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Sexual Harassment


The Global Persecution of Women

Great Britain

”UK: Teacher at Muslim school 'questioned about her virginity',” Women in the Middle East, No. 45, Nov.-Dec. 2006.

A woman convert to Islam told a tribunal yesterday that she was questioned about her virginity when she took a job at a Muslim faith school. Monique Buckner, 33, worked as a teacher at the Iqra School in Oxford and claimed that its owner, Iranian-born Hojjat Ramzy, asked her "embarrassing" questions about her sex life.

She was insulted that the 52-year-old father of five said he would like to marry her and she said he also attempted to fix an arranged marriage for her. Miss Buckner told the tribunal that she was "disgusted" by Mr Ramzy's comments, made when they were alone in the school office.

She made the allegations as part of her claim of racial discrimination against her employer. She said she was being paid £20 a day for her work as an English teacher when other staffs at the all-girls school were paid £10 an hour.

Miss Buckner, from South Africa, was working as a qualified teacher at a community college when she met Mr Ramzy at his Islamic information stall at an Oxford market. After further meetings she said she took his advice and converted to Islam, taking the name Hakima (meaning wisdom) and started wearing a burka.

At the time she was due to return to South Africa because her work permit was about to expire. Mr Ramzy offered her a job at his school to enable her to remain in the UK, which she accepted. She was working full time but was "horrified" to discover how little she was being paid compared with other members of staff. Her pay was increased when she complained but she was later told her hours were being reduced.

She said Mr Ramzy "provided me with an ultimatum: to accept my new working conditions or leave. In this way, he forced me out of my job, as I could not survive on five hour's worth of work per week". She said her relationship with her employer had broken down after he questioned her about her virginity. "We were not talking because of the incident in the office. We did not see eye-to-eye on personal issues. He was interfering in my personal life." She said her employer had said he would like to have married her, had he been younger. "This disgusted me as I considered Mr Ramzy to be a pious Muslim whom I trusted and respected." Arthur James, representing the school at the tribunal in Reading, Berks, said Miss Buckner was only ever employed as a volunteer. She denied this.

Mr Ramzy's wife, Maryam, who was head of administration at the school, told the hearing that she and her husband had helped Miss Buckner remain in the UK "as a favour", adding: "We felt duty-bound to help a fellow Muslim. This is our job." Miss Buckner is claiming three breaches of the Employment Act – unpaid wages, holiday pay and notice pay. She claims she was discriminated against because of her nationality.


"India," DOS Report 2005.

Sexual harassment was common, with a vast majority of cases unreported to authorities. A 2003 study by a senior professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies chronicled the hazards faced by some women in the workforce. Among these were physical and verbal abuse from male supervisors, restricted use of toilets, and the denial of lunch breaks. In June 2004 a joint report released by the NCW and the national press institute found that most women experienced gender discrimination at their workplaces.

Attempts by women to report harassment often resulted in further problems or dismissal. In January 2004 a female general manager of Dena Bank in Mumbai was suspended after filing sexual harassment charges against senior bank officials; there were no developments in the case at year's end. In April 2004 a Sahara airlines executive employee in Mumbai was fired after filing a sexual harassment complaint. At year's end, the case was ongoing. ...


”Maids in Mexico Targets of Racism, Abuse,” Associated Press, 31 March 2003.

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- At age 12, Raquel Guadarrama left the home of her poor, widowed mother to clean the houses of middle- and upper-class Mexican families.

For 34 years, she scrubbed floors, washed dishes, hung laundry, and baby-sat toddlers -- all the while cowering as employers called her stupid and sexually harassed her.

When she was just 14, Guadarrama was forced to fend off the advances of her 70-year-old employer, who exposed his genitals from behind a newspaper when his wife wasn't looking and offered her expensive jewelry for sex.

``Many times I had to leave my jobs because of the sexual harassment,'' Guadarrama said. ``I always had to eat after my employers did, on separate plates, as if I were their pet. In fact, I think pets have more privileges.''

Guadarrama, now 55, has little more than a bruised ego and tired bones to show for her more than three decades of backbreaking labor. She has no pension plan, no social security, no health insurance.

That's because Mexico remains in the dark ages when it comes to the treatment of domestic workers -- despite repeated efforts by activists to reform antiquated labor laws and President Vicente Fox's recent promises to improve conditions for female workers.

``Nothing has changed,'' said 31-year-old Rosa Palma, a women's activist.

``My mother spent 50 years of her life in domestic work and when it came time for me to do it as well, I suffered the same discrimination, the same exploitation.

``You'd think that things would be different in the 21st century, but they aren't.''

Like Guadarrama, Palma spent much of her eight years as a maid swatting away the straying hands of male employers and dodging the insults of her female bosses.

``I used to be ashamed to say that I did this work because it is so under-appreciated,'' she said.

And yet many Mexicans don't know how to live without their maid. Take a look inside nearly any middle- or upper-class household -- and even occasionally a lower-class one -- and you will find a domestic worker.

The full-time, live-in maids -- many of them in their lower teens despite Mexico's minimum employment age of 16 -- generally abandon poor, rural, Indian communities to work in city homes.

``They are working practically in slavery,'' said Julia Chavez Carapia, coordinator of the women's studies program at Mexico's National Autonomous University. ``They have to be on top of everything, from early in the morning until nighttime, and they are totally dependent on the families they work for. Sexual harassment and abuse is very common.''

