Sexual Harassment: Fact not Fiction


Karima H'misa

Karima H’mimsa

By Karima H’mimsa

As a female employee working in an international environment, I am intrigued that even in 2014 issues around leadership, flexibility in working hours and sexual harassment are able to impact women in the work place. Why have these issues not been resolved yet, although we know they are detrimental? I wanted to explore further and share my findings with the readers of Nina-iraq.


Part of the answer must surely be based on lack of awareness and understanding. This matters because the result is apathy. And the result of that… Well, in France a law around sexual harassment has recently been repealed.  French feminists are outraged – as prior to this, sexual harassment was punishable with up to one year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. The reason? Quite simply that sexual harassment is now considered ‘too blurry’ an offense under criminal law.I was stunned to read about this and investigated further, as ultimately it has implications for other countries also. However on further investigation I did discover that in other (European) countries, sexual harassment is not a criminal charge, the main reason being that there is definitive ruling on what constitutes hard evidence.

So, to understand this better one needs to know what is actually considered to be sexual harassment. It is of course a broad topic. It is a form of unwanted sexual behaviour, examples are: sexist remarks, harassment, unwanted touching of a person and the like. Leading especially the behaviour crosses a boundary with someone and that behaviour is therefore seen as hostile, humiliating or intimidating. This behaviour can be attributed to a person, but also of a group.  In the workplace it is unacceptable behaviour in working relationships. It could be colleagues and managers, but also to external contacts such as customers, clients, patients, and the like.Sexual harassment in the workplace comes in many forms and therefore does not necessarily have to be physical. Certain comments or behaviours may also be perceived as sexually explicit and inappropriate.  There are different forms of sexual harassment in the workplace:

1. Sexually explicit remarks or sexual tinted text messages , emails, or  letters
2. Intimate questions about people's private lives
3. Dating aimed at sexual contact
4. Proposals

Non- verbal
4. A long stare
5. Showing sexually explicit pictures, for example in the workplace or through the Internet / Intranet
6. Making sexually oriented gestures

7. Grasping , arm around shoulder, "pinch"
8. Try to kiss someone
9. Deliberately obstruct the passage for someone
10. Assault
11. Rape

So, what are the Risk groups?

Sexual harassment occurs everywhere, but certain sectors suffer much more sexual harassment than others. So do both male and female police officers, female assistants , nurses, attendants , bus drivers, train conductors and  vendors struggle with undesirable sexual behaviour. Especially young, single women and women with temporary contracts are in a potential high risk chance  to be victims of sexual harassment.  In early 2000 a European directive became operational which forced all European countries a law on equal treatment for men and women. It also states that sexual harassment is not allowed. So French women still can sue men of sexually harassment through civil law. And when it comes to a sexual assault or rape , as in the DSK case , victims can still go to France in criminal law.  Common standard procedure for a victims of harassment in the workplace, you can first go to the prevention advisor and/or counsellor of the company where you work. Every employer in the private and public sectors is required as to appoint a specialized prevention. In addition, an employer may designate one or more confidential counsellors.  Both the counsellor and the prevention advisor can give advice, provide support, help and required assistance. They mediate on request with the perpetrator/ offender. If this mediation leads to no results or becomes impossible, filling a complaint is the next step.

To my mind the important thing is to be vigilant and reactive. The more we let things go or don’t want to rock the boat, the less likely that things will be done. So creating awareness is key, it is this that will lead to action and not apathy.

Editor’s note:  It is also worth considering this in context of Iraq: The journalist Nihad Sabri wrote in an article published on “Women’s News Agency” that one of the polls conducted in Iraq showed that the harassers are mostly from the top-ranks in the career ladder. She stated: “Polls confirmed that 70% of women interviewed were subjected to sexual harassment from their supervisors, and for 81% of them this had a negative impact on their jobs because of their refusal.”  Please see this link for a sample sexual harassment policy, created by the Anti Discrimination Committee Queensland.

If you have anything you would like to share on this topic or indeed policies your organisation or company have implemented, Nina would welcome your insights.

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