According to activists at a Cairo conference on women’s public place in the Arab world—the first-ever regional summit addressing the issue—sexual harassment of women in the streets, schools and work places is driving them to cover up and confine themselves to their homes. Delegates at the 17-nation gathering concluded that harassment, including groping and verbal abuse, was unchecked across the region because laws don’t punish it, women don’t report it and the authorities ignore it. Conservative religious leaders blame the problem on the women, for being provocative in dress or manner. But even delegates from Yemen, where virtually every female is covered from head to toe, said that as many as 90 per cent of Yemeni women say they have been harassed. Amal Madbouli, who wears the conservative face veil or niqab, told The Associated Press that despite her dress, she is harassed and described how a man came after her in the streets of her neighborhood. “He hissed at me and kept asking me if I wanted to go with him to a quieter area, and to give him my phone number,” said Madbouli, a mother of two. “This is a national security issue. I am a mother, and I want to be reassured when my daughters go out on the streets.” Abul Komsan described how one of the victims of harassment she interviewed told her she had taken on the full-face veil to stave off the hassle. “She told me ‘I have put on the niqab. By God, what more can I do so they leave me alone,'” she said, quoting the woman. Some even said they were reconsidering going to work or school because of the constant harassment in the streets and on public transportation. In Syria, men from traditional homes go shopping in the market place instead of female family members to spare them harassment, said Sherifa Zuhur, a Lebanese-American academic at the conference. Open discussion of the harassment issue first emerged in Egypt three years ago, after blogs gave broad publicity to amateur videos showing men assaulting women in downtown Cairo during a major Muslim holiday.
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