For the last couple of years, I developed a habit of getting around a table with friends, classmates, and colleagues to talk about problems we experience on a daily basis. Discussing news about celebrities was not as intriguing to us as unveiling the truth about some of the “taboo” topics that we frequently deal with in silence.
I remember the day when one of my friends, Israa, intervened –and shared a serious matter with us.
She has been repeatedly sexually assaulted and harassed by men walking down the street, at the supermarket, going or coming back from University. They’ve catcalled; using all shades of whistling, hissing, smacking and even followed her. They’ve asked her for her phone number or stared at her.
She would keep quiet, lower her stare or look away. Still, none of that would get them out of her way.
These experiences left her angry, devastated, and traumatized. So instead of carrying her burden alone, she opened up to her mom who suggested asking their neighbor’s son accompany Israa to school. Israa’s mother even tried to prevent her from going out alone or with her friends. Nevertheless, Israa protested and did all possible to stop her mom from locking her in the house because of the ill- hearted who are cruel enough to harass her or any other woman.
My friend Israa is a non-Hijabi. She likes wearing jeans, short shirts, skirts and puts on light makeup on from time to time, but this do not make her any less Muslim than I am.
When Israa told us her story, many of our male friends sympathized with her and defended her right to wear whatever she wants while still being respected. However, many others argued that if a woman’s way of dressing and makeup are provocative, then men will be unable to resist. Implicitly, they put all the blame on her choice for the clothes she wears causing her to feel guilty and worthless. One of them even said that a woman should cover up all her body if she wants to avoid getting harassed; while another argued that a woman who is attacked while wearing a headscarf somehow she did something to deserve it.
For a long time, the belief wearing the hijab will protect women from harassment, has been a prevailing belief in our societies.It is time that we change because there are still women who suffer in silence; women who are denied the right to say that even if I wear Hijab, Niqab or Burqa, I am harassed and sexually assaulted, too.
I have my own stories of harassment and they must be shared to show that “I am a Hijabi…and yes, harassment is my problem, too.”
I have been harassed in a society where I was supposed to feel safe. I have been catcalled, stopped, asked me for my phone number, and have even experienced men following me in their cars, trying to convince me to get in with them.
For weeks I was stalked by a man who followed me from my home to my university. He waited for me outside several times. I tried to ignore it. One day, he stopped me and pretended to ask me the time. Only to tell me he knew every little detail about me and my life. He said that if I did not give him my number he would turn my life into an unbearable hell. He dragged me by my hand and forced me to face him. Luckily, a woman I knew passed by and he released me. I greeted her and hugged her and whispered in her ears to not leave me alone. She walked me to the university’s gates and asked the security guard to give me some water. I was shaking, my heart was beating so rapidly I thought it would jump out of my chest. My hands were trembling and the only thing I remember was that while making my way through the hall, I fainted.
Following this incident, I told my best friend Taha about it, and he offered to accompany me from university to my house. He was anxious, angry at what happened, and promised if ever he comes across the person who tortured me, he would beat him.
You see, growing era like ours you are not spared, even if you decide to cover yourself from head to toe. Even if the only part of your body that shows is your shadow, someone can find a way to harass you.
Harassers are not provoked by a woman in revealing clothes; they are rather provoked by the warped belief that women are sexual objects and worthy of abuse. Harassment has nothing to do with the Hijab anymore, and all to with the ill hearts and manners of abusers.
Whenever I think of the incidents of harassment I have survived the last couple of years, I ask myself: how much time will it take to stop harassment against girls and women so that we no longer feel insecure, uncomfortable and exposed as easy targets whenever we leave our houses?
It is ironic that male accompaniment can be used as a deterrence against harassment. It is as if a man is a weapon to defend yourself. It is assumed he ‘owns’ you, as your relative, boyfriend or even just a neighbor, so no one is allowed to bother you. And the question remains: “without male protection, can’t we live peacefully, without being harassed or sexually assaulted?” --this is a question that needs engagement and seriousness on part of our society to come together and put an end to such a struggle.
Tlaytmass Saou is a contributing writer for My Final Say. She writes from Nador, Morocco.