We, too, are part of the #MeToo

By Kosovar Gender Studies Center

As never before, the debate on sexual harassment is the main topic globally. There is no day passing without a news, research, analysis or critique on this phenomenon. The media avalanche is unstoppable.

In the United States of America, successful directors, extraordinary actors, and famous journalists, but also influential politicians, are facing allegations of sexual harassment, some of which happened decades ago.

Such allegations against well-known personalities have been made public in Europe, too.

There are two reasons why this is happening: justice for victims, although late, and translation of this practice into a brutal lesson in order to prevent such cases in the future.

Sexual harassment is a gender-based type of discrimination. It is not exclusively linked to physical and biological aspects, but it pays special importance to social and institutional hierarchical roles.

The act of sexual harassment is a clear manifestation of unequal relation of power and necessarily it imposes a relation of dominance; therefore this action is not always related to experiencing sexual gratification from this act.

Individuals involved in harassment in the workplace usually hold high positions, and they use their authority to make decisions over important career aspects of other employees or want to exercise their power and control over the victims.

On the other hand, typical victims are those without any decision-making power; in vulnerable and uncertain positions, who lack self-confidence to act and are more prone to suffer in silence.

#MeToo was created in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, but in the past three months, this hashtag has been used by millions of women in social networks revealing that they too had been prey of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Women all over the world posted in the social media with pain and anger their personal stories of sexual harassment or sexual assault. In many countries around the world, influential people in activism, culture, media, and politics joined the fight against this phenomenon using various modes. Unification under the #MeToo umbrella happened to fight stigmatism that is faced by the majority of women who speak publicly about this issue, and to build supporting mechanisms of primary importance in searching for solutions to prevent and eliminate sexual harassment.

#MeToo is a virtual march of solidarity that highlights the overall harmonization to find a joint voice against sexual harassment.

In Kosovo, apart from the human rights activists, in particular from the women’s rights activists, and sometimes also some politicians, there were no powerful calls by other factors for elimination and prevention of sexual harassment.

There are many laws and regulations that were drafted for the functionality of institutions, and which are already being implemented, but sexual harassment has not been a subject of these laws and bylaws. Subsequently, there are no institutional mechanisms in place that would fight this phenomenon. Furthermore, there is no public institution that has policies against sexual harassment in the workplace. This has resulted in a small number of reported cases although it is considered that such cases are much more widespread. Only in the past year there were media reports about sexual harassment in the public institutions, including in the University of Pristina.

Official statistics about the civil service reveal the vulnerability of women. These statistics show that women usually hold low positions in this service, making them more inferior towards their male senior officials.

Another sexual harassment indicator that puts women in unfavourable situation, even before they are employed, is that job announcements are rather discriminatory on basis of gender.

Until now, the ministries of the Kosovo Government or their depending offices have not reported about the number of sexual harassment cases in the workplace. It seems as if addressing this problem is restricted to existence of some legal provisions and there are no concrete steps that address the matter more specifically within these institutions’ regulations, such as disciplinary measures in line with these laws or some other concrete policy that would prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

The problem is hushed although data of empirical researches shows existence of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The number of proper and systematic studies of working conditions and gender relations in the workplace in private enterprises or public institutions in Kosovo is small.

If we want to analyse the situation of women and men in the workplace, then we cannot depend only on two indicators: employment and unemployment. These two indicators – although important – should be complemented with the indicator of achievement of international standards regarding working conditions.

A research conducted by the Kosovar Gender Studies Center has proven the need of a Law and of specific policies against sexual harassment in the workplace. The project that we are currently working on aims to gain support from all stakeholders in the process of drafting the law in order to improve the current situation.

Approval and implementation of the law and policies against sexual harassment would complete the legal infrastructure and would supplement the work done until now for implementation of the Law on Gender Equality and the Anti-Discrimination Law.

The most important issue is to create conditions for employees in Kosovo to recognise the definition of “sexual harassment in the workplace”, types of harassment, definition of inexcusable behaviour, so that they could report such cases and there would be an institutional reaction. Joint commitment of state mechanisms and civil society would result in proper identification and appropriate sanctioning of sexual harassment cases in the Kosovar society and institutions.

This article was published as part of the campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence: Leave No One Behind – End Violence against Women and Girls!” The article was supported by the Engagement for Equality (E4E) program funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Advocacy Training and Resource Center (ATRC). The article is responsibility of the Kosovar Gender Studies Center, and it does not represent the views of the United States Government, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), nor the Advocacy Training and Resource Center (ATRC).

*This article was published in Sbunker in Albanian language (https://sbunker.net/op-ed/89420/ne-metoo-jemi-edhe-ne/)