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.
NEW DElHI, July 6 -- The advisory board of the Tibetan government-in-exile released a statement celebrating the 84th birthday of the Dalai Lama on Saturday.
"We Tibetans are eternally grateful to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas and ever more so to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for being our ray of hope and our source of strength in our times of darkness," it said. The statement said that, 60 years into exile, Tibetan cultural identity has been revived and preserved, a full-fledged democratic Central Tibetan Administration has been established, and "the spirit of Tibetans inside and outside Tibet remain strong and united." It added that the "Middle Way Approach" in resolving the Tibet issue through dialogue continues to be widely supported by many countries.
Born on July 6, 1935, in northeastern Tibet, the exiled spiritual leader was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, at the age of 2. In March 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India following a failed Tibetan uprising in 1959 against China's control of the Buddhist region high in the Himalayas. He later set up the government-in-exile in Dharamsala, northern India.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent campaign for Tibet democracy and its people's freedom but China always considers him as a hostile being for splitting Tibet from China. The Chinese government regards him as a dangerous separatist. Succession plans for the octogenarian have been an issue of interest in recent years. In April this year, he was discharged from a hospital in India's capital New Delhi where he had been diagnosed with a chest infection.
Author: Linda Lim
BANGKOK, July 3 -- The office of the Dalai Lama released a statement Tuesday apologizing for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader's controversial remarks on women during a recent interview with the BBC.
"(In) responding to a question about whether his own reincarnation could be a woman, and suggesting that if she were she should be attractive, His Holiness genuinely meant no offence," the statement said. "He is deeply sorry that people have been hurt by what he said and offers his sincere apologies." In an interview the British broadcaster aired last week, the Dalai Lama said, "If female Dalai Lama comes, then (she) should be more attractive," suggesting that otherwise "people, I think, prefer not (to) see that face." His comment drew criticism from around the world on social media platforms.
According to the statement, the Dalai Lama first referred to the physical appearance of a female successor in 1992 during a conversation with the editor of Vogue magazine, wherein he said a future Dalai Lama could be a woman "if that would be more helpful." At the time, he jokingly added that she should be attractive. "His Holiness consistently emphasizes the need for people to connect with each other on a deeper human level, rather than getting caught up in preconceptions based on superficial appearances," the statement said. "For all his long life, His Holiness has opposed the objectification of women, has supported women and their rights and celebrated the growing international consensus in support of gender equality and respect for women," it added.
Author: Pete McGee
VATICAN CITY, June 6 -- Pope Francis will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican on July 4, Agence France-Presse reported on Thursday, citing a statement by Vatican Spokesman Alessandro Gisotti.
"I can confirm that the Holy Father will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican on July 4," Gisotti said. The Kremlin earlier confirmed that Putin was expected to make a visit to Italy but said nothing about the date of the visit and the president’s plans to meet with Pope Francis. In November 2018, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the date of Putin’s visit to Italy would be agreed on through diplomatic channels. He pointed out that the invitation for the Russian leader to visit Italy had been mentioned during Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s visit to Russia on October 24, 2018. In April, Kremlin Aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters that the Russian president planned to visit Italy in the summer. Italian Ambassador to Russia Pasquale Terracciano said later that Putin was expected to visit the country in July.
BANGKOK, May 4 -- Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn has performed intricate Buddhist and Brahmin ceremonies to symbolically transform him into a living god as the Southeast Asian nation officially crowned its first monarch in nearly seven decades.
The king was joined by new Queen Suthida on Saturday after a surprise announcement three days before the coronation that the thrice-divorced monarch had married for a fourth time. The king appeared dressed in white as he underwent a royal purification ritual, sitting under a canopied fountain that poured consecrated waters over his head. The country's Buddhist Supreme Patriarch also poured sacred waters over the king's body, followed by Brahmin priests and royal family members.
Hundreds of state officials in immaculate white uniforms lined the streets around the Grand Palace.
King Vajiralongkorn, 66, became constitutional monarch after the death of his revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in October 2016 after 70 years on the throne. Bhumibol was seen as a figure of unity in the politically chaotic kingdom. His son Vajiralongkorn, 66, is less well-known to the Thai public, preferring to spend much of his time overseas and rarely addressing his subjects. The king's coronation, after a period of mourning for the late king, comes amid the uncertainty of an unresolved election battle between the current military government chief and a "democratic front" trying to push the army out of politics.
