Croatian Study Finds 73 Percent of Women Have Faced Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

The problem of sexual harassment at the workplace is far more rampant than expected. A new study points at the systemic flaws that leave women vulnerable.

By Mrinal Semia

A new study to chronicle sexual harassment at the workplace in Croatia has found that as many as 71 percent of respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment during their wor­king lives. And this is not just a women’s issue: while 73 percent women said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, 50 percent men also experienced it in some form.

Most of the sexual harassment cases – 61 percent – were instigated by a superior at work. Over 83 percent respondents did not report the harassment to anyone in the company or authorities due to distrust of the employer, fear of revenge, fear of losing their job or shame. More than 25 percent did not know who to report it to. And about 21 percent of the respondents they do not know whether what had happened constituted sexual harassment.

“Numerous testimonies and researches have argued that sexual harassment and violence at work in all its continuum occur on a daily basis – from inappropriate views, gestures and/or words, unwanted touches to rape,” says Dunja Bonacci Skenderović, the author of the study, who is an activist for social change in Croatia.

Dunja has been working on eradication of violence against women for the past 15 years. This study, titled ‘At Work I Want to Be Treated Professionally!‘, is part of her initiative Project Frida, which focuses on attaining an understanding of sexual assault at work and to diagnose whether organisations in Croatia have a viable framework for identifying and avoiding inappropriate behaviour at the workplace.

The research was conducted on 448 participants (92.4 percent women and 7.1 percent men; the rest did not answer the question).

Read also: Gender Discrimination in the Corporate Sector? Let Me Count the Ways

Dunja’s research exposes the threat related with lewd behaviour at work. According to the study, 90 percent of the harassment was related to unwanted sexual remarks, and suggestive and insulting com­ments and/or jokes directed at a person or made in the presence of a person.

As many as 82 percent of the respondents indicated that they had experienced two or more forms of sexual harassment at work, such as:

  • Lustful and inappropriate staring at body parts (64 percent)
  • Unwanted touches, hugs and kisses (53 percent)
  • Unwanted calls of a sexual nature (40 percent)

Regarding reporting of these cases, only 17 percent – all of whom were women – had reported sexual harassment at work, out of which 52 percent of the respondents stated that there were no further steps taken after the reporting.

Dunja Bonacci Skenderović

We reached out to Dunja to understand her vision and the implications of her research.

eShe: What motivated you to undertake this study?

Dunja Bonacci Skenderovic: When, in late 2017, the #MeToo movement began and women started publicly speaking about their experiences of sexual harassment and violence at work, I could not remain indifferent to what was going on. I thought long and hard about how to contribute to the prevention of sexual harassment at work. This is a topic seldom discussed in Croatian society, as I am sure it is in many other parts of the world as well.

My first step was the creation of Project Frida. The goal is to establish an effective system of prevention of sexual harassment at work through education. This particular study was motivated by my own curiosity to get an insight into the situation and also by the need and desire to work towards systematic prevention of sexual harassment at work.

The second step was to conduct the research. The aim of the research was to gain insight into existence and presence of sexual harassment at work and whether companies in Croatia have an effective system for prevention of sexual harassment and implementation of corrective measures.

Can you give us an insight into the position of women in Croatian society in general?

According to the 2020 Gender Equality Index, Croatia is well below the European Union average; Croatia is at 57.9, while EU is 67.9. The gender inequality is evident in the spheres of decision-making positions across the political, economic and social spheres. It is also evident in the sphere of time spent doing care and domestic work. Which is unequally distributed between men and women; women still do much more care and house works than men.

Furthermore, women are still paid less than men. Croatia signed and ratified The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (better known as the Istanbul Convention).

Regardless of that, many provisions from the Convention are still not implemented three years after the ratification. There is a lack of support and protection services for victims of violence against women. Therefore, the situation in general needs improvement.

How far are the results of your report relevant for working women worldwide, and not just Croatia?

The study contributes to the growing body of global research on the topic of sexual harassment at the workplace. Although it is focused on Croatia, it demonstrates how the situation in Croatia is no different than in other countries. The findings can be used as a part of global data on sexual harassment at work and also as an assessment point on how companies and employers deal with sexual harassment complaints.

It is relevant for working women worldwide because it shows that we have to deal with same issues regardless of the country we live in; that no country is immune to sexual harassment at work; and that it is global problem and its solution should be comprehensive and globally approached.

We believe that employees and employers can work together to create a safer environment and prevent these behaviours at workplace. Over 75 percent of respondents said that education on sexual harassment is missing in their companies.

Hence, it becomes important for organisations to have clear policies against harassment and have transparency of the consequences of violations for harassers.

Lead representational image: Canva

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