Mona Bitar is a Certified High-Performance Coach that manages her own online coaching business and is based in Amman, Jordan. She holds various international championship titles in Kettlebell Sport and was the first Arab to compete in Kettlebell Sport in the history of Girevoy Sport. She has worked and visited multiple countries in the Middle East through the fitness industry including Lebanon, Qatar, UAE, and Iran to name a few.
Mona is an advocate for women’s rights and most recently was featured in the annual publication of the Empowering Through book titled, “Empowering Women through Healthy Living”.
Yes, sexual harassment is a significant issue and exists due to the nature of our work being very up close and personal with our clients. There is a tendency for male clients at times to request female trainers based on their appearance, causing the hiring of a trainer to not be based on their skill set, but rather because someone wants to train with ‘that woman’. I have been in situations where my caliber of work and results made me the best candidate for certain jobs, but I lost the opportunity because I did not look nor dress a certain way.
Inevitably, trainers build close relationships with clients and personal phone numbers are exchanged. This can cause the lines to be easily crossed within the fitness industry. For example, clients will send texts at awkward times and inappropriate messages to their trainers. Furthermore, most corporate gym management teams usually consist of all men. This leads female trainers to be unable to trust anyone or feel uncomfortable to disclose issues in confidence if an inappropriate situation arises without being judged or mocked.
The number of female trainers has definitely increased. This is needed in the region due to the segregation of gyms and the conservative nature of the countries we live in. Therefore, there has definitely been a rise in the number of female trainers in order to meet the demand.
I cannot answer if sexual harassment has increased due to more women working in the sector as I am unaware of the statistics. But most likely yes, simply due to the exposure and stresses placed on societies due to social media. Female trainers think they have to look a certain way and post photos of themselves wearing less clothing to attract more clients, contributing to stereotypes of how trainers should look or be. For these reasons, I would assume that sexual harassment has increased due to the nature of the industry evolving globally.
I have received comments that were supposed to be compliments, such as comments about a particular body part. There have been instances where I have been asked extremely inappropriate questions about my personal life by male colleagues to which I would simply walk away. I want to make it clear that I do NOT condone these types of conversations within my professional life and with colleagues. I maintain a clear separation between my professional and personal life.
From my experience, it is all very similar. The approach may be different, but the scenarios and comments are all the same. It is important to note that it might not be about what is said, but rather how it is said. This is not to say that sexual harassment is permissible in any context, but there is a difference in the tonality and energy expressed within different Arab dialects and levels of social acceptability. Further, context is the most important element which is highly dependent on whether consent has been granted or dismissed.
It should be understood that when a male makes an inappropriate joke, it may be largely due to their lack of exposure. When a male trainer (who may come from a conservative background) starts working in a West Amman gym where women are dressed in tight clothing, it could lead the guy to act as if he were ‘a kid in a candy shop’.
To a certain degree, you cannot blame him since he has had no exposure and there is a serious lack of education in what is permissible behavior and what is not.
There are definitely benefits and disadvantages to gender separation in gyms. There are benefits especially in large gyms where I see women spending hours in the gym just to escape from their personal distresses at home. There are benefits in comfort levels as well, especially since many women wear hijab and conservative clothing. Understandably, many women become very uncomfortable wearing hijab while exercising due to overheating, so having separate areas for women is beneficial.
However, there are disadvantages to gender separation in gyms since it enhances the separation of genders within other aspects of society. This causes there to be a lack of exposure on how women should act around male counterparts. For this reason, women may be training at the gym to gain attention since they might not have any other exposure to men, apart from immediate family members. This may be due to her living in a conservative household where she is not allowed to speak to men in general.