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Viral video sparks debate on sexual harassment in Azerbaijan

Screen shot taken from the video report by Lachin TV https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOm8ML0NaV4

This story was originally published on OC Media's website. A lightly edited version is republished here under a content-sharing agreement.

Azerbaijani ex-MP Huseynbala Miralamov was fired from the university where he teaches on April 22 after being caught on camera inappropriately touching a female 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 on April 21, where local media disseminated it without blurring the woman's face.

The story went so viral that United States’ late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel included the clip in one of his monologues, with the woman’s face still uncensored. The monologue has since been taken down from Kimmel’s official YouTube channel, yet many copies had already been uploaded.

Bahruz Nazarov, a department director at the Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University (ASOIU), where Miralamov worked, told Report.az that the latter has since been dismissed from his post and relieved of 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, Miralamov 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, Azerbaijan's Law on Gender Equality refers to sexual harassment, humiliation and insult of a person at work or in a 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 who are found guilty of sexual harassment are subject to a fine of ₼1,500 (900 USD) to ₼2,500 (1,500 USD).

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

“Sexual harassment can occur not only in labor 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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