Have you ever been sexually harassed or felt discriminated at your workplace? Sexual harassment and discrimination are all too common all over the world. Now in Kuwait the government is taking additional steps to address the issue.

Last Monday, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Chairman of the Public Authority for Manpower Abdullah Al-Salman issued a decision banning sexual harassment and discrimination at the workplace in the private sector. The decision warned employers against discriminating based on gender, age, pregnancy and social status. It also banned sexual harassment at work in all its forms, including on social media.

There are many types of harassments, but what do sexual harassment and discrimination at the workplace mean exactly? Sexual harassment is simply harassment that is sexual in nature and generally includes unwanted sexual advances, conduct or behavior. According to the UN, it can be categorized into verbal, non-verbal and physical — and can apply to both men and women.

Examples of verbal sexual harassment may include making sexual comments or innuendos, whistling at someone, catcalls, turning work discussions into sexual topics or telling sexual jokes or stories, asking personal questions about social or sexual life, repeatedly asking a person out who is not interested, telling lies or spreading rumors about a person’s personal sex life, referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey, making sexual comments about a person’s body, making kissing sounds, howling and smacking lips.

Non-verbal sexual harassment includes staring at someone, blocking a person’s path, following the person, giving personal gifts, displaying sexually suggestive visuals, making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements, and making facial expressions such as winking, throwing kisses or licking lips.

As for physical harassment, it includes giving a massage around the neck or shoulders, touching the person’s clothing, hair or body, hugging, kissing, patting or stroking, touching or rubbing oneself around another person, and standing close or brushing up against another person.

Sexual harassment in all its types is criminalized in Kuwait; it always has been, but the question is how they will implement this decision at the workplace? What are the mechanisms through which women can report such behaviors without being afraid? Who will guarantee their rights? It is necessary to make this decision real, with real procedures and processes that women can actually follow and that are accessible to them.

What are the actions and steps that will be taken? Are they going to oblige companies to implement an internal or formal complaint system policy to protect and acknowledges employees’ rights to anonymity and security from retaliation? How can we guarantee that complaints will be investigated by an impartial authority?

The decision states that action will be taken if there is solid proof, but what if sexual harassment happened behind closed doors — how can an employee prove it? Will they have the guts to come forward and complain? Because naturally, women will fear the potential social backlash, and if an investigation is opened, the stigma of going to the police station is not very acceptable in the Arab society. That is why a more detailed explanation on this matter must be issued.

I hope this decision creates a safer work environment for employees, particularly women, especiallyin the private sector. There are many cases where women are subjected to sexual harassment, but they feel helpless and fear losing their jobs or the chance of promotion.The #MeToo campaign supported women and opened the door to highlight sexual harassment. However, in our society, this subject remains a taboo, especially for women.

sahar@kuwaittimes.net