King Vajiralongkorn has inherited one of the world's richest monarchies and a kingdom submerged in political crisis. Thai kings' coronation rituals are a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu Brahmin traditions dating back centuries. One of the many official titles King Vajiralongkorn will take is Rama X, signifying that he is the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty founded in 1782. "The monarchy is the only institution in this country that has lasted for more than 700 years," Sulak Siwarak, a historian in Thailand told Al Jazeera.
"I think the new king means well about his country. He wants to do something significant."
Royal patron of BuddhismSaturday's rituals are about transforming him into a "Devaraja", or a divine embodiment of the gods. As the waters started pouring, ancient cannons from the 19th century, used specifically for the coronation, started firing 10 volleys each. The king will then change into a full uniform and take a seat on an eight-sided, carved wooden throne to receive sacred waters on his hands in an anointment ritual. Selected officials, including military government chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the National Legislative Assembly, and the chairman of the Supreme Court, will pour the waters from eight directions, representing the cardinal and ordinal directions on a compass. The waters used in both rituals were collected from 117 sources last month and blessed by Buddhist monks and Brahmin priests in temples around the country before they were combined and consecrated. Before noon, the purified and anointed sovereign will sit under an elaborate nine-tiered umbrella, where he will receive the royal golden plaque containing his name and title, the royal horoscope, and the royal seal, which were made in a three-hour ritual last week. The king will also receive and wear five articles of the royal regalia from the chief Brahmin. Once in full regalia, the king will give his first royal command, a short utterance that will highlight the essence of his reign. The king will proclaim himself the royal patron of Buddhism later in the evening, and perform a private housewarming ritual at the royal residence where he will stay the night, as previous kings have done.
SINGAPORE, April 14 -- From celebrities to ministers, condemnation from the West has been heaped on Brunei for enacting harsh anti-gay laws that prescribe death by stoning for various offences – but the tiny oil-rich nation has showed little concern it may be making foes of its traditional friends.
Neither is it likely to fully alienate the West, observers say, despite remaining resolute on the implementation of sharia law in the face of backlash from world leaders. Ruler Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world’s richest men, has a track record of balancing dialogue with the West – the United Kingdom and the United States are major export partners – while courting increased engagement with China, the country’s main import trading partner. “Brunei has been practising hedge diplomacy in its foreign policy,” says Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “However, the greater the criticism from Western countries – including resorting to boycotts – the more likely Brunei will turn to Asia and in particular, China, which has cleverly stayed clear of Brunei’s domestic affairs.”
Beijing has developed a keen interest in Brunei, partly due to the possibility of joint development deals in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which could provide a key toehold into contested South China Sea waters. Brunei is among the claimants to the disputed sea, but its unassertive approach has made it appealing to China, says Mustafa. While Beijing has yet to propose any concrete plans, similar attempts to forge deals with other South China Sea claimants suggest it would “not be surprising to see China offer joint development prospects to Brunei”, says Joseph Liow of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
But if joint agreements are signed, it could prove problematic for other Southeast Asian claimants and the wider international community as it would undercut the 2016 international ruling that says China has no claims to the waters delineated by its controversial nine-dash line, says Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. If China manages to strike a development deal with Brunei, it would indicate Brunei’s EEZ waters were legally “disputed”, strengthening Beijing’s claim and weakening near-universal consensus of the ruling, says Poling. However, there is still “no evidence Brunei is willing to take that gamble”, he says.
Nevertheless, ties between both countries are growing, as Brunei looks to diversify its income streams in a country traditionally reliant on oil reserves – estimated to run out within two to three decades. Brain drain is a growing issue, as is unemployment, which stood at 9.3 per cent according to latest figures. The nation, an enthusiastic supporter of the Belt and Road Initiative , has unveiled a development plan to build a dynamic and sustainable economy by 2035.
TOKYO, April 1 -- Japan on Monday revealed the name of the era as "Reiwa," which will define the new emperor's reign when he ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne next month following a historic abdication.
The name consists of two characters: "Rei," which can have meanings related to "order" but also "auspicious" and "Wa," usually translated as "peace" or "harmony." After weeks of fevered speculation and top-secret discussions, the two "kanji" characters were unveiled to reveal a name that will last as long as new emperor Naruhito's rule. It may appear arcane to outsiders, but the announcement of a new era name is a massive event in Japan, marked with special newspaper editions, calligraphy shows and public festivities.
