Men who are found guilty of harassing women in Saudi Arabia will be publicly shamed and fined, according to a new legislation that is still being drafted.
Zain al Abideen, a member of the Shoura council, which has the power to propose laws to the King, urged "the council to follow the example of countries like Kuwait and the UAE, where similar laws have successfully deterred unwelcome advances", the Arabic newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat reported.
The legal development comes at a time when there has been an increase in complaints over harassment in the Kingdom, with streets such as Al Elaya Street in Riyadh and Al Tahliya Street in Jeddah being cited as spots for women to avoid.
There are frequent reports in Saudi media about women being harassed. From men accosting women in the streets to harassment in the work place, it is a huge problem.
A survey conducted in 2009, Harassment and Challenges Faced by Saudi Women Working with Men, focused on 1,000 Saudi women working in a wide range of fields, from medicine and education to banking and the media.
It found that 21 percent of respondents had been subjected to unsolicited forms of friendliness from their superiors and 35 percent from colleagues in similar, or lower, positions.
Many of the survey respondents also complained about colleagues making unsolicited flirtatious comments, with 28 percent complaining about unwanted requests for meetings outside the work place, 24 percent of them having been unnecessarily contacted late at night and 15 percent revealing that the harassment they experienced extended to actual physical contact.
More worryingly, most of the women who took part in the survey said the harassment caused them to worry about the possibility of losing their jobs or acquiring a bad reputation.
If the new law goes ahead, they would have some recourse and men found guilty of harassing women could face punishments ranging from public shaming and fines to three years imprisonment in the most serious cases.
Under the proposed legislation, sexual harassment is defined as an "honour crime". Its legal definition, which includes gestures and speech, also does not require for physical contact to have taken place in order for an offence to have occurred.
Managers should also beware that, if the law proceeds, demanding female employees to stay late at the office under the pretext of overtime can also leave themselves open to a charge of sexual harassment.