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Armenian Women Embarrassed to Report Sexual Harassment In the Workplace: Study

In Armenia, discrimination against women is hidden in nature; in addition, the society has a rather tolerant attitude towards certain types of gender-based violence, revealed the study (ARM) conducted by Nvard Melkonyan and Yuliana Melkumyan, which was presented during a conference entitled “Gender Issues in the Contemporary Armenia: From Research to Policy” organized by Yerevan State University (YSU) Center for Gender and Leadership Studies (CGLS) on May 11-12, 2015. 

This attitude, the authors said, constrains women: they avoid reporting the cases of sexual harassment in the workplace, do not apply to the relevant authorities, being embarrassed of publicizing the issue because of a widespread stereotype in the society that the harassment is largely due to the woman's behavior and, therefore, it is the woman's fault that these incidents occur. 

Shame, fear, guilt, possible and real threats of losing their jobs,  the risk of being labeled as immoral  – all these possible consequences force women remain quiet about cases of sexual harassment. 

During the study, the researchers conducted interviews with a number of experts, employers, as well as women of various ages with jobs considered of high-risk in terms of sexual harassment. 18 women participated in the survey; 6 women from the 18-30 age group, 6 women – 31-45 age group; and 6 women – 46 and above age group. Among the 18 women, nine had received a higher education. 

The study revealed that it is possible to have statistics about the woman who have lost their jobs because of sexual harassment; however, it is impossible to collect data about those women who are forced to continue to work: many are afraid of losing their jobs, some are afraid of labels. 

According to the study, a number of women gave examples indicating the lack of reaction mechanisms in workplace sexual harassment cases: “For example, there was a time in one office when I saw a young man make sexual moves on a girl. However, I did not do anything, I just left the room.” (Interviewee from Gavar)

“In such cases I simply pretend I have not heard anything, I do not react in any way.” (Interviewee from Yerevan)

In Armenia, the researchers noted, only the act of forcing a person to sexual intercourse, homosexuality, lesbianism or other sexual actions, by means of black mail, threats to destroy, damage or seize property, or using the financial or other dependence of the aggrieved, is subject to criminal punishment. 

“Of course, it is possible that an employer or a coworker, taking into consideration the woman's subordinate status in their working relationship, could force her to engage in sexual relations using his position, but this is only one manifestation of sexual harassment, and an extreme one.

Therefore, it can be stated that in Armenia the sexual harassment of women in the workplace is not considered a criminal offense.

The Labor Code of Armenia does not have any provisions banning sexual harassment against women, or on the employers' obligations and responsibilities in this matter, " the researchers said. 

On May 20, 2013, Armenia adopted a law “On Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men”. The researchers consider this adoption a positive step, but at the same time they emphasize that it is vague and gives rise to disagreements.

“The above-mentioned law gives a definition of sexual harassment, states its ban; however, there are no regulations in the Armenian legislation for prosecution for committing the prohibited act. Therefore, it should be noted that at the present time in the fight against sexual assault and harassment the above-mentioned law is purely declaratory in nature, and it is not enough to state that in this sphere Armenia has fulfilled its obligations and duties under international law,” the authors concluded.