It's a contentious subject, and has been for decades - especially since the liberation and recognition of women in the western world. But world's focus on gender has become undeniably more prevalent in the last 2 or 3 years, and now all fingers are pointing to the country that blatantly disrespects the rules and roles of gender the rest of the world is now adopting.
I understand - who are we to stick our noses in where they don't belong? Who are we to judge a nation's laws; their gender roles; their driving habits - but that's what we do. Once the global spectrum of human nature is changing and there are people left behind, the focus tends to zoom in on the forgotten ones, whether for better, or for worse.
Western influence has run its tole on Saudi Arabia, and many believe the only reason the country remains under strict Sharia law and ruled by a monarchy - is because of a drive from the western world to secure its oil - stemming all the way back to World War II when everyone was running out of crude.
And while it might be none of our business, and while we have no right to impugn any sovereign country with our opinion - the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia has been rubbing us the wrong way since the Suffragette era.
Were they the ones left behind?
A look from Dolce & Gabbana's 2016 Abaya Collection
I don't profess to be an expert in religion, but I understand that Sharia Law is not a mandate of Islam. It is enforced by the governments in these singular countries at their own discretion, and to the extent they so wish. Stoning, flogging, punishment for the most minuscule offenses are prescribed with a severity not known on this side of the world through the public judicial system for centuries.
The release of this video perhaps marks a disruption in the constant negation of responsibility from westerners toward the gender problem in Saudi and other states that adhere to Sharia law. The women are quoted as saying the men in their lives give them 'mental illness', among other stabs at their situation within the country. Sequences display domineering men controlling the lives of women, while all the women want to do are normal activities - basketball, fairs, driving. It finally allows, even encourages the question - are the women of Saudi actually happy with male guardianship?
A still from the controversial Majedalesa video.
If this is anything to go by - the answer is a vehement no.
In spite of an almost repetitive denial and rebuke of any wrongdoing, this video serves to prove that not all women are happy or even satisfied with the state of their influence and position in Saudi society. And yet in spite of this and another incident this past year, where a woman posted a photo of herself without her hijab or abaya on social media and received death threats - the U.N elected Saudi Arabia to a three-year Human Rights Council term, which began on the first of this month. The election received an incredulous response because of the severity of the very gender laws that induced the making of this video.
The young woman who posted the picture back in September, declaring she would no longer be subject to the full-body dress was hailed by many, calling her an Arabic equivalent of Rosa Parks; a visionary; brave. Others, most likely her fellow countrymen, posted under the photo a slurry of death threats, inciting violence and repercussions for the denial of her role under Saudi law - for breaking the Sharia tradition.
The Silver Lining
A still from the controversial Majedalesa video
Thankfully it's not all bad news coming from the middle-eastern country. A statement released by government officials last month dictated that job openings for women in government and public jobs would become available for the first time in the near future with the hope to further inclusion and breach that gender gap that puts Saudi as the worst country in the world in terms of gender equality according to the McKinsey Global Institute. These jobs however will only serve to highlight the inadequacy of this so-called push for equality as women cannot make their own way to work - forbidden as they are to drive.
The legitimacy of a country nevertheless, whether it's Saudi, Jordan, India or Iran must now be questioned when women are treated in such deplorable, demeaning conditions. There is no right answer to this problem - there is no way to attack this social infringement in such an isolated part of the world. We on this side of the world have no veritable right to go in and meddle with the (albeit morally repugnant) manner in which this government runs the country. All there is to do is hope that from within, changes can be made - that soon there will be a break in the subjugation, that an uprising of sorts will occur.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.