Live-in maids working for upper-class families earn at least the federal minimum wage -- about $140 a month -- while also receiving free room and board. The average salary for employees in other professions in Mexico City is two or three times the minimum wage.

Women who have their own families to take care of but are forced by economic circumstances to provide a second income to their household often take maid jobs that aren't live-in, earning about double what a live-in maid makes. Although they do receive free room and board, the live-in workers are generally poorer, less educated and less apt to fight for higher wages.

The domestic worker field is now divided nearly evenly between the two groups, but federal law addresses only the live-in maids -- and only in vague terms.

That means salary, benefits, hours and personal treatment are determined arbitrarily by the employers. The women, who desperately need the work, have little choice but to take what is offered them.

The current law says that live-in maids should have a decent place to live, good food to eat and adequate time to rest.

``For some employers, a decent place to live could mean a space under the staircase or in the washroom, good food could be beans, tortillas and coffee, and sufficient rest might be from four to six hours (a day) for a 45-hour work week,'' Guadarrama said.

There has been some progress. The Atabal Collective, a Mexico City-based group to which Guadarrama and Palma now belong, was established in 1987 to raise awareness about the maids' poor working conditions and to help them fight for their rights. The group also holds yearly marches to recognize maids.

The Home for the Young, a program run by Catholic nun Josefina Estrada, provides shelter, education and domestic work for poor rural girls who arrive in Mexico City alone and destitute.

Both groups provide training courses to help maids do their jobs better.

Yet years of efforts to get maids legally recognized as part of the work force, with guaranteed hours, wages and benefits, have gone nowhere.

Activists say they are up against a slew of prejudices still embedded in Mexican society.

``Every form of discrimination comes together in the domestic workplace: toward women, Indians, the rural poor, the old,'' said Celia Sanchez, an advocate at the Atabal Collective.

Fox recognized the discrimination toward women last year when he signed a pact with business owners to improve working conditions for female employees at foreign-owned factories along the Mexico-U.S. border.

``We cannot be on the cutting edge, as we aim to do, if women continue to be discriminated against, if they are not incorporated into the productive work force with all their rights and their skills,'' he said.

But while change may be in the works for professional Mexican women, it is likely to come more slowly for maids -- laborers who toil behind closed doors with scarce recognition or acknowledgment from the public.

``Because this is work that takes place in private, it loses value,'' said Chavez, the women's studies expert from Mexico's National Autonomous University. ``It is not seen as something useful'' to society.

Victoria Cruz, 61, a native of Hidalgo state who worked for 50 years as a maid before she was fired for being too old, is indignant about society's perception of the job as unworthy.

``An employee who works in the home is the same as an employee who works in a factory,'' she said. ``We should have the same rights, but we don't.

We have been completely forgotten.''


Nadia Asjad, “Pakistan's taboo on sex abuse,” BBC News, 17 Nov. 2004.

A group of Lahore women factory workers complain they are greeted each morning by their bus driver unzipping his trousers.

A university student in Islamabad, Saira, recalls one of her professors: "He would pat our backs, touch our hands whenever possible and stare at us suggestively."

And a woman from Pakistan's most conservative region, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), discovers that her husband molested her son's wife: "When we all protested, he divorced me and threw me out of his house," she said.

It is clear that sexual harassment is a widespread problem across the country.


Ranging from "Eve teasing" - as sexual taunting is often referred to in South Asia - to disturbing numbers of gang rapes, sexual harassment is affecting women in villages and cities alike.

Yet the problem has been ignored by society in general and by the government.

Even women themselves have said little in the face of a social value system that makes it difficult to speak out.

The Karachi-based organisation Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA) raises awareness and provides legal aid to women victims of sexual harassment.

LHRLA president Zia Ahmed Awan says that even educated women in Pakistan do not understand what harassment is.

"Sexual harassment does not just mean an act of physical offence. It starts from any gesture, stares or remarks that make women feel insecure and uncomfortable - while rape, molestation, incest etcetera remain the most severe forms of sexual harassment," he says.

Sexual stares

Among the most common forms of harassment in Pakistan are the discomforting gazes that follow a woman wherever she goes, as soon as she sets foot outside her home.

They are so common that many women do not even consider them an abuse.

"I often advise girls and women to start wearing sunglasses in public in order to avoid eye-contact with males who stare at them and make them feel uncomfortable," says Zia Awan.

And the unwelcome male attention also extends to the workplace.

Women employees in a range of organisations in the cities tell tales of bosses and colleagues making unjustified demands.

One woman working in a multinational company in Islamabad told me that her boss was pressing her to go on a date with him.

In return, she says, he is offering her not only a salary rise, but a promotion as well.

Suffering in silence

Incidents of harassment and molestation are being reported at workplaces, public venues and universities from all over the country, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Its figures show that this year between January and August, 175 women including 24 minors were gang raped and 225 were raped, of which 38 were minors.

Ten women were stripped naked publicly - a practice sometimes used to punish women considered to have brought shame on their communities.

These are the forms of extreme sexual abuse. Most cases of sexual harassment go unreported - but some figures suggest cases are increasing.

For example, in 2002, 12 women were stripped in public places - in 2003, the number rose to 40.

Combating the problem is difficult. Women don't want to discuss these issues. They prefer to suffer in silence.

Like the woman from NWFP, thrown out by her husband for protesting when he molested a relative, they fear that if they speak up, they will take the blame and lose face in society.


The Global Persecution of Women