Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A man followed me in Kuwait. What should I do?

I saw a post on one of the expat women’s forums on Facebook.  I thought I should throw this out there for people either new to Kuwait or just not as informed as you may think you are.  

This is a discussion of the dangers (perceived or not) of men following you in the country.

The first time I came to Kuwait was in 1993.  I stayed with a Kuwaiti family and respected their traditions.  Because all the girls in the family wore hijab, I also wore one when we went outside.  We got followed by men in cars.  Why?  Because they wanted to give us their phone numbers.  When we pulled up at drive-up fast food restaurants (Happy Duck, back then), men in cars behind us paid for our meals.  Why?  Because they wanted to see if we would thank them and take their phone numbers to meet later.  The big thing back then was going to the Sultan Center in Salmiya - which was considered a pick-up place.  Guys and gals would troll the aisles looking for potential mates.  That first visit to Kuwait in 1993, my girlfriends brought me there and I couldn't understand why they were applying so much make-up to buy toothpaste...  (TSC later discontinued allowing single men to enter the store on the weekend nights.)  

As recently as 20 years ago, men and women in Kuwait didn't mix at all.  Many restaurants were segregated by "families" and "bachelors."  Kuwaiti marriages were, for the most part, arranged.  I have Kuwaiti female friends whose families didn't allow them to go out of the house without a male chaperone. And if a man and woman were “dating” – they were already engaged or had signed a marriage contract.  This tradition carries on with conservative families and is the norm in Saudi Arabia (where public dating is against the law). 

Note to the expat gal:  Foreign women weren’t necessarily regarded as “easy” (but in some cases, sure we were), but men knew they could more easily approach a foreign woman.  Also, 20 years ago, there weren’t as many foreign women in the country.  Unless you were butt-ugly or having a really bad hair day, chances are that you would be followed around.  

And just FYI – if you tell the man, “I’m sorry, but I’m married,“  it will mean nothing to him.  It means only that you are not a virgin.  Likewise if you are pregnant.

Kuwait had developed their own discreet dating language/culture. Like signals (a wink or a nod) to meet in front of the bathroom in restaurants to exchange numbers. A circular motion with the index finder in front of the lips meant, “I want to talk to you.”  A wink or a tap of a finger below the eye meant, “Ok.” Direct eye contact (stare) is a come-on.  Certain signals in cars mean different things: If you smile at a strange man in another car, it gave the “ok” to be followed (which is why many women in Kuwait look straight ahead at traffic signals).  Tilting the rear view mirror to one side (upward/downward) meant you were interested in someone in the car behind you.  Turn signals meant either “follow me” or even a few blinks either right or left meant you were interested in either the driver or the passenger.   Men left notes on women’s cars with their phone numbers.  Stick-it notes with phone numbers were balled up discreetly and handed to women.  A man following a woman around a store would be trying gain her interest, seeing if she would get close enough to him to take his number.  Kuwait’s dating language, not unlike other languages throughout time, is becoming extinct, although there are people who still use it.

I've lived alone in Kuwait 23 years and being approached, followed in my car, being slipped numbers on tiny pieces of paper, and discreetly talked to in stores and other public places by many men has taught me one thing: It's a historical/cultural dating system and I don’t fear it (only in several cases have I been afraid and that was being followed in a car.  In both instances, I reported it to the police.)   If a man is following you and you tell him to leave you alone or you’re not interested, 99% of the time, he will leave you alone.  For the tenacious 1%, you have the choice to scream and he will run away; or just take his number and throw it away.  I’ve also found that if it is a Kuwaiti man that is approaching you in a store, the store’s OCN security guards won’t be of much help to you.

Following a woman around isn’t right, but it is not particularly dangerous in Kuwait (unless your instinct tells you that it is).  Some of the die-hard old-school men (maybe 40s and above or from conservative/traditional families) still use the old dating system (probably those who have never used a computer chat room!).  Don’t freak out unless you have told them to go away or the man touches you (as even on your arm it is illegal in Kuwait) - or you feel you are in danger.

Change is good.  It's good that women in Kuwait are changing perceptions and laws regarding women's rights and mores of decency.  It is illegal for men to follow women in cars in Kuwait (called "eve-teasing") and punishable by 6 months in jail (you MUST report it to the police and unfortunately, that means going to a police station in person.  Call 112 for emergencies first.).  In the UAE, they publish full names and photos of offenders in the newspaper - regardless of their nationality or rank in society.   Stalking is serious, but sadly there are no anti-stalking laws in Kuwait (I had a friend who had someone follow her for months and the police couldn't do anything).  Being approached by a man in a store probably won't be taken seriously by police (perhaps just a report taken) but at least it gets the problem on the radar and adds to statistics.  More women need to report violations. 

I also hope that they will abolish Article 152; which states that a man can kill his wife if he catches her cheating. Yes, it is a current law.

And a word to the wise:  Follow the laws of the country where you live. Don't make your first violation into something that could put yourself in further problems.   Do not post the man's photo online.  While you may think you are warning others, you are placing yourself at risk.  This is in violation of the Kuwait Social Media Law, punishable by a 5000 KD fine, 6 months in jail, and if you are an expat; deportation. Further, if the man is from a large tribe, they may seek revenge for "shaming" the family by showing his photo. Why put yourself in further danger?  If you want to report someone suspicious, go immediately to the nearest police station or call 112.

Having stated all the above, if you as a woman ever feel like you are in danger: SCREAM and run for help.  Call 112 and report it at the nearest police station.  

The same applies in any country.

Disclaimer:  What's funny is when 20-somethings write to me and say that I'm insulting the "real Kuwait" or that I'm somehow slandering Kuwait.  My intent is never to slander Kuwait.  I wouldn't have fought for/lived/worked/bettered Kuwait for the past 2+ decades if that was my intent.  
Kuwait is not perfect.  No place is.  But good or bad - it is what it is.  This blog is written from MY PERSPECTIVE about my personal experiences.  If you don't like it, you don't have to read what I have to say.  No one is holding you hostage and forcing you to read.


xmido said...

It's hard for a man to show desire. If he shows too much he is creepy and if he doesn't show enough he is gay. But the only way a man can show interest in a woman is to show desire and interest. It's a fine line, too much or unwanted attention is creepy, too little and you stuck in the friend zone forever. Also depend on the looks. Since men do all the chasing, and starting actions, I think there is always going to be unavoidable creepiness, but I think people here take it to the extreme. No tact or respect. I guess I don't really know how to show interest in a woman I am interested in, because if I do I fear of being creepy and if I don't then i am just a friend.

Desert Girl said...

Xmido - What started this was that a pregnant woman was being followed around a store.

And I hate to break it to pregnant women being chased around stores locally by pervy men, but that just means you're not a virgin and that you can't get pregnant again at that point in time (that is, to the pervs...)