The media of Uzbekistan have commenced to report frequently on the cases of harassment, bullying, and violence against women in the country. Recently, the situation with a female Polish journalist, who faced difficulties with prolongation of accreditation and harassment, has been widely discussed in the public. While the accreditation issue has been solved quickly, the case of harassment has not been investigated – an aggressor has not been brought to justice.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, in 2020, the ministry issued protection orders to 14,774 women and girls who suffered from violence and harassment. Protection order secure a victim of violence and harassment for a period of 30 days, it can be prolonged to the same term. Out of the total number of victims, 6,836 women suffered from physical violence, 6,281 from psychological, 121 from economic, 56 from sexual violence, and 1,480 experienced harassment. 73% of women and girls became victims of domestic violence, and the remaining females suffered from violence in public places, education institutions and at their workplaces.
The Ministry for Support to Mahalla and Family of the Republic of Uzbekistan pointed out that, as of November 2020, 197 centers for rehabilitation and adaptation of victims of violence function in the country. The centers provided psychological, legal and other types of social support to 14,849 individuals in the period from January to September 2020. Despite a significant progress in protecting women from various types of violence, harassment and bullying remain unregulated aspects in the legislation of Uzbekistan.
How the legislation protects women from harassment, bullying, and violence
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is one of the key international instruments to promote and protect women rights, ratified by Uzbekistan in 1995. The Convention calls for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. The ILO (C190) Violence and Harassment Convention 2019 is another important international document, which is not ratified by Uzbekistan yet. Article 1 emphasizes:
the term “violence and harassment” in the world of work refers to a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.
The notions “violence” and “harassment” go together since both terms are inseparable and equally dangerous. Today, the ILO Convention C190 can be considered as the main international mechanism for preventing violence and harassment at the workplace. The ratification of the document will be an important step towards the development of legal instruments to protect the population.
The Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan (Article 26) states that “No one may be subject to torture, violence or any other cruel or humiliating treatment”, while Article 46 stresses that “Women and men shall have equal rights”.
Yet, it is difficult to claim that gender relations are equal in Uzbekistan. In order to promote and protect women’s right, two Laws were adopted in 2019: On Guarantees of Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men and On the Protection of Women from Harassment and Violence. The latter provides definitions and protects women from sexual, physical, economic, and psychological violence. However, it does not clearly define “harassment” and “bullying”. According to the Law on the Protection of Women from Harassment and Violence, these two notions can be described as harassment: “an action (inaction) humiliating honor and dignity of a woman or a pursuit which do not presuppose administrative or legal liability”.
It is vital to realize that harassment and bullying are aim at or result in violence. The lack of a definition in the legislation and legal protective measures enables an aggressor to avoid the responsibility.
It is important to emphasize that the new law neither specify “gender-based violence and harassment”, but the law mentions the term “workplace”. The latter return us to the ILO Convention C190. Bearing in mind that the various legal documents should be interlinked and complement each other, it is vital to ensure that harassment, bullying, and violence are concretely reflected in the new Labour Code, which is being developed.
The current labour legislation neither defines harassment, bullying, and violence at the workplace, nor offers any specific prevention and protection measures. Article 6 of the current Labour Code from 1995, the Law on Trade Unions (Article 8), and the draft of the new Labour Code (Article 5) prohibits discrimination and suggests to appeal to courts. Article 45 of the Law on Trade Unions enables trade unions to protect workers’ rights in courts.
Harassment, bullying, and violence at the workplace can be referred to individual or collective labour disputes. Both the current Labour Code and its new draft suggest to settle individual labour disputes via the establishment of a labour dispute commission or to appeal to courts. In the case of collective labour disputes, the draft of the new Labour Code, in contrast to the current one, introduces two new dispute solving mechanisms, particularly, a labour arbitrage and reconciliation commission. In the case of collective labour disputes, workers lack another important instrument of collective protection – the right to strike, read more here.
However, it is important to reemphasize that the absence of the clear definition of harassment and bullying in the Labour Code makes the process of evidence collection extremely challenging. It is even more difficult to prove the case of harassment and/or bullying, if the workplace has no trade union, collective agreement, and if employment has a temporary form (consultants, trainers, etc.). Ratification of the C190 will help to develop effective legislative measures to protect workers from harassment, bullying, and violence.
As mentioned above, another important element of the legislative framework is the interconnectedness of laws.
For instance, the adoption of the Law on the Protection of Women against Harassment and Violence has led to introduction of amendments to the Administrative Code. Particularly, Article 206 was amended by the paragraph: “Non-compliance with regulations of the legal protection order by an individual who has committed harassment and violence or inclined to commit them, shall be punishable by a fine from one to times the minimum wage or administrative detention for up to 15 days”. However, the practice shows that the Legal Protection Order does not always solve the problem of violence as it will expire someday, and an aggressor can continue to threat a victim.
