Catcalling in Bahrain: Why it’s not normal and what you should do about it

Street harassment also known as “catcalling,” usually entails unwanted comments, gestures, honking, wolf-whistlings, catcalling, exposure, following, persistent sexual advances, and touching by strangers in public areas.

In 2020, women across generations are taking a stand against sexual harassment and assault. “Catcalls of Bahrain” is a prime example of a local movement that is bringing these issues to light. Just recently, we had the chance to talk to Jawaher, the creator of the page to know more.

Can you tell us briefly about ‘Catcalls of Bahrain’ – what was your aim and how do you plan on achieving that through this initiative?

Catcalls of Bahrain is a safe space in which we give voice to people and their experiences with all kinds of harassment – catcalling being the most common form. It is also a space where we educate people about the more “taboo” topics – most of which rely under the harassment umbrella.

Additionally, we try to aid victims by educating them about resources such as Shamsaha and the cybersecurity hotline (992). Our aim is to reach as many people as possible, shifting the societal view on catcalling from “flirting” to harassment. We plan on achieving this initiative through the online platform Instagram. We actually rely mostly on our beloved followers to share our posts and educate others. They do all the work for us!

What do you think people should understand about catcalling?

People need to realize that catcalling and being followed by a car does not constitute as flirting whatsoever. It is cheap, vulgar, and has no place in the Bahraini society. How I’d describe catcalling through my experiences is typically when the harasser shouts their filthy words at a passerby.

Catcalls of Bahrain has followers who are minors and have shared their experiences; which is very unsettling. What advice would you give these young women who are experiencing catcalling for the first time?

I would say that this isn’t your fault – dressing differently, going out at a different time of day, or even going to another, less crowded place wouldn’t prevent this. Harassers are out everywhere and you did not ask for it whatsoever. Please do not blame yourself for someone else’s actions – even if you were out in short shorts and a crop top at 3 am in Adliya, the harasser actively chose to harass while you were most probably minding your own business.

Is there a “best” way to deal with catcallers and harassers while it’s happening?

All instances of catcalling are different. I can’t actually tell people what to do because I know people who have been punched by their harassers for talking back, but I also know that staying quiet doesn’t do much.

What I recommend is writing down the harasser’s car plate number and reporting them to the authorities as catcalling is a violation of article 351 of the Bahrain Penal Code. If one doesn’t feel comfortable going to the authorities alone, Shamsaha has a program where they have a volunteer accompany victims at the police station.

What steps do the victims of catcalling (or harassment in general) need to do in Bahrain?

Report, report, report! Report this to the authorities – they need to learn their lesson.

Can you share some emergency hotlines for our readers?

Bahrain cybersecurity hotline: 992 – Can be used for victims of online threats and/or harassment – such as one threatening to leak explicit chats/photos. No, you won’t get in trouble for sending explicit content.

Bahrain traffic police: 199 – Can be used for when one is being followed home by a car.

Bahrain emergency hotline: 999 – Can be used for instances of sexual harassment, physical harassment and/or rape.

Shamsaha English hotline: 38447588 – Can be used as emotional support for victims of abuse.

Shamsaha Arabic hotline: 66710901 – Can be used as emotional support for victims of abuse.