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Sexual Harassment at the European Institute for Gender Equality in Lithuania

2018 / 04 / 26

After media had published information about sexual harassment at EIGE, it must be stressed harassment cannot be considered acceptable or justified either in the workplace or in any other environment.

Hints during a job interview

After Politico.eu wrote about the incidents of sexual harassment at the European Institute for Gender Equality, several former employees and interns claimed such practices were common within the institute. Three EIGE staff members were accused of sexual harassment.

One female EIGE employee who sought to advance her career in 2012 experienced inappropriate behavior when she had her picture taken during a job interview and was invited to “dinner and breakfast” in exchange for the job by one of the people who participated at job interview. Commenting to Politico.eu, employee said that she has reported this incident to the Institute’s Human Resources manager.

Female interns at the Institute also complained of sexual harassment – allegedly, the men tried to flirt with them numerous times, made ambiguous jokes, asked them out on dates, even touched them inappropriately or persecuted them. After reporting these cases, three complaints were investigated and two of them were found to be valid. All persons accused of harassment no longer work at the institute.

Cultural differences can cause harassment in the workplace?

Commenting on this situation, EIGE Director presented her own view of the situation. She thinks the problem originated from the fact that work in a group first of all requires time so that the necessary boundaries can be established. It could have been difficult to achieve this due to differences in cultures when it comes to communication. However, it is important to note that the different cultural communication features cannot be the reason for the inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature in the workplace or in any another environment.

The director of EIGE told Politico.eu that the atmosphere in the institute has changed. In 2016, when the staff were asked whether the management takes inappropriate behavior seriously, only 15% said “no” (compared to 54% in 2014).

Rapid reaction of the magagement and proper climate in the work place is of highest importance

Commenting on the situation to the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Virginia Langbakk, said that “it is crucial that cases of possible harassment are not ignored or postponed of investigation.” A person, who encounter harassment is very vulnerable psychologically, therefore, it is important to for the management to react immediately and carry our all possible investigations”.

Another important aspect is the creation of an appropriate climate in the workplace: “It is the responsibility of management to create a climate that would enable the victims to speak out about harassment cases. It is crucial to create a climate of zero-tolerance for harassment. ” EIGE’s  policy of zero-tolerance for sexual harassment has been introduced and applied since 2014. “Harassment cannot be justified just because it may seem acceptable and tolerable to someone,” said Langbakk.

Talking about the sexual harassment cases which were covered by Politico.eu, Mrs Langbakk noted that EIGE learned a lot from this story. “It ceretainly does not reduce the damage of what happened and what the affected women have suffered, but we, however,  learned a lot from this story and we have to try to prevent such cases from happening again.” According to the EIGE‘s director, these cases have allowed them to see weaknesses in their organisation, to once again raise questions on why victims decide to report or not to report harassment, whether employees  trust the responsible persons (such as confidential counsellors) and to create an even more effective reaction mechanism.

Sexual harassment is a violation of the right to personal dignity

According to E. Leonaitė, Legal Programmes Coordinator at the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, the developed behavioral models, where a person with a social, economic or symbolic power can use his or her position in belittleling or humiliating another person, is not easily altered. This requires the development of a consistent respect for person‘s dignity as well as zero tolerance to harassment. Legal norms that establish liability for sexual harassment are also very important. Disciplinary, civil, administrative and, in exceptional cases, criminal liability, at least in part, helps to protect the violated human dignity.

Source: https://www.politico.eu/article/sexual-harassment-eu-gender-equality-agency/

Article was edited adding V. Langbakk’s comments on May, 2018.