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Video sparks debate about sexual harassment in Azerbaijan

30 April 2021
Image via Report.az

Azerbaijani ex-MP and university professor Huseynbala Miralamov was fired after being caught on camera inappropriately touching his woman employee.

In the video the woman smiles at first, but when she realizes that they are being recorded, covers her face in shock and runs away. The video rapidly went viral in Azerbaijan, where local media disseminated it without blurring the woman's face. 

The story went so viral that American late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel included the clip in one of his monologues, the woman’s face remained uncensored. The monologue has since been taken down from Kimmel’s official Youtube channel. Yet many copies have been already uploaded online.

Bahruz Nazarov, Director of the Public Relations and Marketing Department of the Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University (ASOIU), told Report.az that after the video was disseminated, Huseynbala Miralamov was dismissed his post as head of the ‘Oil and Gas Transportation and Storage’ department at the Faculty of Gas and Petroleum Engineering of ASUOI. He was also relieved of his teaching duties.

Miralamov was also expelled from the ruling New Azerbaijan political party, where he was a member of the Veterans Council and held the position of chair of the Khatai district party branch.

In an interview with Unikal.org he denied having a relationship with the woman in the video. ‘I was blackmailed’, he said. ‘This was a university conference. The people who broadcast this video must be found’.

Consent

While the incident was met with widespread disapproval on social media, there was little agreement on what type of incident the video actually showed and who was at fault. 

Feminist activist Gulnara Mehdiyeva told OC Media that the incident sparked discussion of what constituted sexual harassment in the workplace and the power dynamics between older men like Miralamov and his subordinate.

‘People expect the older generation to approach the younger generation as children, who need to be shown the way how to live’, Mehdiyeva said. ‘There were also those who condemned the woman in the discussions. These were mostly people who did not question the issue of consent’.

Those commentators who condemned the woman saw the incident as one of ‘cheating’ and using ‘femininity as an opportunity’, Mehdiyeva said. As a result, they do not ask ‘whether she consented’ or ‘why she did it’. 

‘Even if a woman consents in every sense of the word, he is the one who has the privilege in the first place. The man's privilege must also be questioned.’

Human rights lawyer and feminist activist Zhala Bayramova told OC Media that Azerbaijani legislation deals with sexual harassment only superficially. She said she believes that even though the Labor Code states that the employer's duty was to take measures to prevent sexual harassment, questions remain as to what these measures are and whether this duty has been fulfilled.

According to her, the Law on Gender Equality refers to sexual harassment, humiliation and insult of a person at work or in service relationship, arising from belonging to another sex or sexual orientation, including physical actions (touching, slapping, etc.), vulgar language, gestures, threats, defamatory offers or invitations that can be defined as immoral behaviour.

In the event of sexual harassment, the employment contract can only be terminated by the employee and they have to be compensated. Those are found guilty of sexual harassment are subject to a fine of ₼1,500 ($900) to ₼2,500 ($1,500).

Bayramova told OC Media that the subjects mentioned in the definitions of sexual harassment are extremely narrow. 

‘Sexual harassment can occur not only in labour or service relationships, but also in other situations, such as between students and teachers, officials, and so on’, Bayramova said. ‘There is no penalty mechanism for these situations’.

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