Sexual Harrassment – East versus West

I was recently approached and leered at in a rather unpleasant manner by a creepy guy in a construction worker’s outfit (blue jumpsuit).

This happened while I was walking from my apartment building to the local supermarket in The Greens, which is a very Western-style community where people regularly walk around wearing a LOT less than I was at the time.

It is also private property  which is owned and controlled by Emaar, whose head office is within the community.  The surrounding gardens and pathways are patrolled heavily by security, as well as the always polite gardeners and cleaners that are employed here.

It made me uncomfortable enough to go home and change out of outfit I was wearing (navy knee-length dress and red shoes) and lodge a complaint with the Greens’ Security Office.  The security team was excellent; very kind and reassuring; and immediately went in search of the perp, which they found quickly.

The next day I was flipping through a magazine (Desert Fish) and found the very interesting Dubai Code of Conduct.

Desert Fish Magazine (for more about this great mag go to http://www.desertfishmag.com/template/about.html)

Desert Fish Magazine (for more about this great mag go to http://www.desertfishmag.com/template/about.html)

I was encouraged by the Security team to bring in the police, which I didn’t want to do.  Now I realise that my very Western belief in giving someone a warning, and not charging them,  is what saved this guy from almost certain deportation (see 1.4 Public Displays of Affection).

It was a very interesting cultural experience to see how these things are treated in the East, where the good of the community is seen as paramount to the rights of the individual.  But as a Westerner I just couldn’t get past my ethical imprinting that having a guy lose his job (and possibly his family’s livelihood?) was too high a price for any individual to pay for this.

I always thought of myself as a committed feminist.

But today, as I went outside feeling a little fearful of strangers, I have to ask myself, do I hold a set of ethics that enables sexual harrassment of women, in an effort to protect the rights of the men that do this?

This is a question that I never anticipated having to ask myself.

Dubai Code of Conduct

1. Social Ethics:

Dubai is characterised by the interaction of a large number of cultures and nationalities. However, the culture, customs and traditions of the United Arab Emirates and its people shall be respected by adopting courtesy and moderation and avoiding all types of improper behaviour in the Emirate.

1.1. The symbols of the state:

It is the duty of every citizen, resident and visitor to show respect for the symbols of the United Arab Emirates’ rulers, flag and national emblem. The abuse of any of those symbols is a crime punishable by law.

1,2. Decency:

An official business or business casual dress code shall be adopted by all visitors of Dubai’s official government buildings as well as business buildings and office towers. Access to Dubai’s official and business buildings may be denied if dress code is considered inappropriate.
In all other public places such as streets, shopping malls and restaurants, shorts and skirts shall be of appropriate length. Moreover, clothing shall not indecently expose parts of the body, be transparent, or display obscene or offensive pictures and slogans.

1.3. Beaches:

Beachgoers — men and women — shall wear conservative swimwear that is acceptable to Dubai’s culture. Swimwear shall not be worn outside the beach, as decent dress is the rule in the rest of the city. Nudity is strictly forbidden in every part of the city and is liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.

1.4. Public displays of affection:

Displays of affection among couples — whether married or not — in public places does not fit the local customs and culture. Holding hands for a married couple is tolerated but kissing and petting are considered an offence to public decency.
Public displays of affection, as well as sexual harassment or randomly addressing women in public places is liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.

1.5. Dancing and music:

Loud music and dancing are forbidden in public places like parks, beaches or residential areas and must be restricted to licensed venues only.

1.6. Public facilities:

Public facilities (i.e. public parks, benches, bus stops, etc.) shall be kept in good conditions. Concerned authorities must be informed of any damages.

2. Substance abuse:

The consumption of alcohol as well as any other drug or psychotropic substance is strictly prohibited in Islam and is punishable by law. Due to the large diversity of cultures and nationalities present in Dubai, alcohol consumption is closely regulated.

2.1. Drugs:

Holding, consuming, buying or selling any kind of drug — in any quantity — as well as being tested positive to any drug by the authorities in the UAE is considered a crime.

2.2. Alcohol consumption:

Alcohol consumption shall be confined to designated areas (i.e. licensed restaurants and venues that serve alcohol to their clients). Being caught under the effect of alcohol outside these places (even in light doses) can lead to a fine or incarceration.

2.3. Driving and alcohol:

The UAE has adopted a zero-tolerance policy in terms of driving under the effect of alcohol. Being caught driving with even the smallest dose of alcohol can lead to a fine, incarceration or deportation.

2.4. Purchasing alcohol:

Buying and selling alcohol is controlled by very strict laws. Alcohol is exclusively sold by specialised licensed stores. It can only be bought by holders of an alcohol-purchasing license (this license is only attainable by non-Muslims). Buyers shall respect the local culture by carrying their alcohol in paper bags such that it cannot be seen.

2.5. Smoking:

Smoking is not allowed in government facilities, offices, malls and shops. Smoking outside designated areas is subject to fine.

2.6. Prescriptions for some medicines:

Some medicines containing psychotropic substances are forbidden in the UAE. Their holders must carry a prescription from a UAE-licensed medical doctor. Visitors shall verify that their medicines are allowed in the UAE before entering the country.

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2 responses to “Sexual Harrassment – East versus West

  1. You’re still a feminist, but more importantly, you’re one with feelings and the intelligence to empathise. A feminist who knows what is right and wrong but can also accept apologies or explanations for bad behaviour rather than death and destruction.

    Helen Garner touches on this brilliantly in her book ‘The first stone’ which, embarrassingly, I only got around to reading a month ago even though it was first published (and earned great respect) back in 1995.

    • So what does she argue is the right approach?

      I feel the Western way is to protect the rights of the individual at the expense of the rights of the community, where the Eastern way is to protect the rights of the community at the expense of of the individual.

      It’s pretty shocking but in many ways (not all) women are treated with a great deal more respect here than they are in the West.

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