TEHRAN, August 12 -- It's difficult to combat a subject that's so taboo, discussion of it is off-limits. But the silence that has long surrounded sexual harassment and abuse of power in the Iranian workplace is finally being broken.
The Information Technology Organisation (ITO), a subsidiary of Iran's ICT Ministry, has become the first Iranian government agency to publish in-house guidelines banning what it refers to as "forbidden conduct" - harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse of power. Drawing on international examples, but modified to align with "Iranian and Islamic values", the harassment guidelines cover verbal and physical threats, aggressive behavior, defamation and intimidation, among other offences. Sexual harassment is described by the guidelines as any sexual advance made without consent, while discrimination is defined as "any form of unpleasant, unjust or in-equal behavior" based on race, nationality, religion, gender, age or political tendencies. The section on abuse of power covers all misuses of authority that negatively affect an individual's career. The guidelines were spearheaded by ITO's head of women participation, Meshkat Asadi. "Obviously we're still at the beginning of the road," she said in an interview with the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. "But it seems that serious barriers can come down when thoughts turn into words and those words are put on paper, so there's hope that this could be effective." Asadi's boss, ITO head Amir Nazemy, in an effort to catalyze change within companies that fall with his ministry's remit, used Twitter to call on CEOs of major startups and fintech firms to adopt the guidelines. "As sexual harassment is a taboo [in Iran], preventing it requires special support from executives," he wrote. Several of the largest names in Iran's startup and tech scene have answered the call. Those adopting the guidelines include ride-hailing companies Snapp and Tap30, online buying platform Takhfifan and cloud computing services provider ArvanCloud. ArvanCloud has taken the initiative a step further and established an in-house online platform to give employees the option to report harassing behavior anonymously. ITO officials responsible for the guidelines refused requests for comment.
The task of changing workplace culture
Some Iranian executives welcome the government effort to curb abuse, and want to build on the guidelines to effect genuine change in the workplace. "Even if we set the right framework, nothing meaningful will happen if we don't work on the cultural aspect and develop a corporate culture that has the capacity to welcome such improvements," Aseyeh Hatami, CEO of recruitment and jobs site IranTalent said. That promises to be a long road, she said, because the absence of initiatives to encourage healthy sexual behaviors in the workplace and in society at large has led to confusion over what constitutes acceptable behavior. "For instance, one of my male employees had asked a female co-worker to go to a coffee shop to discuss a work project, and she perceived that as a breach of her private space and professional etiquette," Hatami said. Reporting abuses of power is difficult even in the most constructively regulated environments. It often invites personal scrutiny and ends up re-victimizing and, in the worst cases, vilifying victims of abuse. The fears associated with reporting abuse and harassment are acute in Iranian workplaces, which are often bereft of resources to deal with these issues. Many small and medium-sized businesses lack robust human resources departments to investigate complaints. Companies that have established support mechanisms reporting and rooting out abuse have done so independently because the law does not require it. While Hatami is pleased that the government has established binding rules, she is concerned about regulatory overreach. "Having regulations is great and necessary, but businesses in Iran, especially fledgling ones, take a hit both from lack of suitable regulations and from hasty laws that go into too much detail and tell executives how to run their businesses," she said. Hatami hopes the ITO guidelines can be gradually refined through community feedback.
Educating executives to lead the way
Though the reforms are seen by many as an important catalyst, changing attitudes, they say, needs to start at the top of an organisation. "The ITO guidelines are a positive step, but there's much to be done in terms of educating executives and other employees, and organisational structures need to be improved in a way that would support victims," a training specialist at the National Iranian Gas Company said on condition of anonymity. "If guidelines are put in place across the country, I have no doubt that many [people] will undermine [cast doubt on] whether instances of sexual harassment and abuse of power even take place due to the taboo nature of the subject," she said. In its guidelines, the ITO encourages educational initiatives including organisation-wide workshops to educate all employees about forbidden conduct, requiring executives and supervisors to undergo targeted training as a prerequisite for job promotions, and handing out copies of the guidelines to new employees. The guidelines also designate a role for local nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) to act as a safety net for victims and for reporting harassment cases. "There is a tendency in companies to sweep such issues under the carpet, which encourages perpetrators," ITO chief Nazemy said in a recent interview. "By involving NGOs, at least an independent pair of eyes will scrutinize such cases".
