We will not be silenced

By Nourah Al-Oseimi
Exclusive to The Times, Kuwait

I take everything that I do very seriously. Regardless of whether it is a small task or a huge project, work is work and it must be taken seriously. As such, writing for a newspaper and having such a public platform means that I have a huge responsibility to report as accurately as I can and to create meaningful content that others can enjoy and benefit from.

Public platforms give us the opportunity to do so much good, when harnessed and used the correct way. It is how you use your platform that sets you apart from the rest. Are you using your platform to spread happiness? Are you using your platform to spread misinformation? Or perhaps most importantly, are you using your platform to create real change?

The subject of today’s article is one that I have longed to share and discuss publicly. It is a subject that most women dread speaking about. It is a subject that has been overlooked one too many times. Harassment.

Webster’s dictionary defines the term ‘harass’ as “to create an unpleasant or hostile situation especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.” Accordingly, we are going to apply this definition of harassment for the remainder of this article.

Dr. Shayma Shamo, 27, a medical doctor residing in Kuwait is the founding force behind the ever-growing Lan_Asket movement — a social media page wherein people from all across Kuwait submit their encounters of harassment anonymously. #Lan_Asket is an Arabic expression that translates to “I will not be silenced”. And in keeping with that spirit, Dr. Shayma and I had a very candid conversation via Zoom on this movement and the concrete steps being taken to combat harassment in Kuwait.

“The triggering event was the way Ascia was talking about harassment. It was always something that I was passionate about and something that I wanted to talk about. I saw the opportunity when she was talking about it, so literally that same night I thought about account names and hashtags and then the next day I launched it and messaged every single person I know to talk about this very serious issue we have.”

An issue that needed to be placed under a magnifying glass, an issue that needed to be dissected from every angle, and an issue that needed to be addressed a long time ago and yet it never was. Why the complacency?

“I think it’s really reflective of the culture we’re in where appearances are really important, and you don’t want to appear in a bad way in front of anyone. I think that’s one of the things that makes people not want to speak about it and keep it quiet. Why bring these problems to yourself when you can dust it under the rug? It’s also the normalization that happened, because people have been ignoring it, it’s become normalized. It created a type of false acceptance.”

At this point in our conversation, I couldn’t help but mention the virtual elephant in the room. How does gender play into all of this? Are perceptions of gender and gender roles in Kuwait fueling the problem of harassment? And aren’t men victims of harassment too?

“We have had some submissions from men, and as a response to everyone who’s telling us that men are getting harassed as well, we also include stories from men. Nobody denies it, nobody says men aren’t getting harassed. But the reality is most of the submissions are from women. I think it’s a no brainer to admit that Kuwait is very much a patriarchal society and it’s a question of how this is manifesting its way into society and what can we do to tackle it?”

Excellent question indeed, according to Dr. Shayma – “now that we’ve taken the first step which is to talk about the very serious problem while we’re also in the process of healing. The number one thing is to talk about the problem, the acceptance that there is a problem. As a doctor, when you’re breaking bad news, one of the steps you take is to just say it as it is. This is the bad news. And this is what Kuwait needs at the moment. We need a moment where somebody is going to break the bad news and that is the aim of Lan Asket. We are not going to be silenced anymore.”

A common phenomenon that I, and most women, have observed is victim-blaming. More often than not, when women come forward with their accounts of harassment, there has to be at least one good Samaritan who’s quick to pose the question “what were you wearing?” or “what were you doing that provoked them?” or, my personal favorite, “are you sure you’re not imagining things?” That’s certainly plausible, a victim mustering enough bravery to come forward and talk about their harrowing experience only for it to be dismissed as a figment of their imagination, but I digress.

“I think, first and foremost, we need to push for legislative changes and creating proper protocols when it comes to dealing with harassment. Both men and women have complained that they did not know who to talk to or who to approach. There isn’t an exact protocol or helpline or application or website. Even when it comes to actual statistics on harassment in Kuwait, it’s incredibly limited.”

“There are two surveys made by Abolish153 on the perceptions of violence against women. But actual numbers, age group, type of harassment, why aren’t individuals filing complaints? This is all information that we have no idea about. This is why we created this platform, it’s a rough start, very ground up but here it is. We want to talk about this, we want to create an environment where people can talk about this and we want to fix it.”

Lan Asket, within a matter of weeks, has amassed a following of over 11,000 users. This number is rapidly increasing day by day and their submission e-mail has received over 300 stories and accounts of harassment in Kuwait. Dr. Shayma safeguards the confidentiality, trust, and full privacy of these submissions.

“As a platform, we like to remain as a safe place for people to talk about harassment. However, we’re working very closely with the team of Amana, a very new start-up that I recommend everyone to look out for and a new campaign that we’re working on. Through Amana, the team is helping to create more concrete changes.”

As our conversation was nearing its end, I had to ask Dr. Shayma about the most pressing issues or observations that she’s made ever since receiving these submissions.

“I love working with children, and what really resonated with me was that most of the stories people were submitting were encounters of harassment where the victims were under 18. Including most of the encounters of harassment where men were the victims, they were under 18 as well. That was the most shocking thing and was very painful to see. When you think about legislative change, how are you going to get the child to speak? If the child is too afraid to speak to their parents, how will they come forward?”

And finally, what advice does Dr. Shayma have for victims who are struggling to find their voice and feel that they can’t bring themselves to come forward and share their experience?

“First and foremost, it’s not every single person’s job to save the world. If you feel that in order to make peace, you need to forget it and move on, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not your job to fight every single thing in the world and if you feel you’re not up for this fight, don’t feel guilty. Rather, just be there as a source of support for other people who are willing to take this fight. Simply, look after yourself. Mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Be open to the idea of healing. That’s the most important thing. Heal.”

Nourah Al-Oseimi is a 28-year-old Kuwaiti who holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Nourah has worked in different places such as the Central Bank of Kuwait and the United Nations. She serves as a free-lance contributing writer to The Times Kuwait newsmagazine. Her column, Essentially Kuwaiti, features an in-depth look on exceptional young Kuwaitis and their efforts towards the realization of a New Kuwait.

Nourah Al-Oseimi and The Times Kuwait are proud supporters of the #Lan_Asket movement. To learn more, please follow @lan.asket on Instagram. To submit your story, please e-mail shayma@lanasket.org

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