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The New Arab

Saudi women are publicly calling out their sexual harassers online

Saudi Arabia's Shura Council approved a law criminalising sexual harassment in 2018 [AFP]

Date of publication: 15 April, 2020

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Women in Saudi Arabia are posting sexual harassment testimonies on Twitter under pseudonyms in 'brave move,' HRW says
Saudi women are using Twitter hashtags to recount their experiences of sexual harrassment in the country and their reasons for not reporting the abuse.

A Tuesday report by the Human Rights Watch detailed the latest heart-rending Twitter trend that has sweeped the Gulf state, calling for sexist male guardianship system to be abolished. 

The HRW has dubbed the move a "remarkable show of courage", due to the women speaking out against the abuse they have faced despite Riyadh continuing its widening crackdown targetting activists, particularly women's rights campaigners.

Saudi women – using Twitter accounts under pseudonyms – made use of an Arabic-language hashtag which roughly translates to "why I didn't report it" to make their allegations public. 

Posts revealed that women reporting abuse were referred by Saudi authorities to closed shelters, where they are trapped until they are forced to "reconcile" with family members or agree to an arranged marriage, the HRW found.

According to the report, women attempting to escape an abusive household could face arrest and be sent back home if any male family members filed a legal claim.

The watchdog said that a parallel hashtag, "down with remnants of the guardianship system" was also tweeted out by Saudi women.

The tweets "point to persistent elements of the male guardianship system that continue to keep women trapped in abusive situations", it said.

Read also: Wives can refuse sexual advances from husbands during coronavirus quarantine, says top Saudi cleric

"Saudi authorities... have maintained a sweeping campaign of repression that included dismantling and silencing the country’s women’s rights movement," HRW wrote.

The kingdom's campaigns targetting activists has not been limited to arrests and executions. 

Saudi bots regularly storm Twitter when a controversial issue in the kingdom is brought to light by activists or international organisations. The latest HRW report was no exception.

Hundreds of accounts, characterised with nationalistic display photos and randomised usernames flooded comments in response to tweets sharing the report.

"Don't worry about a spoiled [girl] upset for not having a strawberry cake," one such tweet read, undermining the suffering of women alleging abuse.

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Figures from 2016. [Click to enlarge

Accounts also attacked the LGBT community after an ex-Muslim Saudi LGBTQ rights advocate recounted her horrowing story of alleged rape and named the accused, using the hashtag.

"People are threatening me to remove the scandal [tweets]" the now UK-based activist wrote.

Many of the sexual harassment accounts, reposted by @wIDidntReport involved family members engaging in abuse or covering up incidents, The New Arab found, after examining dozens of the tweets.

Saudi Arabia has introduced reforms related to womens' rights in the past few years, including laws meant to protect women against sexual harassment. 

However, the rights NGO says the kingdom is still far from reaching equality.

"The world is being told that Saudi Arabia is modernizing on women's rights. But the reality is that with no organised women's rights movement or environment in which women can safely and openly demand their rights, there is little room for further advances."

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