Yemeni Women Lead a Campaign Against Street Harassment

Our Islamic high school teacher in Yemen often gave the 30 girls in our class a variation of the same lecture: “The chaste woman is a woman which protects her virginity. She walks close to the wall in the street looking down and not making eye contact with other men. She doesn’t raise her voice because men should not hear her voice. She doesn’t wear something attractive to seduce men. She doesn’t wear perfume because it is forbidden. If a man smells her perfume it is as if she committed adultery with him. A woman’s place is at home to take care of the family and make her husband happy.”

The underlying message of the repetitious lecture was that if we showed our faces or called any attention to ourselves, we were inviting trouble, which we didn’t want to do. So the message worked. By the end of the tenth grade most girls, including me, wore a veil (called a niqab) to cover our faces.

From these messages, we concluded that the daily street harassment we faced could always be traced back to our own actions, rather than that of our harassers. Even if we followed every rule and were still harassed, we were then blamed for leaving home in the first place.

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