The Criminal Code does not define harassment and bullying as well. Article 121 of the Criminal Code punishes for the coercion of woman to engage in sexual intercourse or for the gratification of sexual desires by force. Article 106 punishes for the infliction of moderate or serious bodily harm in the situation of severe emotional distress. These two articles can be considered as measures of last resort for sexual or physical violence. It is pivotal to provide a definition for lawless actions as harassment and bullying in the legislation which aim at or result in violence. This will help to secure a victim and to prevent an aggressor to undertake illicit actions.
Why is it important? Men and women can interpret harassment, bullying, and violence differently; therefore, it is essential to provide a concrete definition in the legislation and to develop protective measures. The lack of concrete definitions of harassment and bullying can have the upside-down effect, specifically, a victim and aggressor might reverse.
Informality, the other side of the topic
Some statements on the web claim that men can be also a victim of harassment, bullying, and violence but the new laws protect only women. Harassment, bullying, and violence are inacceptable regardless of sex and gender. However, the absence of a direct reference to men as potential victims in the new laws does not mean that men cannot legally protect themselves. A practical example is the case of a young female from Namangan who faced verbal and physical abuse – in order to protect her honour, she used force against male aggressors. The latter used the existing legal instruments and filed a complaint with the police. Law enforcement is a bureaucratic institution, considering the statement of victims, existing legislation and formal procedures, a criminal proceeding for ‘hooliganism’ was launched against a young female. But who was a real aggressor and provocateur in this case?
Uzbekistan has numerous informal rules and norms which regulate public life. Closely interconnected cultural, religious, social, and economic factors formulate discriminatory environment and relations which are extremely difficult to regulate at the legislation level. For instance, even today, it is a common practice for parents select couples for their children, as well as the existing hierarchical family model “mother-in-law – daughter-in-law” can provoke harassment and violence against women in the families. Besides, the prevalence of men in the state apparatus, particularly, public, cultural, religious, and educational institutions gives men an informal right to dominate and constructs a patriarchic model of relationships, which is dangerous for life and health of women.
Patriarchic model of relationships can be witnessed in the legislation, for instance, criminalization of “unacceptable”, cultural, religious, and social norms, like prostitution and same-sex relationships. This is not only vulnerates a certain group of people but also creates an informal rules and norms which provoke bullying, harassment, and violence.
Another problem is that the rehabilitation centres (shelters) are open exclusively for victims and closed for aggressors. While a victim is in the shelter, an aggressor receives a preventive consultation. Perhaps, shelters and trainings on gender equality and non-violence should be available not only for victims but also for aggressors?
Tashkent has a school of self-defense for females, and the usage of self-defense techniques by woman to protect herself from violence should not cause her criminalization.
Further development of the legislative framework and introduction of protection instruments (Legal Protection Orders and shelters) are important and necessary, but any type of protection, including legislative, has a limited resource. Another downside of the legislation is that people familiarize with it after committing an illicit action. In order to address harassment, bullying, and violence, it is vital to develop and apply comprehensive preventive measures.
1) Education is the most important step. It is vital to introduce education programmes on gender and sexual relations in high schools, colleges, and universities, which will be taught by professional psychologists, health workers, lawyers, and social workers. It is important to pay a special attention to the introduction of courses and training programmes on gender equality at the universities across the country.
Recently, the Minister of Justice Ruslanbek Davletov, at the press-conference has spoken about the traditional notion “o’zbekchilik” which is affiliated with corruption; he stressed that “If national traditions are obstacles on the way to development of our society, we must eliminate them”. There are traditions which are able not only to hinder social development but damage economy and threaten life and health of people. Education is the best instrument to develop intolerance to unlawful actions.
2) Another important factor is to create and support social movements and initiatives like Не молчи.уз (no silence), flashmobs, and various types of public events to tackle harassment, bullying, and violence against women. Public initiatives their participants and activists can help to find effective solutions to address harassment, bullying, and violence against women, since they operate on the ground and do substantial work by studying the situation and providing support. They are the best experts and advisors on social issues for the state.
3) It is necessary to increase participation of men (ordinary citizens, activists, public figures, etc.) in all levels, education and other initiatives related to gender equality, harassment, bullying, and violence.
4) It is important to improve the labour legislation, according to the ILO Convention C190.
The Author: Radmir Khajbakhteev is an independent researcher in economic policy, governance and social protection. Radmir holds MA in Global Political Economy from University of Kassel, Germany.