EU-UN Spotlight Initiative supports campaign against violence and harassment in the workplace

Posted January 26, 2022

Since 2019, UNDP, together with development partners, has been supporting the development of legislative measures and the implementation of an information campaign to counter violence and harassment in the workplace in the Kyrgyz Republic.

According to a study by the Kyrgyz Association of Women Judges (2019), every fourth woman in the Kyrgyz Republic has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. At the same time, 80% of cases of harassment occur in public institutions. 70% of the survivors are women aged 20 to 38, unmarried and holding the position of an ordinary employee.

In the period from November 22 to December 30, 2021, the Joint EU-UN Spotlight Initiative together with the Kyrgyzstan's largest-circulation newspaper “Super-Info,” and the Association "Gender Information Center" held a social media challenge against violence and harassment in the workplace, where users were encouraged to share their personal stories of workplace harassment, either publicly or on condition of anonymity.

The campaign was launched on Instagram and on the website www.super.kg under the hashtags: #AchykAitam, #Korkpoim, #Tiyishpe (translated as #ISpeakUp #IamNotAfraid #StopHarassment). The challenge was also supported by the stars of the Kyrgyz show business, speaking out against the culture of silence on violence and harassment. The total reach across all platforms was 1,679,107 views.

In addition, the Super-Info published weekly articles on what harassment is, how to recognize it and how to protect yourself from such actions. The gender expert of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Amina Kurbanova also gave an interview (https://www.super.kg/article/show/56493), where she told about the Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work (better known as ILO Convention No. 190) and protection measures envisioned in the national legislation.

As Amina Kurbanova noted: “Today, cases of harassment in the world of work can be considered on the basis of the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On State Guarantees of Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Men and Women,” which determines the responsibility of employers to take measures to protect against such attacks. But the problem is that even if such facts exist, they are carefully hidden from the public.”

During the challenge period, 100 stories of harassment survivors were received. Mostly sent by women, only two of them were shared by men, and even those describing the cases happened to their female acquaintances. User reactions to the stories varied. Some people either did not know about the concept of harassment at all, or reacted negatively, with sarcasm, or left comments blaming the victim. Only a few reacted with understanding and condemned harassers, and most of them were women and girls.

The challenge showed how urgent the problem of harassment is in Kyrgyzstan and how much work remains to be done to eliminate it.

“In Kyrgyzstan, this problem is always in the shadows. One solution is to speak openly about the problem. We need public discussion. MP Elvira Surabaldiyeva introduced a bill to combat harassment in the workplace. It would be good if it is adopted,” said public activist Erkin Ryskulbekov.

This bill was posted for public discussion in May 2021 and is available at: http://kenesh.kg/ru/article/show/8027/na-obshtestvennoe-obsuzhdenie-s-20-maya-2021-goda-vinositsya-%20proekt-zakona-o-vnesenii-izmeneniy-v-trudovoy-kodeks-kr. Now, state bodies shared their suggestions and comments to the bill, which are being reviewed and addressed.

In one of the stories published by the Super-Info, Aysanat (the name of the heroine has been changed) spoke about harassment by her supervisor:

“In 2019, our head of the regional dental clinic, a doctor from another district of our province, and I went on business trip to attend a scientific and practical conference of dentists in the Jalal-Abad region. We stayed in different hotels; the men were separated from the women. At the end of the conference, my supervisor asked, "Can I show you my hotel room?" Extremely surprised by what I heard, I left without saying a word. When I was sleeping, he called me at 12 o'clock at night, but I did not pick up the phone.

In the morning, another colleague called and said: “In half an hour we are going to the hotel and from there we leave home.” When I arrived at the hotel, my supervisor took us both to his room. We went because I thought he couldn't do anything because I had a colleague with me. When the taxi arrived, he told my colleague to take the suitcases to the car. Out of fright, I immediately followed my colleague. But he took my hand and said, "Wait, I have something to tell you." When I looked at my colleague, he said that he would be back soon. When we were alone, with the words “Why don’t you pick up the phone?” he started harassing me. I hit him and ran to the door. By that time my colleague came, and I was saved.

When I returned home, I felt very bad. He was the same age as my father. I wanted to openly tell everyone about it. But because of the preparations for the wedding, there was no time. I got married, he temporarily quit his job, and the story was forgotten. After learning about your challenge, I decided to write. Perhaps, after reading, this man will recognize himself and he will feel ashamed.”

The first material of “I am against harassment!” was published in Issue #991 of December 3, 2021 on page 13. https://www.super.kg/article/show/56437

The second material containing the interview with the ILO gender expert was published in Issue #992 of December 10, 2021. https://www.super.kg/article/show/56493

The third material "No way for sexual harassment!" was published in Issue #993 of December 17, 2021. https://www.super.kg/article/show/56555

The fourth and final material was published in Issue #995 of December 30, 2021. https://www.super.kg/article/show/56689