Sexual harassment in the Middle East

I was in a museum in Dubai when it happened. The security guard jumped me, wrapped himself around me, a hand around my neck and face, pulling me to him. So, there are a number of ways that story could have gone. I’m 5:3, small and Asian. It could have been a litle bit of molestation, a full-on rape, the end of my business trips to Dubai and therapy for the next 30 years. It could have been that somebody came in and discovered me, him, and it would have been tears, a bad incident, and therapy for six months.

What actually happened was that I elbowed him, right punch followed by left hook and front kick. He backed out of the room, into the corridor with me following quickly behind. He slammed the door in my face which I kicked down, followed him in, missing out the details, I beat the shit out of him and left him crying on the floor. It meant therapy for three months. But only becuase of my utter anger that I couldn’t get him arrested. The British Emabssy told me that I was lucky as most cases were severe rape, and they heard them all the time. They advised I should leave the country as I’d be the one in the dock for inciting him and my passport would be withheld whilst the case was underway. I knew who it was, I was pretty certain he had done something like this before, and I knew he could do it again.

I did learn from that incident. I’d take up kickboxing because I wanted and needed to be phsycially confident to help me with the big bad things in the world I had to deal with everyday. I wanted the mental confidence of knowing that I at least controlled my body, which meant I could extend that control to other areas of my life: such as walking into meetings where I was the only female in the room. Or being the only one of my colleages to be pulled out of a queue at the airport to get my bag checked and identified on the basis of my colour. Or the fact that I wanted to keep travelling, and working abroad, and sexual harrassment is a daily part of life in the Middle East.   I learnt that I did have the confidence to react to protect myself, I was never going to freezse.

I am and continue to be a big supporter of being fit. Its not about being a kickboxer, or even the type of sport we do; its simply about having the phsyical confidence in one’s own body as a girl and as a woman. So that we can extend that fantstic self-esteem to all other areas of our lives – rather than bemoaning the fact of blubber as we gorge on that chocolate cake. There are so many messages telling us that we have to be thin, that we need a layer of make-up or a nose job to fill some cultural ideal of feminine. To counter that message at an indiviudal level, we need to begin with ourselves.

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