This scene, caught on camera in a video published on October 11, shows a Saudi woman defending herself after being sexually harassed. When a man won’t stop bothering her, the woman slaps him. Like her, more and more Saudi women are standing up to their harassers. However, sexual harassment remains a daily occurrence for many and there is no law aimed at punishing attackers.

The 20-second video was filmed in a parking lot. After the harasser is slapped by his victim, another man also starts hitting him, causing him to flee.

Though the footage was widely shared by Saudi media, none of the reports included the name of the town where the incident took place. In truth, it could have been almost anywhere because these kind of incidents are very common in Saudi Arabia. Women face a daily barrage of oppressive stares, out-of-line comments and even inappropriate touching, according to our Observer. She is a Saudi woman living in Riyadh and she wanted to remain anonymous.

“Those found guilty of sexual harassment should be fined, have their names printed in the newspaper, and face repercussions at work”

Saudi Arabia is a country that has a real segregation within society. Men and women don’t mix. The result is that when women are in a mixed environment, harassment almost inevitably occurs. Many women don’t feel safe in these situations because men don’t know how to interact naturally with them.

This is certainly the case within the working world. At man would never be fired for harassing a woman. The most you could hope for is that he’d be transferred to another department. Here, it is custom for women to act in a very docile way around men. They must show a lot of respect and speak using standard polite forms of address in order to stroke the men’s egos. For me, harassment doesn’t just mean inappropriate gestures or comments. This ritual submission is another form of harassment.

However, our Observer confirms that more and more female victims are daring to stand up for themselves when they are harassed. A number of videos showing these brave women have been circulating on YouTube.

A man harasses a woman near a shopping centre in Ta’if, Saudi Arabia.

In 2015, a video showing two young women being harassed by a horde of men in Jeddah sparked renewed debate about the law meant to punish these kinds of aggressions.


The problem is that there are no clear laws in Saudi Arabia to punish men who are guilty of harassment. What is the consequence for a man who throws a piece of paper with his number on it at a woman? What if he touches her inappropriately? Do you need a witness? Will he go to prison? Today, if there is proof of a man’s guilt – like a video – he is usually arrested and put in jail. But the punishments for harassment vary because there is no clear law laying out boundaries or consequences.

I think it is important to have a very strict law, because this kind of behavior is unacceptable. Men found guilty of this kind of harassment should be fined and their name should be printed in the newspaper. They should also face consequences on their careers. We should make sure that the law applies to everyone, even men from powerful families close to the Saudi royals.


“Often, when families find out that a woman is being harassed at work, they force her to leave her job”

Hala Al-Dosari is a researcher who specialises in the Saudi health and education systems. She is also a blogger and an activist who fights for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. She explains that though a bill to punish sexual harassment was drafted, it was never adopted.

In 2014, the Shura Council wrote a bill outlining consequences for perpetrators of sexual harassment. The Shura Council, also known as the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia, is made up of 150 members who are tasked with giving their opinion on proposed legislation that will then be decided on by the ministers and the King. The problem is that there is a very conservative lobby within the Shura Council. Its members rejected the bill against sexual harassment, because the lobby claimed that the bill was promoting the idea of women working in mixed environments.

According to Hala al-Dosari, having a law is even more essential because women who are harassed are often victims twice over.

One of my friends was interning in a hospital when one of the doctors touched her breasts. This particular doctor had a reputation for this kind of bad behavior around interns and my friend wanted to report the incident, but there was no procedure to do so. She told her family about it and her brother actually tracked down the doctor and punched him. However, my friend’s family also insisted that she quit her internship immediately.

This is one of the biggest problems facing women who are harassed at work: very often, when their families find out, they force the women to leave their jobs. The same happens to women harassed at schools or universities. The law would be a way to address the problem of sexual harassment without punishing the victim.

However, a law against sexual harassment still seems far-off.

This remains a sensitive subject in Saudi Arabia. Many people still view working women like trainees or interns and there is a tendency for institutions and bosses to side with the harasser.

It is also difficult to get people to talk about women’s rights because many people see each improvement to women’s condition as a kind of Westernization.

The political and security context in Saudi Arabia doesn’t help.

It’s hard for activists to fight for this cause because liberty of expression is very restricted in Saudi Arabia. The internet is really the only platform available to civil society groups to talk about these issues. I try to use my blog to raise awareness, but if you want to do more, you have to leave the country.

However, it is clear that quite a few Saudis do support increased rights for women. In September, a petition started by Aziza al-Youssef demanding an end to the male guardianship system garnered more than 14,000 signatures in a month.