A new study conducted by an international research group may have revealed why some men harass women on the street. Coordinated by Promundo, a global leader in promoting gender justice, and U.N. Women, the multi-country study, the largest of its kind, looked at four areas in the Middle East — Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and the Palestinian territories — surveying approximately 4,830 men regarding their participation in street harassment.
Of the men surveyed, some 31% of men in Lebanon and over half (64%) of them in Egypt admitted to sexually harassing women and girls in public spaces, their offenses ranging from ogling to stalking to rape.
In particular, one of the report’s findings pointed to young men with secondary-level education as more likely to sexually harass women than their older, less-educated counterparts, a discovery that stunned researchers, especially considering men who have finished high school and college overall tend to hold more progressive attitudes toward women and equality.
But for men who are struggling to survive in a politically destabilized region of the world where skyrocketing unemployment rates impede their ability to provide for their families’ basic needs, street harassment of women may provide an opportunity for them to assert their power.
What’s more, the report’s findings show men may be harassing women and girls to entertain themselves.
The vast majority of the men surveyed, upwards of 90% in some regions, said they sexually harassed women on the street for “fun and excitement.”
For researchers like Brian Heilman, a fellow at Promundo who helped write the report, the study’s findings regarding men’s motivations are unlikely to be unique to the Middle East, but instead indicative of a larger, more universal problem. The report marks the first time data has been collected on men’s participation in street harassment, rather than focusing on the experience of women in street harassment situations.
“We know that street harassment is an issue around the world, and there are likely similar dynamics at play,” Heilman told NPR. “We just happen to have a rich glimpse of what it looks like in [this] region through this data set.”