Standing tall against workplace harassment

Contributor : Sylvia Lim
Published: Jakarta Post, May 05, 2014

 According to Nina Tursinah, the best protection a woman has against workplace sexual harassment is courage.

As chairman of the Indonesian Employers Association (APINDO), she’s made fighting discrimination in the workplace a special focus, publishing a guidebook and holding seminars for employers on harassment.

Although many women encounter poor treatment at work, they don’t immediately think it’s sexual harassment due to imprecise definitions, Nina says.

The case of Alisha (who declined to give her real name) is a case in point.

Alisha, who works at a local educational institution, described her story. “One day, when I was a new hire, my coworker came into my office and suddenly made some sexually demeaning comments about me. It shocked me. I was just stunned for a while as he laughed. I left the room without saying anything.”

“I felt very humiliated. It made me cry all the way home,” she adds.

Alisha said that she confided in friends, who mistakenly told her that she could not be sexually harassed without physical contact. “My friends said I was too sensitive. It must be a joke. He didn’t really mean it. So I learned to ignore it in the hopes it would go away.”

It didn’t. The coworker asked her out several times.

“It finally stopped, but still scared me for an entire year,” she says. “I tried to completely avoid him, which was difficult because he was my coworker. I couldn’t concentrate whenever we working on the same project.”

Alisha kept silent, afraid no one would believe her claims against her coworker, a well-respected senior with a good reputation.

Nina defines workplace sexual harassment as unwanted sexual advances, whether physical or verbal, or delivered over the telephone or the Internet.

“Many women do not report sexual harassment for fear of losing their jobs. This is a serious issue,” Nina said. “Harassment in the workplace leads to loss of motivation, increased turnover and lower job performance and productivity.” It might even lead to customer boycotts.

Otty, while supervising her subordinat
In response, APINDO, the Trade Ministry and the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry regularly hold free trainings that focus in part on sexual harassment for small and medium businesses throughout Indonesia.

“Our priority is labor-intensive industries that produce potential export commodities, such as garments and plantations. Right now, we have trained hundreds of business units in more than 26 provinces,” Nina says.

One of the small companies supported by APINDO is OH Boutiques, which makes batik and kebaya designs. OH director Otty H.C Ubayani Panoedjoe has praise for the association.

“APINDO’s leaders are like my parents. I didn’t know much when I started the company, but I’ve since learned a lot. They trained us, not only in business and technical skills, but in how to create a safe and healthy workplace environment.”

Otty employs 25 young people – 15 men and 10 women — most of who are from outside of Jakarta. Safety is Otty’s priority: There are security cameras in the women’s dormitory and she makes sure the workers can contact her freely whenever problems arise.

“Communication is the key to assure everything goes well,” said Otty, who is also secretary-general of APINDO’s creative small business unit section.

Dewi Suciati, a production coordinator for OH Boutiques for 12 years, likes the environment that Otty has fostered. “We feel secure while we are working here. Although we wear short skirts as our uniform, the male employees and customers know that our stylish outfits are not an invitation for harassment.”

“They treat us with respect.”

Alisha, however, has had a rougher road. She waited two years to see a counselor for depression and eventually deciding to confront her harasser.

 “At first I was confused, because we don’t have a HRD person at our branch. Then I decided to share with one of senior colleagues who I could trust. She helped arrange a meeting with our supervisor to report the case.”

The supervisor investigated, speaking with Alisha and the man separately and in private. A mediation was arranged and Alisha confronted her coworker face-to-face.

 “We didn’t fight at all. We had a good talk. I was relieved because he didn’t resist admitting that he had ‘carried away’ at that time and made an apology for his mistake. He promised that he wouldn’t do it again to me or other women.”

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