The training expert at the state-run gas company said that the company has received complaints of abuse in the past, which were mostly handled directly by high-level executives rather than the human resources department. "Management usually prefers to resolve complaints peacefully at the personal level through reaching mutual agreements, and acts very strictly in terms of requiring evidence in dealing with serious cases to prevent defamation," she said. The trainer told that in one of those cases, an executive in a provincial branch of the state-run entity was fired from his post after a victim produced video evidence of harassment. The ITO guidelines encourage the resolution of complaints by mutual agreement, including through the involvement of a third-party arbiter. If unsuccessful, the guidelines direct alleged victims to file formal complaints within 90 days of the offence that was committed or the last event in the chain of reported events and present evidence.
It has featured transgender women as showgirls from the beginning, and Alisa was always concerned about the mistreatment they receive from society. "Back then, our transgender showgirls were always perceived with prejudice. In a tourist town like Pattaya, our girls had to carry their staff ID card whenever they went out to protect themselves, to prevent people and the authorities from mistaking them for prostitutes. They were mistreated. And this affected us because, as the executives, we need to be able to take care of them both inside and outside the theatre," said Alisa. "I have always questioned why people have to take issue with someone's gender. And so the idea goes from just staff management to the point where we ask what we can also do about society. Miss Tiffany's Universe was then born to put transgender women in the spotlight."
After the pageant's inaugural year was successfully hosted at the theater, Alisa pushed for a live broadcast of the event in the following year to raise society's awareness about transgender women and their existence. The pageant was first broadcast nationally on ITV channel in 1999. There was no other stage for transgender women at the time. "It was a big hit, as it was something that has never happened before in the country. It really made a stamp that we were the real deal," Alisa recalled. "At the same time, it was very difficult to find sponsors because no one wanted to attach their products to people of the 'third gender'." Miss Tiffany's Universe continued to build its name in two decade-long stages. Alisa said she devoted the first 10 years of the pageant to make people understand who transgender women are, and how different they are from gay men. "And when we reached a certain point, people began to realise who we are and that our girls are gorgeous. But we also want to go beyond that simple acknowledgment. We spent the next 10 years opening doors and opportunities, to send a message that men, women and transgender people are all equally capable. It's not necessary at all to push transgender people to be only make-up artists and showgirls when they have the ability and the desire to do so many other things."
Prior to the show, we went backstage to meet some of this year's contestants. Each of them came to Miss Tiffany's with hopes and dreams, some of which were quite unexpected. Contestant No.16 Nutchuda Lumphun, 25, said she wishes to become a member of parliament to represent and develop her hometown in Nakhon Phanom province. "On my own, I'm just a small person. But now as one of the Top 30 contestants, I consider myself a success. And if I can go even further, I'll have a bigger voice to speak for my province," said Nutchuda, who works as an actress and MC. Contestant No.22 Sasipichaya Pakdee said she's also here in hopes of making her voice louder. Onstage, she publicly advocated a law that would allow transgender people to legally change their gender and title. This is her second time at the pageant.
TOKYO, July 14 -- The LGBTQ community and their allies hope the upcoming upper house election will help advance the national discussion on LGBTQ rights in Japan and lead to legal recognition.
Small headway has been made at the local level, with some municipalities, starting with two wards in Tokyo in 2015, issuing "partnership certificates" to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples. But such moves have yet to translate into national legislation and marriage equality remains unrecognized by the Japanese government. The situation prompted 13 same-sex couples to sue the Japanese government in February alleging unconstitutional treatment. Transgendered people can change their sex on their family registries in Japan but to do so they must jump through multiple hoops including invasive gender reassignment surgery.
Shigeyoshi Suzuki, a 41-year-old elementary school teacher in Tokyo, is expecting politicians to "take the initiative to get involved" in LGBTQ issues in the July 21 House of Councillors election. "Through active discussions, I would want the circle of understanding to expand to include non-LGBT individuals," he says. He realized he was attracted to people of his own gender when he was a young child growing up in Ibaraki Prefecture near Tokyo. But he hid his sexual orientation until his late 30s, afraid that the friendships he had forged over the years would be broken.
"I'd always told children to be speak honestly but I was hiding. That was not fair of me," Suzuki said.
He became more publicly active in LGBTQ matters, including participating in a study group commissioned in April by his home prefecture. In July, Ibaraki Prefecture became the first of Japan's 47 prefectures to issue partnership certificates for LGBTQ individuals, raising hope that other prefectures would follow. Local governments, however, can only do so much. With partnership certificates, gay and lesbians couples are treated equally to straight couples in terms of living in municipal housing or being allowed to make medical decisions for each other. But these rights are only applicable locally. The campaign for the upper house election has become an opportunity for parties to tout their credentials as being open to diverse communities. LGBTQ candidates are also jumping into the fray to push for recognition of their rights. There have been at least eight openly LGBTQ lawmakers including local assembly members since 2005, according to the LGBTQ Policy Information Center of Japan. Two -- Taiga Ishikawa and first-timer Hiroko Masuhara -- are running this July.
