By Iverson Ng & Julia Bergström
The movement of silence breakers has been going on in the past few months as more victims of sexual harassment are stepping up against the perpetrators who assaulted them in various ways in the name of working relationships. Yet, what has been called a backlash of the #MeToo movement came as a French actress along with some 100 signatories issuing an open letter to condemn the movement in defence of the freedom to offend.
When it comes to the EU institutions, there are existing regulations and mechanisms for the victims of sexual harassment working in Brussels. However, the legal instruments failed to protect the safety of female offers due to a range of reasons from their career prospects to the political party’s reputation. Here’s a short account on the existing legislations that EU staffs from potential sexual harassment in workplace, fundamental problems that lie beyond #MeToo movement and recommendations for the EU to ensure a gender-friendly environment for all staffs in Brussels.
The EU’s staff regulations explicitly defines psychological and sexual harassments and states that such actions are unacceptable. In Article 12 (a), it defines “sexual harassment” as “conduct relating to sex which is unwanted by the person to whom it is directed and which has the purpose or effect of offending that person or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive or disturbing environment.” It is categorised as discrimination based on gender. Article 24 also mentioned that the EU will compensate for the victims who are suffered from such discrimination if the perpetrator who caused it cannot compensate on the loss of the victims. Earlier last year, the EU also signed the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, recognising sexual violation on women is a form of human rights violation.
There are numerous cases of sexual harassment within the EU. In October, more than a dozen women accused politicians within the EU of groping, stalking and harassment. Cecilia Malmström, a Swedish commissioner with responsibility for human resources, pointed out the need to better address allegations of sexual abuse within the European parliament and commission after at least two staff members claimed they had been raped. Yet, most of the incidents are never reported. The reasons for the many unreported cases of sexual harassment in the EU are many. Some claim it mainly boils down to a loyalty towards the aggressors and the belief that reporting could end the victim’s career. The question of “if it really happened, why did they not just report it?” becomes naïve when looking at the mechanisms steering work relationships.
Overviewing the current public sphere of discussions, it is sensible for the EU to take actions to follow up the fundamental issues that lie within the European institutions in Brussels: firstly, the proportion of representations in leading roles of the institutions must be increased to transform a patriarchy system into a system being free from gender bias; secondly, a mechanism is needed to report any secret trade-off between female assistants/ trainees in exchange for political interest so that the proposed mechanism can end the vicious cycle within the institutions; thirdly, additional trainings on gender equality must be made compulsory for all the staffs working in the EU.
It is obvious that the EU has to take further steps to tackle the fundamental issues. Although it takes time to transform the current European institutions into a better system which everyone can work safe regardless of one’s gender , reported cases of sexual assaults must be followed up to protect the victims from predices. In a nutshell, a double-track approach must be taken to create a safer environment for all EU employees from an instrumental level to a civilizational level.
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