Sometimes, the best indication at a problem’s acuteness is just how hard everybody’s trying to avoid talking about it, or to deny its existence altogether.
According to a study about sexual harassment in the workplace published by the “Center for Social Sciences” in 2014, the employment sector in Georgia was a real gender equality utopia: 95.8 % of active population claimed they had never experienced any kind of sexual harassment at work…
The state of things was quite different when it came to sexual harassment in public spaces. That same year, a study by the “Women’s Information Center” showed that 45 % of subway passengers had experienced some form of sexual harassment and 85.5 % of them claimed that nobody had ever tried to help them in such situations.
According to a joint study conducted by GeoStat and UN Women in 2017, 1 in every 10 women had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and 1 in every 5 women - at least once in her life. For comparison, according to various data available, 1 in every 3 women in the EU has experienced some form of sexual harassment at least once in her life.
However, before jumping to the conclusion that women in Georgia are safer than in the EU, we must remember that studies on sexual harassment and related issues in the country only began in recent years. Accordingly, the level of awareness in society is still very low.
Studies have shown that an important part of the population doesn’t even consider harassment as a form of sexual violence. What is more, sometimes harassment is perceived as a friendly gesture, or even a compliment. Or at least that’s the argument many use to excuse someone’s behaviour more often than not - such was the case with Papuna Ugrekhelidze, for instance.
Last March, the head of the National Agency for Public Registry was accused of sexual harassment by his former colleague. Ugrekhelidze justified himself by explaining that he calling his colleague by the nickname “squirrel” and sending her threat-containing messages was part of a “friendly relationship”.
According to a draft law currently in review at Georgian parliament, such “friendly relationships” in the workplace are to be considered an administrative offense and an official definition of “sexual harassment” must appear in the legislation.
According to the draft, “unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.
Along with rape, sexual harassment constitutes a form of sexual violence. And it is not limited to insistently offering somebody to have sexual intercourse.
Your colleague enters the room and you make a loud comment about the length of her dress? That’s sexual harassment.
You beep at a woman standing in the street? That’s sexual harassment.
You don’t respect somebody’s personal space and touch them without permission? That’s also sexual harassment.
Despite being clearly refused, you keep asking a woman for her Facebook information or phone number? Yes, that is also sexual harassment.
At the end of 2017, the famous Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment by several women, which laid the foundation for the #metoo movement. Since then, tens of thousands of women have mustered the courage to tell their stories to the world. People in different countries are discussing the problem and its possible solutions as well as the effects of this movement on the contemporary world, on the mentality and customs established through millennia. There are lots of challenges in various countries - some common, some unique. For example, in US and Europe some are calling #metoo campaign a “witch-hunt”. Some people claim that many accusations lack any evidence, but, nevertheless, they are straightly believed. Thus, it is quite possible to destroy the reputation and career of an innocent person. Besides, people are starting to measure the impact, movement is having on everyday life. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published its preliminary findings to examine the effects of the movement.
“During the past year, 7,500 harassment complaints filed from October 2017 to September 2018 (12% raise). This is the first time this number has gone up in five years.
The number of lawsuits the EEOC filed increased by 50%.
Successful EEOC-run mediation proceedings went up by 43%.
Visits to the sexual harassment page of the EEOC’s website went up more than 100%.”
However, in Russia some people are calling it “The plague”. That’s the name the famous political expert and columnist of the newspaper “Vzglyad”, Dmitriy Drobtnitsky has given to #Metoo movement. In his opinion, the movement is a “well-established technology”, “an ideal weapon of liberals” that could strike enemies, depriving them of the ability to defend themselves. In addition, the author sees in the movement a real threat to the current political system in Russia.
You can read in further detail on the effects and implications of the #metoo movement, as well as the differences between flirting and sexual harassment here.
In a society where it’s still very common for men to pronounce loud toasts about “respect for the ladies” on every table, blaming and judging the victim is far from being uncommon (and sexual harassment can even be considered as only the tip of the iceberg: according to a study by UN Women, 22% of women and 31% of men believe that beating a woman is justified in some circumstances).
Very few people think about the stress experienced by thousands of women as a result of sexual harassment. According to a study by the European Agency of Health and Safety in the Workplace, sexual harassment causes the following reactions in the victim: anger, irritation, fear, shame, loss of confidence. Society’s perception and its various reactions, of course, enhance these negative emotions.
Even though it’s still too early to talk about breaking taboos and large scale campaigns in Georgia, the country’s Public Defender notes in a study from early March that the number of reports on sexual harassment has considerably increased. This happened after women started talking and the media covered the sexual harassment facts likely committed by one of the famous public personalities.
Toasts from men, of course, aren’t inherently bad in themselves, the real problem is that they mainly remain as long monologues, whereas the experience in Georgia and the whole world clearly shows that it’s finally time to pass the mic to the other side.