Although the Gregorian calendar is widely used in the world's third-largest economy, Japan is the only country still using Chinese-style imperial calendars for private and public documents as well as computer records. The new name therefore has a huge impact on daily life and people tend to recall major events in public and private life by when they fell in a certain era, 2019 is known as Heisei 31, or the 31st year of current Emperor Akihito's rule.
Strict guidelines to select the name
The era name must adhere to strict guidelines. It should consist of only two characters, be easy to read and write, and not employ common names or the first character of any of the last four eras: Heisei, Showa, Taisho and Meiji. Company names are excluded as well as the most popular choices in private guessing competitions, amid widespread speculation online as to what the new name could be. To prevent leaks, the panel were locked away in a special room in the prime minister's office, swept for bugs, and their phones confiscated. The 85-year-old Akihito will become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in around two centuries when he steps down on April 30 in favor of Crown Prince Naruhito, who will ascend the throne the next day. Japan is marking the announcement of the new era in a wide variety of ways, some less serious than others.
LAGOS, March 17 -- Church leaders in Nigeria have said that Christians are experiencing "pure genocide" as 6,000 people, mostly women and children, have been murdered by Fulani radicals since January.
"What is happening in Plateau state and other select states in Nigeria is pure genocide and must be stopped immediately," said the Christian Association of Nigeria and church denominational heads in Plateau State in a press release last week. The church leaders said that "over 6,000 persons, mostly children, women and the aged have been maimed and killed in night raids by armed Fulani herdsmen," which is prompting their cry to the government of Nigeria "to stop this senseless and blood shedding in the land and avoid a state of complete anarchy where the people are forced to defend themselves."
The press release also pleaded with the international community, as well as the United Nations, to intervene in the Fulani attacks, fearing they might spread to other countries as well. "We are particularly worried at the widespread insecurity in the country where wanton attacks and killings by armed Fulani herdsmen, bandits and terrorists have been taking place on a daily basis in our communities unchallenged despite huge investments in the security agencies," they added, saying President Muhammadu Buhari has failed to bring attackers to justice. They referenced several mass-scale attacks this year, including the slaughter of over 200 people, mostly Christians, at the end of June in raids carried out by the herdsmen on local area farmers near the city of Jos. Although some international news media has sought to characterize the killings as a land conflict between community groups, the church leaders, along with major persecution watchdog groups such as Open Doors USA and International Christian Concern, have all said that Christians are being deliberately targeted.
"We reject the narrative that the attacks on Christian communities across the country as 'farmers/herdsmen clash.' The federal government has been so immersed in this false propaganda and deceit while forcefully pushing the policy idea of establishing cattle ranches/colonies on the ancestral farming lands of the attacked communities for the Fulani herdsmen as the only solution to the problem," the press release declared, accusing the government of also pushing such a narrative. "How can it be a clash when one group is persistently attacking, killing, maiming, destroying; and the other group is persistently being killed, maimed and their places of worship destroyed? How can it be a clash when the herdsmen are hunting farmers in their own villages/communities and farmers are running for their lives?" the church leaders asked. "How can it be a clash when the herdsmen are the predators and the inhabitant/indigenous farmers are the prey? Until we call a disease by its real name and causatives, it would be difficult to properly diagnose the disease for the right curative medications."
There have been different reports on the number of Christians killed in Nigeria since the start of the year. The International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, Intersociety, stated on Tuesday that a combined total of 1,750 Christians, along with non-Muslims, have been killed both by the Fulani herdsmen, and by Boko Haram radicals, who are a separate terror group. Intersociety also warned of a genocide in its statement. "Nigeria is drifting to [a path of] genocide through killing, maiming, burning and destruction of churches and other sacred places of worship, and forceful seizure and occupation of ancestral, worship, farming and dwelling lands of the indigenous Christians and other indigenous religionists in Northern Nigeria," it said. Roman Catholic Bishop William Avenya of Gboko separately told charity Aid to the Church in Need that the world cannot wait for a full-on genocide before deciding to intervene. "Please don't make the same mistake as was made with the genocide in Rwanda," he pleaded, referring to the massacre of Tutsi people in Rwanda, where close to 1 million were killed in 1994. "It happened beneath our noses, but no one stopped it. And we know well how that ended," Avenya said.