#MeToo movement takes root in Mongolia

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On April 11, citizen B.Sunderiya claimed she experienced sexual violence and abuse by a well-known lawmaker on social media. She filed a complaint with the General Police Department on April 14 regarding violence and abuse, and reported that lawmaker Ts.Anandbazar violated her right to liberty and sexually harassed her. In connection with this report, women who used to work in organizations directed by lawmaker Ts.Anandbazar reported on alleged sexual harassment, abuse and threats made against them on social media.

B.Sunderiya reported that over 1,000 women contacted her about sexual harassment by Ts.Anadbazar. This brought about the #MeToo movement in Mongolia to demand the lawmaker be held accountable, and to protest sexual harassment and violence. Many women have now joined the movement, sharing their experiences of sexual violence and calling for women to be protected, for perpetrators to be held accountable, and for the legal environment to be improved.

The #MeToo movement is a social movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment where people publicize allegations of sex crimes. The phrase "Me Too" was initially used in this context on social media in 2006 by sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke. Since then, there have been strong movements in many parts of the world to expose the issue of sexual violence, to publicly shame perpetrators, and to provide emotional support to victims.

In the case of suspected sexual violence related with lawmaker Ts.Anandbazar, the group of women organizing the #MeToo movement in Mongolia sent an official letter to five organizations this week. They asked to inspect Parliament member Ts.Anandbazar, who may have committed sexual harassment in the workplace. They addressed Head of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ethics B.Bat-Erdene, Parliament Speaker and Head of the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia G.Zandanshatar, and the anti-violence lobby group in Parliament.

Many women have shared their experience of sexual harassment on social media and are supporting the #MeToo Movement.

A 52-year-old woman shared, “When I first graduated, I got a new job at an organization with many male employees. At that time, I used to wash my light-colored clothing every day. Otherwise, my clothes would always be dirty every day. My male co-workers used to touch my breasts and buttocks. Every woman there faced that, not just me. Then, I married one of my co-workers to get out of this situation, even though I didn’t love him. I just wanted to be protected by someone. Unfortunately, that decision was wrong. I still regret this.”

Another example mentioned Ts.Anandbazar directly. A woman who didn’t want her name in print said, “In 2008, I was a student of journalism at the National University of Mongolia. At the time, the local student council said to me, ‘Ts.Anandbazar will pay for the meetings in Bulgan Province. Please participate and take your friends with you.’ At the time, my grandmother used to live in Bulgan. I was happy to go to my grandmother’s house on the weekends while making money, so I took a friend with me. When Ts.Anandbazar asked me to go with him in his car, I just got in without thinking. After leaving Ulaanbaatar, I was constantly sexually harassed along the way.”

“He said, ‘I'm taking over Urguu Cinema. If you're studying journalism, I’ll set up a studio for you. You can make video content. Where do you live? How will you solve your housing problem? If you go out with me a few times, I’ll find you a husband who is a businessman,’ and so on.”

“When I was scared to express my feelings, he became angry and started to insult me. He said, ‘Lets’ change your life. Let’s make your first night unforgettable. I am only interested in girls over 170 centimeters. You should be happy to be chosen even if you are short and ugly.”

“He didn’t stop talking like that until we entered Bulgan Province. When I went for lunch in the same place, he tried to hold my hand, stood close behind me, touched my buttocks, and pulled my hair in front of other people. When I arrived in Bulgan, I didn’t even attend the meeting, and ran to my grandmother because I was scared. After that, he messaged me and asked to go on a date. It is a pity that such a shameless person was elected to Parliament from Bulgan Province. I’m glad the people care about this issue. Thousands of girls are joining forces on this issue, sharing their stories, hoping that the press and journalists will support them and work together to achieve something helpful.”

Member of the National Human Rights Commission Kh.Munkhzul mentioned one case registered at the commission. “A university professor called a female student at night and offered to have sex. When she refused, he dropped her out of the exam three times, coerced her into having sex with him and left her with unwanted pregnancy and lifelong emotional trauma.”

It is a serious crime to use one’s power and position to sexually harass others. The aim of the #MeToo movement is to empower victims to speak up and take action against sexual harrasment.

Sexual harassment in the workplace can affect a person’s physical and mental health, infringes on reproductive rights, freedoms, sexual and personal integrity. Victims are mostly women due to power imbalances.

