“I Had Minimized My Interactions With Men Since I Was 18 To Avoid Rape.”

Gulzada Serzhan shares the damaging impact of sexual harassment at work place and the heightened risk faced by women of alternative sexualities.

 Gulzada Serzhan. Photo: UN Women MCO Kazakhstan/Marina Konstantinova
Gulzada Serzhan. Photo: UN Women MCO Kazakhstan/Marina Konstantinova

 I worked with a prominent and respected scientist in the country for four years. We had to take business trips together, and every time he would get drunk, he would make sexual advances. I was tired of it and told him that I am a lesbian. His harassment became worse; he believed he could “correct” me. He said that I needed a strong man, and went on to tell me stories about what Genghis Khan did to the likes of me.

After completing the project I left the job. We could have developed the project further. I still get feedbacks from researchers all over the world. But I didn’t want to work with him anymore.

In Kazakhstan, the society accepts and values men who are savage and brutal. It’s considered natural when men make sexual advances towards women. That’s why it’s no surprise that sexual harassment at the workplace is common in Kazakhstan. A 2012 survey about the perceptions and awareness of sexual harassment among the public showed that an alarmingly high proportion of people—25 per cent of all bystanders (male and female) and 55 per cent of male bystanders—would say or do nothing if they witnessed someone being harassed [1].

I didn’t report my colleague officially, but I spoke to the head of the department before I left. I don’t think it changed anything.

To stop violence against women, in the workplace and other spaces, we need more women at decision-making positions in all fields.”

Gulzada Serzhan, 44, formerly a IT project manager at the university of Almaty, is now an active member of Feminita, a Kazakhstan feminist initiative that protects and defends the rights of LGBTQ community members. Feminita members participated in an advocacy training workshop organized by UN Women Multi Country Office in Kazakhstan in 2016 and Ms. Sezhan also participated in the “Unlabel Women” photo exhibition organized by UN Women as part of the 16 Days of Activism campaign. Her story reflects the damaging impact of sexual harassment at work and relates to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 that promotes economic growth and decent work for all, and its target on protecting labour rights and promoting safe and secure working environments for all workers. It also relates to SDG 5 and its target on ending all forms of violence against all women and girls.

Read more stories in the “From where I stand...” editorial series.

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