lives…

"From time to time there are social media campaigns which expose some figure involved in numerous instances of harassment, attempted rape, sexual exploitation and threats to expose [the victim]. What all these campaigns have in common is that most of their abusive 'heroes' come from the circle of educated liberals who are [supposedly] socially aware. In other words, they are members of the art, culture or civil society sectors, who have supposedly already risen above the tradition of their society and their surroundings, since the first condition for creativity is being a cultured [person]… But it seems that these [men] are not clear about what culture is. Culture is civilized behavior which respects other people's privacy and understands that discrimination based on gender and male supremacy… is nothing but the result of an authoritarian alliance, both political and religious, which weakens every social norm that could be built upon to improve [the situation].

"Innate traits usually prevail over acquired ones, as they say, and the cultured behavior that these attackers are supposedly endowed with does not encompass every circumstance of their lives. So when their impulses come into play, they revert to the collective memory that has accrued over the long [years of] history – the memory of male supremacy over the woman and her subjugation by means of violent sexual behavior such as rape, harassment, or physical contact that takes no heed of her wishes or her position on the matter. This sadistic behavior is the foundation of the violence, tyranny, exclusion and subjugation [of women], whether political-authoritarian or social-religious, and real change cannot possibly come unless this behavior is extracted from the root by eliminating this patronizing mentality and replacing it with the concept of equality.

"Some may say that, even in the developed societies, all kinds of abuse and rape are prevalent. That is true, but the collective in developed societies rejects these phenomena, and the laws [in these countries] punish the abuser and the rapist because his action is considered a crime in the full sense of the word. [As a result,] abusers are deterred, or at least hesitate before targeting the victim. This is also why Arab abusers [living in developed] societies begave normally - for they know what the consequences of their actions will be. But when it comes to the women in their own societies, these men allow themselves to do as they please, because they know that they will escape [punishment], for there are no laws to punish them and no social censure. On the contrary, [Arab societies] cover up what [the abusers] have done and the responsibility is placed on the victims. The female friends and relatives of the abuser are party to this cover-up, as are women who believe that men rule over them and that women [victims] bring it upon themselves through their loose behavior, for instance by choosing to work or attend school, and for any other reason!

"[For example,] a woman might respond to the many stories about [sexual] harassment by Arab film directors by saying: 'Doesn't the girl know that cinema is forbidden?' In other words, if she enrolled in a directing course she brought it on herself. If a young woman tells a similar story about a well-known civil society activist who harassed several young women dozens of times and whose shame was exposed in civil society organizations, but despite this no one felt compelled to stop him, a woman might respond by [saying]: 'If [the victim] wasn't a loose woman in the first place, why did she sit with him in a closed room?'

"Dozens and even hundreds of such responses by women to stories of harassment by men or boys who wield any sort of influence in their circles reveal how ignorant Arab women are about their situation and their rights. They also expose the stagnation of Arab society, which enables chauvinistic mentality to dominate to the extent that so many women [accept abuse as an inevitable reality] - which makes the eradication of [this mentality] extremely difficult."


[1], December, 12 2020. The article was posted on the website but not in the paper's printed edition.

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