Prominent Saudi writer Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood has urged his 97,000 Twitter followers to sexually molest women that work as cashiers in grocery stores in order to force working women to stay at home and protect their chastity. The self-help writer has been using the hashtag #harass_female_cashiers to promote his campaign.
This marks the latest backlash from conservatives who want to retract recent economic and social reforms — which include an anti-harassment law — launched in Saudi Arabia. Some followers have applauded him as a "fighter" against government efforts to "westernize and corrupt the country."
Although Saudi Arabia ranked as 130th out of 134 countries in terms of gender parity, there has been an increase of women in the workforce. According to Gulf News, more than "half a million Saudi Arabian nationals, including unprecedented if still modest number of women, have surged into the country's private sector" since late 2011 under a government-driven program aimed at stimulating the economy.
According to The Commentator, Al Dawood has previously asserted that baby girls should be fully covered using the burka, in order to protect them from sexual molestation.
Al Dawood justified his call to harass female workers by referring to an obscure story from the early days of Islam about a famous warrior, Al Zubair, who did not want his wife to leave home to pray in the mosque. Al Dawood claimed that the famous warrior hid in the dark one night and molested his wife in the street. The wife then ran home and decided against ever leaving of her house again, saying that the “there is no safer place than home and the world out there is corrupt.”
Khalid Ebrahim Al Saqabi, a conservative cleric, has endorsed Al Dawood’s calls for molestation and said, "Why is the labor minister concerned with finding jobs for women instead of men?"
Women's rights in Saudi Arabia have always been a point of international contention. In the Middle Eastern country, the rights of women are defined by Islam and tribal customs in which "purdah" (separation of women and men) is considered central. All women, regardless of age are "required to have a male guardian". Women also cannot vote or be elected to high political positions although King Abdullah has declared that women will be able to vote and run for the first time in 2015 local elections. Saudi Arabia is also the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving.