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Bed·ou·in (noun or adj.) ˈbe-də-wən, ˈbed-wən 1. Desert dweller, nomadic Arab of the desert. 2. A wanderer or rover.

My roommate Julie has written a thoughtful and measured post about something that we all experience in Jordan, but often are hesitant to talk about–sexual harassment. It is a sensitive topic. Knowing Julie, I know that writing and telling these stories was a hard choice, but I’d like to share her words because they are filled with truth and objectivity.

Without further ado:

 

The one topic I have avoided blogging about: Sexual Harassment in Jordan

 

Why, you ask?

Well, to start, I love Jordan, its people, and my life here. Of course, this is a good thing! But, I could also be accused of looking at things with rose-colored glasses more often than not. From this view, the sexual harassment of the streets is something laughable – and not to be “overblown,” because there are so many counter-examples: male Arab friends, students, colleagues, and friendly strangers who are more than upstanding gentleman.

Secondly, I really hate that many people are wary of the Arab world and often have negative stereotypes of the region. The whole point of me living here is to help dispel these misunderstandings, and its something truly important to me. Sexual harassment is, of course, also a problem in America – I even wrote an article after having such experiences at Fairfield University – and its even worse in other places.

So, even though I feel free to talk about ANY other topic in Jordan, I’ve avoided mentioning this major societal flaw.. but khalas, the time has come.

If you promise: not to forget the other wonderful things I’ve told you about Jordan, to avoid overgeneralizing based on my anecdotes, and to remember that [ insert your country’s name here ] is also not flawless … you’re allowed to continue reading …

 

Disclaimer done. Let’s get down to it then: Sexual Harassment is a HUGE problem here.

Anecdotes to follow.

 

But first, the Vocabulary:

1) Sexual harassment is done by the “shebab,” which technically means the youth, but in this context means the men of all ages (you’d be surprised how young and how old) who harass women in the streets. Note, these shebab are always strangers.

2) Sexual harassment ranges from “little things” – like shebab yelling “Hello! How are you! How are you!” as American girls walk down the street ( note, I use “little things” in a tongue and cheek way… these are not nice conversation starters, but rather verbal harassment: strangers in the street heckling and laughing ) – to big things – like flashing, grabbing, and rape. Anecdotes to follow.

 

Second, the Frequency:

1) “Little things” happen every day. In fact, whenever I walk past a man or a group of men who DON’T verbally harass me, I think to myself something along the lines of “Oh, how nice those guys are!” ….. with the follow up thought always being: “Julie, they are nice because they didn’t harass you? Raise your standards.” But really, its true. Shebab have made “normal” behavior praiseworthy.

2) “Big things” also happen. Anecdotes to follow.

 

Third, the Women:

Well, shebab do not discriminate … sexual harassment happens to EVERY WOMAN who walks the streets. It does not matter if you are foreign or Arab. It does not matter if you have long blonde hair or wear a hijab. It does not matter if you are young or old. It does not matter if you are a model or average looking. It does not matter if you are wearing a mini-skirt or if you are bundled up in a winter jacket. It happens to every woman.

 

Finally, let me illustrate the “Levels of Sexual Harrassment” with some anecdotes:

“Hello! How are you! Welcome in Jordan!” .. again, this form of verbal harassment is directed at foreigners …. either as you walk by a group or perhaps yelled as a car drives by you or even perhaps whispered creepily as a man walks next to you.

– But, as I mentioned, its not just foreigners who get this attention. My heart broke as one of my students told me that she doesn’t walk to university anymore because a group of workers verbally harasses along the path. When her Dad tried to tell the manager about the behavior of his workers… the manager shrugged it off, shu bidna nsoui?

– An extension of this –> Stalking –> has almost caused many car accidents. This is a fairly common scene: a car slowly driving next to me, forcing traffic to go around him, while he tries to get my attention. The most vulgar, and comical, version of this was the 18 year old who slowly drove next to me until he could find the English words he was searching for: ” I …. ” –> ” I … want … ” –> ” I … sex … ” –> ” I … want … sex ” –> ” I WANT SEX! ”

– What’s worse than stalking? Flashing. On the one hand, this is seemingly uncommon. On the other hand, its happened to two of my friends here…. one man exposed himself to Biff in a taxi, and another man flashed Nadine while she jogging around a children’s park.

– A step up from flashing? Touching. Again, this is also uncommon. And yet… it happens. And in fact, it is the reason I decided I had to write a post. First there’s one of my Jordanian friends, who was grabbed by a man in a crowded book fair  [ as further proof of how amazing Nisreen is, she turned around, slapped the guy, and publicly shamed him ]. And then… there’s me, who was walking tonight past three shebab, who grabbed my butt once… then followed me as I hurried down the road and grabbed it a second time.