This year, the National Human Right Commission, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program, conducted a survey to assess the perceptions of sexual harassment among public officials. One in three respondents reported some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. As sexual harassment is misunderstood and ignored as an interpersonal issue, the problem deepens and becomes an issue that affects society as a whole. An example of this is when a person is sexually harassed in the workplace, most people don’t know who to turn to and are afraid of losing their job.

The problem should not be so complicated. Public awareness of sexual harassment is very low, which is one of the biggest challenges. The annual report on sexual harassment by researcher L.Bayarmaa and D.Ayurbuni found that people think sexual harassment as sexual violence. But it’s not. The Law on Gender Equality defines that sexual harassment is an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favors or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in the circumstances.

According to the annual report of sexual harassment, in 2019, sexual harassment in the workplace included conversations on sexual topics through direct and ambiguous words, erotic jokes, negative remarks about appearance, questions that are disrespectful to privacy, insulting comments, sexual requests, inappropriate invitations, promise of professional benefits for sexual intercourse, staring intently at the body and face, express erotic meanings through emails, text messages, chat, photos, and video, personal communication for non-business purpose, excessive physical contact, sexual arousal, or unwanted touching, and any form of physical or even sexual violence.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is different from flirting and friendly relationships. Sexual harassment always comes uninvited and takes place in an environment with overt domination. Sexual harassment can have at least a serious effect on a person’s physical and mental health. Furthermore, it can hinder the victim’s professional performance and motivation. Because social stigma, verbal abuse, and harassment are common, many believe that the only way to get rid of sexual harassment in the workplace is to leave the job. As many people remain silent after sexual harassment, this type of crime is rampant.

According to the survey of the National Human Right Commission, 70 to 80 percent of victims of sexual harassment in workplace are women. Due to sexual harassment in the workplace, many women have lost their jobs, committed suicide, contracted a sexually transmitted disease, and divorced, leading to various social problems. By ignoring sexual harassment as a two-person problem, it leads to many social problems and is a breeding ground for sexual harassment. One in three public servants is sexually harassed, according to research. However, less than 10 percent of the victims report sexual harassment.

Member of Parliament and Member of the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Human Rights Ts.Munkhtsetseg said, “As a member of the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Human Rights, I will not tolerate any human rights violations, including sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is a crime based on power. It is not just a problem for female employees, it is a problem that can affect both men and women. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious violation of human rights that violates the physical and mental health, reproductive rights, freedoms, and sexual and personal integrity. The law, which we passed a few days ago, created a legal environment in which people who work for human rights and raise their voices can be protected by the state. As a member of Parliament, I will pay attention to the current provisions of the Criminal Code, Law on Infringements, and Labor Law to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and to increase the penalties for sexual harassment in the workplace.”

More than 130 countries around the world recognize sexual harassment as a crime and have begun to update their legislation. Most countries have their own national laws on sexual harassment recognized as a form of violence against women. Special attention should be paid to the establishment and implementation of legal regulations. For example, in Belize, Israel and Luxembourg, an independent law on sexual harassment was passed. Mongolia passed the Law on Gender Equality on February 2, 2011 and defined what sexual harassment in the workplace is and created a prevention environment.

Member of the National Human Rights Commission Kh.Munkhzul said, “Legal regulation on sexual harassment was removed from the Criminal Code in 2017 and transferred to the Law on Infringements, which weakened liability. In 2019, the commission conducted a comprehensive study on sexual harassment and drafted a proposal to criminalize sexual harassment in the workplace and submitted it to Parliament. The Civil Service Law also prohibits sexual harassment of public servants and provides for dismissal, but excludes political and public service employees. Therefore, this distinctive provision of the law needs to be changed.”

On the one hand, the relevant laws and regulations need to be taken seriously by the relevant authorities to take certain measures and prevent such crimes. On the other hand, everyone needs to be aware of sexual harassment and take steps to protect themselves. Everyone can report sexual harassment in the workplace to a higher-ranking official or human resources officer. Also, victims can contact trade unions or file a complaint with the police for their own safety.

The most important thing is not to remain silent, but to take action. This way, the perpetrators will not be overwhelmed. Laws and regulations responsible for protecting and compensating victims must also be fair. Human rights organizations and legislators should consider it well. The #MeToo movement, which involves many women, is expected to have a significant impact on reducing sexual harassment in Mongolia.

Enkhnaranjav Tumurbaatar

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