PEREGRAF– Ghamgin Mohammed
After she finishes her studies, Vina* spends months hunting for a job amid a hiring freeze as the Kurdistan Region recovers from a financial crisis, only to find she is faced with a new challenge at her new workplace.
"After three months of working, my manager asked me to go out with him, but I refused and then I quit my job," Vina said, noting that she kept the reason why she quit hidden from her family.
Vina is a 25-year-old university graduate from Sulaymaniyah. After graduation, she sought a job for about a year when she finally landed a job at a company, which she said was full of challenges.
She explained that her work manager started calling her to his office when she had just started. "Most of the time calling me was not related to work, he would tell me I am beautiful and attractive and he would just like to see me," said Vina.
Women in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq often become targets of harassment at their workplaces, or are required to dress up in a certain way to attract clients and customers.
A twenty-eight years old university graduate spoke about her struggle working at a perfume booth in one of the malls in Sulaymaniyah. She is holding a bottle of perfume and calling out "test" to customers to urge them to try the perfume.
"Wearing a blazer and a short skirt is on my manager’s demand and I have accepted it for the sake of keeping my job," she told PEREGRAF on the condition of anonymity.
Hangaw Abdullah, head of the workers’ syndicate said forcing employees to wear certain clothes for reasons other than for their protection is a violation of the law.
"According to the law, forcing workers to wear specific clothes must only be for protecting them during their work, other than that, it is against the law for any other purpose and the worker can file a complaint against them in court and the syndicate will defend them," said Abdullah.
In another part of the mall, there are a few girls working in a clothing store who are all dressed in uniforms, their hair tied in the same way, wearing heavy makeup and a smile on their face, which they said was one of the requirements on their contracts.
"A friend of ours didn’t accept to wear tight leggings and a short top like us, so she didn’t sign the contract and went home," one of them said.
Afraid of a society that is unforgiving towards women, those who face sexual harassment or are forced to do things unrelated to their jobs refrain from speaking up, they are also unsupported by colleagues who are afraid of getting fired. Other times it is a lack of solid evidence or merely to keep their jobs and make a living.
Article 10 in Iraq’s labour law "prohibits sexual harassment in employment" and the law enables workers to file complaints when faced with harassment. The act is also considered a crime in the Iraqi penal code and is punishable by imprisonment or fining.
"According to Article 402 of the Iraqi Penal Code, sexual abuse at a workplace, whether verbal or physical, has it is own punishment, which is imprisonment for up to three months, or a fine up to 300,000 [Iraqi] dinars, or both," Shokhan Ahmed, a lawyer said.
Due to the social stigma around this issue only a small number of women who face sexual harassment take it up to court. Female workers tend to keep it on the low and not attract attention to themselves.
This is while most of the harassment that has taken place at the workplace is verbal, PEREGRAF has learnt.
The 5500 hotline for workers in the Kurdistan Region says they mostly receive calls from men.
"Men and women call us daily for various problems they have at their workplace, but the number of men is higher and their problems are mostly pay cuts or firing them," said Dilkhwaz Taha, manager of the hotline.
There are two laws in the Kurdistan Region for protecting the rights of workers, one of which specifically sheds light on women and young workers in ten articles.
Under these laws, employees are required to have social insurance at their workplace, so that they can be defended by the ministry of social affairs when faced with issues. However, its implementation is widely ignored by employers.
"If any violation occurs, the ministry can only defend those employees who have been provided with social insurance," said Arian Ahmed, spokesperson for the ministry of social affairs.
According to statistics from the Kurdistan Region's workers’ syndicate, there are more than 3,700 Iraqi and foreign female workers with social insurance, and generally no-insurance employees from both genders outnumber those provided with social insurance by a lot.
*names have been changed to protect identities