All of these “Levels of Sexual Harrassment” are annoying, frustrating, disheartening, Sometimes people don’t understand “the big deal” .. and often people here write off the shebab as an unavoidable inconvenience. But it is a big deal, because every level escalates. It may seem harmless for a guy to yell “Welcome to Jordan!” to an ajnabia… but what about when he yells from a car to an Arab girl?… then what if he says “I want sex!” next?… then what if he flashes a girl?… then what if he touches her?… then what if … ?

 

Who wants a society where you’re always expecting the men to behave badly? Avoiding their eyes on the street? Holding your breath as you walk by a group? Being surprised – and grateful – when men act normal?

Not me. And, if I could take a minute to go back to the DISCLAIMER above, neither do most Jordanians. In fact, a class from the University of Jordan recently made a great video protesting the sexual harassment present on their campus.

The first step is to bring everything out into the light. Just like this video did, we need to put the truth out there so that people can recognize it, talk about it, and hopefully change it.

This post is my contribution.

 

– Julie Whittaker 

You can check out Julie’s other thoughts on her blog:    www.julieinjordan.wordpress.com

Comments

12 Comments

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  1. January 12, 2013

    so sorry to hear all these stories – but very eloquently written by julie

  2. R #
    January 12, 2013

    well done!! this is a serious problem across the arab world (as in as many other countries)… i myself have had several unpleasant experiences volunteering in palestine with hooting, cat-calls & whatnot, even in aid-workers’ uniform. i find that i too intentionally avoid discussing or telling other people about these incidents so they don’t get the wrong idea or overgeneralize (i want to emphasize that overall, my experiences have been great). but it’s definitely an issue that must be confronted & dealt with head-on, societies where women aren’t fully equal to men can never be free. best of luck!

  3. January 14, 2013

    Thank you Julie for writing this piece in precisely the way you wrote it because I can see that you value the experience and the culture yet you are committed to telling the truth. I’m Syrian and all of this sounds familiar. I’m sharing your work with my friends. Shukran!

  4. Muneef Halwa #
    January 14, 2013

    Sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience, but you might be hanging out with the wrong crowd or simply in the wrong places. The majority of the Jordanian population are educated and speak English fluently, by this if someone said to you ‘ Hello, welcome to Jordan’ he might be greeting you NOT sexually harassing you. Its the first time i hear someone portraying a Hello as a sexual harassment before i read your blog.

    Sexual harassment definition is the bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.[1] In most modern legal contexts, sexual harassment is illegal. As defined by EEOC, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex.” Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.( Source Wikipedia.)

    Non of the above match your description of harassment, what yo described might be harassment but NOT sexually. if you want to see what sexual harassment really is book the first flight and go to Cairo Egypt, were women are grabbed, fingered, spanked and called profound names, that harassment my dear. Am not belittling your problem dear but i honestly believe it’s not as bad as you’re portraying it to be.

    Moreover, you’ll find a police officer or a patrol in every street in Jordan. I would suggest you let them know next time that happens, u’ll be amazed to see what they’ll do when a women is in distress.

    Also If you’re looking for a juicy material to blog about in Jordan then do focus on real problems like corruption and government incompetency rather than BLAh

    Wish you the best of luck.

    • Haneen #
      January 14, 2013

      Sexual Harrassment is sexual harassment , fingered or touched, don’t tell me about Jordan or Egypt, there is a problem…haha seriously, YOU MEAN I should feel lucky to be only hit at rather than touched and fingered ! WTF , seriously don’t try to argue.
      But I’m also against this shallow approach to resolve the problem. The problem is deeper in the society , and need hours nad nights of discussion, and me as a woman, I should say I can also put a major parts of the responsibility on woman, I’m from ramallah, a Palestinian, and tell what, if you lost a right, nobody ever will work to get it for you,STAND UP for yourself ! wherever you are, and scream in the face of injustice. To be honest, arab men are horrible with this perving styles, but tell you what Julie, not arab men, I think women are facing very serious challenges, I highlight europe and the west, it’s just european guys seems to be more polite in their perving methods, and tell there is no raping in the west, no discrimination at work, and perving and commenting everywhere , like a bar in Soho London midnight is more friendly and pure than Jordan streets with all those fucked up people ! Whom are you trying to help, go help your cheap flesh, prostitute streets , and nude bodies with a price tag, destrooyed families.
      Women have to unite all over the world not complain about men sometimes !!
      after years of satisfying their sexual desires. Well, can’t deny in other places, it’s taken to a higher level. Women are humans, they have their thoughts, emotions, desires, dreams and ambitions.
      Our bodies, our full names, stamped on an ID cards, we live for them, and it seems to us , they are us….

