The plot has twisted in the saga of a viral video that documented the sexual harassment of two women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. New footage, purportedly of the same women, showed them riding a bicycle before a group of men and throwing an agal, a black rope-like ring that Arab men nestled over their checked headpieces, toward the men before they were harrassed, the Associated Press reported Friday.
That scene reportedly took place just before the one shown in the original video, where a group of men jeered at and jostled the women, who wore veils over their faces as well as the black form-concealing robes called abayas. That video went viral, leading to a police investigation and sparking a debate in the conservative kingdom over the issue of sexual harassment and questions over women’s rights and gender roles more broadly.
Saudi Arabia has no clear laws defining or criminalizing sexual harassment. Here is the original video.
The new footage has changed the dynamics of the situation considerably, casting the women as provocateurs rather than victims of harassment. At least one official has blamed the women for bringing the harassment upon themselves.
The women behaved in a "seductive and tempting" way, judicial adviser Yehia al-Shahrani said, the AP reported. If the men involved were going to be investigated and potentially face charges, the women deserved the same, he said.
In the past two years, the Justice Ministry has recorded 3,982 reported cases of sexual harassment in the Kingdom, which has strict laws forbidding unmarried men and women from mingling publicly and privately and imposes extreme limitations on what women can do. They are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and they must accompanied by a male chaperon outside the home, among numerous other restrictions.
Rather than casting blame on the women, Saudi Arabia should look at the rigid social norms it espouses and how they create an environment that breeds a lack of respect for women and fosters harassment, a few have suggested.
“It is time we seriously address this shameful behavior and question the reasons behind such uncivilized acts that are common among the youth,” Khaled Almaeena, a Saudi journalist and commentator wrote in a recent opinion article for Al Arabiya. “Obviously it has to do with upbringing. Young men in this society are not brought up to respect women in their own homes,” he added.
“Cultural barriers that segregate the men from the women within the family do not allow the youth to interact with their sisters, aunts or female cousins. The youth grow up with little respect for women,” Almaeena wrote.