Women’s Rights… or Wrongs?!
By Hoda Nassef
Where are our so-called Women’s Rights in Egypt?
Sexual Harassment on the Workforce is the Rule in Egypt, and other Middle-Eastern countries, and not the exception. It is one big criminal action that we ignore, or dismiss as trivial! We brag about “women’s rights”, just to imitate the western countries, pretending that we are as civilized as they are, with real punitive laws! For women’s real protection? Let’s face facts… and tell it how it is.
How many SILENT women were and will always be especially harassed or abused at the workforce? What did they do about it? Did they protest? Object? Complain? Or just give in, to get that ‘job’? Does the law actually implement protection for women against sexual harassment? If there is no REAL law, then the harassers will continue making life hell for girls and women, thinking it is their holy right to bother women, and we can just like it, or lump it.
Well, it all depends actually on the fair-sex’s personalities, their upbringing, and how desperate they really are for getting the job that they applied for, and are qualified for. Maybe they need the money more than upholding their principles and religious views. Or, let’s admit it… maybe they don’t mind being harassed. You have all types of women, after all, just as you find all types of men…and by this I mean the male employers. Also, there are women harassers as well, but my concern is mentioning only the majority of sex-harassers: men.
Most employers use their positions or their offices to induce or coerce women to accept their unwanted advances; the uglier they are, the more they act the part of Don Juan, because they actually cannot attract any female outside of the office. As for the women who already have a job with the harasser; the higher their pays are, the more they are likely to accept the bosses’ advances, in order to keep their jobs. The unwritten rule is “use it, or lose it”!
And how many times have women tried to apply for jobs, and during the interview or first meeting with their potential male managers or employers, they would be duped into thinking that, ‘oh there’s a decent guy at last…he’s not staring at my legs or other parts of my anatomy’ – only to discover later that they are ‘seasoned’ harassers, and know when to play it down or act cool at first, in order not to scare away the ‘victim’. Yes, victim. She is eventually the victim of his advances, and if she doesn’t like it, then she can quit. He makes that very clear too, eventually, especially after he realizes that he’s not getting to First Base with her, and never will. And so, she usually does quit, instead of telling him to jump in the Nile River, or quit himself!
So, back to job hunting, and new CVs. But, how many times did women have to delete all their previous ‘job experience’? Personally, when I used to job-hunt, I had no way of explaining to my interviewers that I left so many jobs, because my bosses were literally almost chasing me around the desk…his desk or mine, doesn’t matter. Who would believe me? (It would often be in subtle ways, such as ‘accidentally’ brushing against her, while passing by…or on purpose, such as saying lewd words or so-called ‘compliments’.) So, I would often delete some jobs that I quit, thus, leave big gaps in my ‘career’.
The next questions, if the interviewers were observant enough, would be why I wasn’t working during so-and-so period, and what did I do between jobs. Getting pissed off by the inquisition, I would there and then decide that I didn’t want the job anyway, so my retort would often be flippant, such as, ‘I’m filthy-rich, and don’t really need the job,’ or, ‘I’m saving up for a world cruise, and you’re my last stop…for next month,’ … or anything dumb like that, just to get back at the idiots. Once or twice, however, I would admit that I was being harassed by the previous manager(s), and had no choice but to leave. Whether they believed me or not wasn’t the issue, but I avoided lying, whenever I could.
I will give you some hints on the types of harassers, and they come in all shapes, sizes, forms, age, and background. Following is my personal portfolio of all the freaks I’ve met…and each category of Freak consists of 5 to ten of them! I lost count….
Now, meet GM Harasser Number One: He’s ugly, so has an inferiority complex, and wants to prove to himself that he isn’t ugly.
GM Harasser Number Two: He’s an opportunist, and from a low background, and wants to get into the circle of this females’ friends and acquaintances; being attractive to boot is all the better for him, so why not give it a try?
GM Harasser Number Three: He’s a natural womanizer, and conceited, thinking that because he is attracted to the interviewee (you) at first sight, you reciprocate the same attraction!
GM Harasser Number Four: He’s married, but bored with his wife, and wants to renew his libido, stamina, or whatever he thinks is lacking!
GM Harasser Number Five: He’s married, relatively satisfied with his boring wife, but he’s getting on in age – or is middle-aged – or is actually old, and wants to prove that he isn’t; so, the younger she is, the better it is for his ego…libido, whatever!
GM Harasser Number Six: He’s actually drop-dead attracted to you, but you aren’t, and he will employ you, woo you, do anything for you, just to get you in bed, then drop you! (No, I was never that dumb, nor that immoral! So, gals, hang in there, and don’t go on ego-trips yourselves! Don’t believe everything you hear from these horny bastards. These types just go raving mad if you so much as dare to reject them, let alone politely turn them down. Then they turn downright vindictive, so…beware…let them down, nicely, if you can.) For him, it’s a Package Deal on First Sight; the Job AND Him, or you go the highway… and he goes the low way! (I heard that rhyme from one big ass harasser, by the way! He’ll know whom I’m talking about, if he reads this!)
GM Harasser Number Seven: He’s not so hot physically, and deep inside knows it; the less of a man he is, the more he tries to prove that he’s Tarzan…with you as Jane. He’ll stop at nothing to get you, and beware of this type too; he’ll defame your name (behind your back) and tell all his buddies and cronies that you were a one-night stand, or some such scenario. Anything in that line, just to secretly get back at you, and your rejection.