"If LGBTQ individuals do not raise their voices, society's understanding and legislation will not advance," said Ayako Fuchigami, 44, of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, who is transgender. After changing her sex in the family register, she ran for the first time for the Hokkaido assembly in April, winning a seat. "As more discussions unfold regarding marriage equality between candidates and voters, I want there to be a feeling that the national government needs to get (this done)," she said. Frustration with the government's slow response led Hiroko Masuhara, 41, to run as a CDPJ candidate in Kyoto with support from her partner Kazuyo Katsuma, the famed 50-year-old businesswoman. "Diet representatives are the slowest (in making changes) despite the shifts of attitude among citizens," she said.
MADRID, July 7 -- European cities celebrated LGBTQ pride on Saturday with colorful parades that also became platforms for political demands and a push back against far-right populist parties.
This year’s events in London, Madrid and Budapest mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising in New York against police persecution, a turning point in the modern gay rights movement.
The Spanish capital’s pride has become one of the largest in the world. On Saturday, tens of thousands took to the streets in a joyful march that celebrated sexual and gender diversity. Some called for better care for elder LGBTQ people and a nation-wide law that, among other long-running demands, would standardize rights for transgender people across the country. “Elders without closets,” read a street-long white banner carried by protesters marching along Madrid’s main artery. Members of the first generation of Spanish gay rights activists were at the front, followed by the colorful parade of floats.
Arny Carrasco, a 67-year-old man from a small town, said he had missed few pride celebrations for the past two decades, but that Saturday’s felt “special” for its focus on the elderly. “The gay community has shown society different ways of relating to each other and it’s about time that we don’t feel that we need to get back into the closet when we become older,” Carrasco said, citing how nursing homes, for example, are ill-prepared to cater the needs of LGBTQ people, especially transgender men and women. This year’s pride in Madrid has also become remarkably political after the uber-conservative Vox party made significant gains in national and local elections. Officials of the far-right party, whose votes were key in electing a new conservative mayor last month, have proposed moving next year’s pride parade out of the city center, while regional leader Rocío Monasterio has said the celebrations “denigrate people’s dignity” and include “explicit sexual acts in the streets.” “When a mother, a father step outside with children from their home, they don’t have to be exposed to that spectacle,” Monasterio told a conservative website last week.
Beatriz Gimeno, a long-time LGBTQ activist and far-left Podemos (We Can) party lawmaker, told The Associated Press that “reactionary” remarks by the far-right were a reminder of how relevant the battle for gay rights remains. “Faced with attitudes that take us 20 or 30 years back, we need to tell them that we’ll take not even one step back,” Gimeno said. In London, hundreds of thousands also poured into the streets of London for Britain’s biggest pride parade. Some 30,000 participants, including uniformed police and firefighters, marched while many more lining the streets cheered and waved rainbow flags. Organizers said they had aimed to increase the event’s diversity, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he hoped it would be the biggest-ever Pride parade.
Alison Camps, co-chair of Pride in London, said “it’s vital that we remember that Pride is not just one day a year — we must fight for the rights of all members of our community all year round.”
In the Hungarian capital, Budapest, thousands also took part in a pride parade that stressed calls for acceptance and the right to live without fear.
Author: Lora Smith
BANGKOK, July 3 -- The Tourism Authority of Thailand has used a New York rally to raise awareness on equality of sexual orientation to lure tourists to the kingdom.
Thailand sent a contingent to join the parade at the World Pride event in the US city on Sunday for the first time as part of the "Go Thai Be Free" campaign. Charinya Kiatlapnachai, director of the TAT office in New York, said the Thai tourism agency used the event to send a message to LGBTQ travelers that they are welcome in Thailand, VOA Thai reported on Wednesday. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. TAT estimates there are at least 5 million people who identify as LGBT in the US. "We think they are our target and this market segment has potential to grow," VOA Thai quoted her as saying. The agency also targeted the same group in Latin America, which has about 20 million LGBT people. It organized a meeting with 40 tourism operators from Central and South America in May. Millions lined the streets of New York on Sunday to wave rainbow flags, celebrate the movement toward LGBTQ equality and renew calls for action in what organizers billed as the largest gay pride celebration in history.
Event organizers and city officials said 150,000 parade marchers and up to 4 million visitors commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising that triggered the modern LGBTQ movement, with corporate sponsorship and police protection that would have been unthinkable half a century ago.
Author: Pete McGee