VietNamNet Bridge – The regulations on prohibition of sexual harassment at work in the amended Labor Code 2012 is a gigantic step forward to ensure a healthy working environment and safety of workers. However, many people still do not know what is sexual harassment, how to denounce…
Currently, the gender bias is the biggest barrier for the victims of sexual harassment to denounce. (photo for illustrations).
Until now, speaking about sexual harassment, many people still think it’s behavior in the office. However, in a broader sense of “workplace,” sexual harassment in craft villages and maybe even on the field… can be fined. Even those who harass their charwomen can be accused of sexual harassment. The fine for this is up to VND50-VND75 million ($2,500-3,200).
The latest research by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) showed that sexual harassment is complicated in many sectors and industries. It happens from state administrative offices to companies, factories and even rural cooperatives. The three top fields for sexual harassment are education, health, and animal husbandry – veterinary medicine.
“In the livestock sector, our job is related to breeding and midwifery for animals so the influence on speech and behavior is clear. Sometimes I do not know what the act of sexual harassment is and what is the joke,” a female veterinary worker said.
The study also pointed out that because of fear of job loss, many victims of sexual harassment dare not to denounce the offenders but even keep silence because they feel ashamed.
In rural areas, sexual harassment in the workplace is seen as a sensitive issue, hard to say, so there is little information to share.
Ms. Le Thi Tam, an accountant in a construction company based in Can Loc district (Ha Tinh province) said: “I welcome this law very much because it supplies protection for vulnerable people like women. However, if I was sexually harassed by my colleagues, I would have not dared to denounce, because it is difficult to show the evidence. Moreover, it will affect the family. So I think women in rural areas who are victims of sexual harassment will not dare to speak out.”
Similarly, Ms. Bui Thi H (in Binh Phu commune, Thach That district, Ha Noi) who works at a construction site in Quan Hoa ward, Cau Giay District, Hanoi, said: “My team consisted of four women. Our work is collecting garbage. We were often teased by building workers. They also solicited for sexual relations. They threatened to not allow us to work here if we do not please them. Two members in our group had to go home but the remaining two of us are very tough so they must respect us.”
However, Ms. H had no idea that that act is sexual harassment and she can denounce. “Where do I denounce to? I’m shy, I do not dare to say it,” she said.
No denunciation, who will be fined?
Ms. Nguyen Thu Thuy, from the Center for Scientific Research of Gender, Women, Family and Adolescents (CSAGA) said, according to the international definition, all acts, words or gestures (even stare) with erotic meaning that make others feel uncomfortable and unsafe can be considered sexual harassment.
However, gender bias is the biggest barrier makes the victims of sexual harassment not dare to denounce.
At the office, the victims of sexual harassment can be blamed for wearing revealing dress, having sexy attitude, being indecent, molesting, taking advantage of men … In rural areas, the victims of sexual harassment may face “distress” even before the sexual harassment offenders. Therefore, victims try to sustain.
Sexual harassment is recognized as a global problem. In Australia, of each 10 nurses, 6 are sexually harassed; in the U.S., over 50% of female employees are sexually harassed; in Canada, 51% of women are at least sexually harassed once. In China, a survey in 2009 showed that 20% of 1,837 respondents said they were sexually harassed, of which 1/3 are men. From 1995, the 50 countries have built the legal systems against sexual harassment.
In rural areas in Vietnam, no sexual harassment case has been denounced until now. Ms. Doan Thi Phuong Loan, from the Hai Phong City Women’s Union said the union has never been reported of just a single sexual harassment case in the rural areas.
Mr. Le Van Dai, from the Hai Phong Labor Federation, said: “The city has more than 30,000 female employees but in my term, I have not yet received any denunciation of female employees on this issue. It’s a subtle thing. It is very difficult to collect evidence. Usually they will deal personally with each other. The last step is asking for police intervention.”
Mr. Nguyen Van An, Deputy Director of the Da Nang Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said: “We do not know if there is sexual harassment at workplace in Da Nang or not because we have not received any complaints related to this issue. To make the new regulations feasible, the MOLISA should get more comments from insiders about how they can denounce, and how they are protected after making accusations.”
Mr. Tran Dinh Vuong, from the Dong Loc Commune People’s Committee, Can Loc district, Ha Tinh province, said: “Through newspapers I know that the highest fine is VND75 million for individual and it doubles for organizations, I find this is impossible. The problem is not how much money is the fine, but how to determine the acts of sexual harassment, protect the dignity and honor of the accuser, as well as properly handle the one who has bad behavior with others in the workplace.”
Mr. Dang Duc San, Director of Legal Affairs Department, MOLISA said the sexual harassment behavior is just included in the amended Labor Code, which will take effect from May 1, 2013. However, so far there is no definition of this behavior.
The MOLISA still refers to international definition, but this definition is difficult to match in Vietnam. The Legal Department is compiling a draft guidance on this issue and it is expected to be released in March.