GM Harasser Number Eight: He’s a cool customer and you actually have no clue yet that he has an eye on you. You are employed by this type, and then start working in a relatively relaxed atmosphere, not aware that he is all the time calculating and laying out his strategy to lure you into his trap. Then one day he may casually invite you for lunch or a meal outside, making you believe that the whole company or department would be there. That happened recently to me; my boss invited me for Iftar, after making it known that the company always has one such occasion for the whole staff. Being new on the force, and unaware of the manoeuvre, I innocently asked him, ‘Who’s coming from the Department?’ His answer was a nonchalant, ‘It will be very limited.’ And then he gave me the name of the restaurant to join the staff at the appropriate time. The ‘limited’ staff was himself, alone! So, I was forced on a private date…after the meal, I knew it would be the beginning of the end of my short career with them!
Officially Defining Sexual Harassment:
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment at work threatens your self-esteem and confidence; it stops you from working effectively, undermines your dignity, and can affect your health and happiness. Sexual harassment is unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature, and even just one isolated act is enough to amount to it. It could take the form of sexual innuendo or lewd comments about your appearance or sex life, whether these are written or spoken. It could be a physical act, for example, deliberately brushing up against you or trying to caress you. Or, it could be more general, where, for example, the environment of the workplace creates a hostile or humiliating atmosphere for you. This could be the result of sexually explicit material displayed in the workplace, the downloading of internet porn by other employees, or other behaviour that creates an uncomfortable environment. Nobody should be subjected to it. The unfortunate reality is that it is happens all too often.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
If you are unhappy with the way your employer has dealt with your grievance, or if your harasser is your employer, then you should take legal action. You can bring a sexual harassment claim regardless of how long you have worked for your employer, or how many hours you work. This option is available to you whether you are a man or a woman, and whatever age or sexual orientation you are. If you have previously had a relationship with the harasser then you can still bring a claim. You can bring a claim even if the harassment happened at your job interview.
The employer cannot argue that he or she did not intend to harass. If the behaviour undermined your dignity on the basis of your gender then it is discriminatory by law.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
• The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
• The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
• The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
• Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
• The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.
International Laws not Adapted or Applied in Egypt:
Luckily for the American women, a variety of laws exist to protect them. When will these laws be adapted in Egypt? In the USA, for example, your employer has a duty to provide a safe system of work, safe equipment and competent employees. Consequently, he or she has a responsibility to protect you from harassment. They are also protected by the Sex Discrimination Act, which guards you against less favourable treatment because of your sex. Similar laws apply in Scotland as in England and Wales.
It is helpful for the victim to directly inform the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.
When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, EEOC looks at the whole record: the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.
If you keep quiet about harassment, the employer might argue that the behaviour was not unwelcome at the time, or that you have fabricated the story after leaving the job. According to an Equal Opportunities Commission report in 2001, however, nearly half of all applicants bringing tribunal claims between 1998 and 2001 had not made formal complaints while still employed. The reasons given were fear of receiving poor references, fear of harming their careers, embarrassment and concern they would not be believed.
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.
Sexual harassment claims are founded on the Sex Discrimination Act, on the basis that the (female) victims were discriminated against because of their gender. Furthermore, if their employers decide not to investigate, and the harassed leave their jobs because they can no longer bear the harassment, then they could claim constructive unfair dismissal. This means the employer's action, or lack of action, caused them to hand in their notice, even though the women/girls were not directly asked to leave.
European Union agencies have recognized that reluctance to complain is a distinguishing characteristic of sexual harassment. Employment tribunals are increasingly acknowledging that workers may have good reasons for delaying their complaint, and they examine the individual circumstances of each case when making decisions.
What action should you take?
If you are experiencing sexual harassment in any or all of its forms, then there are steps you can take. First, you should make it clear that you find the behaviour inappropriate and unwelcome. When you do this, speak clearly and do not smile or apologise. If possible, confront your harasser in front of another person who you trust. You could also write to your harasser, if you find it too difficult to directly confront him or her, and you should keep a copy of the document.
If the behaviour continues, keep a diary of when and where it happened, what occurred, and who was there to witness it. Report the behaviour to your employer, who is then obliged by law to take action to investigate it and prevent it happening again. Take notes of any meetings with your employer about it. Many workplaces will have a specific procedure in place to deal with such complaints.
If other people are experiencing harassment, ask them to keep notes as well and to also make a complaint. If an employment agency organized your work placement, then tell them. If you are a member of a trade union, it is a good idea to let them know about the problems you are experiencing. If your health is suffering, then tell your doctor. In some cases the harassment may technically amount to assault or another criminal offence, in which case you should report it to the police. At a later stage, if the harassment continues, you may need to prove that you took every step to stop the behaviour.
There are many other categories of harassers, but there would be no space to name them all. If you spot one during the interview, don’t think that you can take the job and smugly assume ‘oh, I can handle him.’ Some men stop at nothing. But, I want to point out that I am always conservatively dressed during interviews, and in fact am a bit conservative by nature, so don’t get the impression at the end that perhaps I’m giving out the ‘wrong signals’… I don’t. Or rather, I didn’t.
Unfortunately, there exists no real law for defamation of name, slander, and all types of male abuse and harassment. If on the job or workforce, it’s often a matter of His word, against yours. Hardly any colleague would risk losing his or her job, to take your side! There is no protection for women, and less for relatively attractive women, nor legal punishment for the abusers and harassers.
We women live in a jungle here in Egypt …and that’s a fact. Sexual harassment at work is a subject not mentioned nor defined by any laws here. The ‘victims’ are too embarrassed to complain, and find it futile even if they do. The more attractive she is, the more she has to struggle to survive, and the more she has to prove that she’s not an object of abuse, let alone keep her name and justified honour intact. At the extreme end of sexual harassment, even raped victims prefer to remain quiet, rather than sue the harasser and keep the stigma of shame. Somehow, they are always the ones to be blamed in the end.