    • Yoyoma #
      January 17, 2013

      @Muneef Halwa.
      I find your response to be part of the problem, rather than balanced or insightful. The blogger went to some lengths to NOT generalise, to emphasise what is common occurrence and what is not. You, on the other hand, make several gross generalisations which are also indeed exaggerations (the majority of Jordanians speak fluent English?! police/patrols on every street? Reading your comment, I feel like you live in a different Jordan to me. These generalisations aren’t even true of West Amman, let alone the whole country). The privileged worldview that you express makes me imagine you riding around at all times protected by a big vehicle, rather than walking along the street, riding in taxis and buses as a young woman who is seen as fair game to the ‘shebab’ (young or old). Harassment is a daily occurrence for women here in Jordan, and dismissing this as ‘not a problem’ only means the issue is less likely to be dealt with.

    • Daph #
      February 13, 2013

      @Muneef Halwa
      the woman like you are what agonized me the most regarding the sexual harassment issue while I was in Jordan.
      what’s your definition of wrong crowd and wrong places? because all i did in Jordan was just going around the campus of the university, looking around the main touristic sites, and living a very daily-like lifestyle. and every single time i walked out of my apartment i had to be under a constant stress of harassment after harassment on street, taxi, bus and stores. well-off areas like abdoun and deir ghabar were no different. so you can throw that “Jordanian =educated, good english speaker” logic away because guess what? i even heard a very sexually demeaning word which was clearly meant for me at a very fine restaurant as well.

      everywhere i go, I at least heard the word ‘sharmoota’ (meaning : whore) once a day. sometimes i managed to hear that word 7 times just in 5 mins. what was I wearing? a very plain hoodie and black jeans. i was felt up 3 times inside the university of Jordan (it’s supposed to be a place for a young intellectuals but instead it’s very much like a perv square). This is not a problem of ‘a few bad apple’. people like you, who consider this as a very trivial and minor issue and think of it to be not a big deal is the biggest problem. the attitude like yours is what hurt me the most while i was there. Every time i talked about this problem, almost all the jordanians were busy sugarcoating the situation by saying “there’s stupid people everywhere, even in your country”, “Not all the Jordanians are like that, and you’re a foreigner. so you gotta understand.”
      This absurd logic which horrified me the most seem to prevail unbelievably a lot and accepted by many people so naturally.
      well, all true. Indeed, there are pervs in my country as well but at the same time, these pervs are considered as a ‘criminal’ and they actually get arrested for this. and i know as a foreigner i attract some attentions but that doesn’t mean i have to put up with all the horrible things i went through. all these don’t become ‘normal’ just because I’m a foreigner.

      and about greetings from such shabab, even simple greetings sure can come off as a sexual harassment if i find it to be sexually demeaning. the hell with all those numbered definition of the word. it’s simple, if a woman was sexually humiliated in any kind of way, that’s a sexual harassment. I’d say that the word alone might appear to be not a harassment but it’s the way they say it. and especially if it was combined with a certain facial expression, cat sound, and followed by a stalker-like behavior it’s definitely a harassment. And I can’t say this for the writer but i can say from my experience that most of the time all the shabab who are greeting women are not just saying hi alone. it always comes as a package that i wrote above.

      again, i’m telling you. it’s not a problem of a few bad apples. the problem is in the tree that letting all these worms to eat the apples away.

  5. February 26, 2013

    Well written! Been there, done that. But the worst of harassment that I experience was in Damascus … the guys there had NO shame to express what they want from me! However, I never felt insecure or in danger in any of the Middle Eastern countries, I am much more afraid back home in Czech republic. This is not that I approve of harassment, but its just one down side of living in the Middle East. Btw, I love Amman! 🙂

  6. lana #
    May 21, 2014

    at least in America there is a law to protect you against sexual harassment ..here in Jordan u just keep it to your self cause all what u r gonna get is shame….plz dont even try to compare

  7. A passerby #
    June 3, 2014

    IT IS JUST TO MAKE S.O FEEL REALLY REALLY REALLY ( HOT ) !!!

  8. a tourist #
    January 5, 2015

    I was a tourist in Aqaba just a few days ago, and a guy who obviously had been walking behind me (but unnoticed by me) grasped and touched me right on or over my pelvis and genital area with his filthy and wet fingers. I felt lucky I wore heavy jeans, still I could feel his hands quite strong on my vagina before he just let go and left with his friend, who had accompanied him and did not do anything other than walk or run beside him. also, I was lucky to have a (female) friend with me who shouted or cried like I did when this guy started his attack. this happened early in the evening close to our hotel and next to a well-lighted street with several lanes. cars were regularly passing by, a taxi was blowing the horn, and we were not the only ones on the pavement.

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