Labor Rights & Sexual Harassment; Enough Is Enough

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This is a post that I have been meaning to write for quite a while. But I kept on hesitating for a lot of reasons. For one thing, its a sensitive subject in many ways. After all I am about to talk on the case of sexual harassment that was filed against the Chair of the Civil Service Commission Mr. Mohamed Fahmy Hassan during June last year. Furthermore, I am an employee of the said commission, which made it difficult for me to come out and say all that I wanted to say without “violating” any unwritten rules there might exist. And then there’s the point that this is an issue that deals with a colleague of mine who was so very brave in standing up for her rights from the many women who have faced similar situations of sexual harassment but never having had the sort of support required to come out, had stayed silent all throughout the years; a topic that is still brushed under the carpet most of the time. And then there’s the part of me that believed in the due process taking care of Fahmy, him being voted out in a no confidence motion against him which indeed did happen, but then I guess I should have known better than to believe in a system that has failed on us on so many levels.

I believe that I coincidentally got “involved” in this situation because the Almighty wanted someone whose conscience wouldn’t let her stay silent on this as many seem content to do so. The big fish i.e. the political figures at the forefront are more concerned with the political gain this situation would bring their way or the loss they would face if Fahmy were to be removed from the position of CSC Chair because it would mean power lost at the Judicial Service Commission itself. On top of that Maldivians are a bunch who have become desensitized in so many ways that it just shakes me to my very core to learn about some of the very pressing social issues that this country faces, many of which go unaddressed which is going to be the reason for the imminent collapse of this nation as a whole.

Though I’ve heard many accounts from my fellow colleagues of incidences where Fahmy has more than acted inappropriately towards them, its not my story to tell. Since I don’t hold any power over any of them coming forward with their stories, which I believe if they had or do even now would have changed this whole scenario from what it is right now, i.e. Fahmy finding it so easy to return back to work as he pleases even after being voted out by the Parliament twice. I am not going to talk about those incidences but rather the one “small” incident that marked him in mind as a man unfit to be in a position as such, a position that oversees the rights of around 20+ thousand employees of this country.

It was in the year 2008, when members were first appointed to the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and discussions were being held at different levels between the Public Service Division (PSD) of The President’s Office where I worked back then and the newly formed CSC under the Civil Service Act. That day was actually the very first day that I met Mr. Fahmy, who back then was just a member of the Commission. Since myself and a Director General were the focal points assigned to streamline the process of transferring the designated tasks from the PSD to CSC; I found myself at this meeting with Mr. Fahmy sitting right next to me.

I will deviate now into a little history lesson where I am concerned, just to lay out the background of my career. I was employed at the PSD in the year 2001 and went off for my higher studies in 2002. After returning to work in 2006, I had been working for around 2-3 years in the government by the time this meeting was to happen. Even then, verbal sexual harassment was commonplace, most people I don’t think even realized what they were doing because simply put there were no regulations or laws in place that protects an employee from any such incidences that they might encounter. Nevertheless, I had never been on the receiving end of such remarks from any of my coworkers, mainly maybe because I am someone who tends to keep to myself. The point that I want to drive home is that up until then I had never found myself in a situation even remotely like the incident that took place in that meeting. There was this point where everyone was fake laughing as if one of the members present at the meeting had just revealed the most hilarious joke in history and Fahmy while laughing, casually placed his left hand on my thigh as we were sitting right next to each other.

Maybe because my brain didn’t register at that moment what had actually taken place, I didn’t say anything then. It wasn’t until we walked out of the meeting and the Director General who was with me remarked angrily on Fahmy’s behavior that I realized what had happened. For those who think that, “Oh bullocks! It was just your thigh; what does it even matter? I’m sure it must have happened by accident.” etc. etc. the point that is of importance here is the fact that 1- he is a member of CSC, 2- there is no need for any form of inappropriate touching on anyone’s body part at work, and I am not talking about two people who get touchy-feely because they want to and out of mutual consent and 3- yes, it was way out of line and completely inappropriate. If the point of working in a mixed environment is to fall laughing into the lap of every employee of the opposite sex that sits next to you; oh well, then we would be better off with engaging in an orgy than turning up at work.

From that day onwards, I have always been leery of Fahmy; someone who cracks jokes that doesn’t bring a smile out of me because most of the time it is sexist in one way or the other and mostly I just had an inherent distrust for the man himself. I am certain some people are going to be clearly pissed off at me for writing this but then, high time don’t you think?

When the incident that propelled Parliament to take action against Fahmy happened, it was again by accident that I found myself entering the toilet where I found my colleague on the phone, crying. This was right after THE incident had happened in which Fahmy had caressed her tummy and commented on her body weight, which is yes again, highly inappropriate and wrong on so many levels. Since I wasn’t someone that close to her, I didn’t stop and ask her why she was crying, mainly because I had the feeling that she’d rather I didn’t at that moment. But I did later message a mutual friend of ours who said that something had happened and that she had gone home. I didn’t let it bother me overly much until I began to see Facebook statuses from some of my colleagues, most of them seething with anger and disgust, some of whom had been on the receiving end of such ‘tender’ unwanted affection from him. It didn’t take long for me to put two and two together and come up with what had happened which was soon revealed to the whole country; a case that in my opinion was a long time coming.

Ever since I was summoned to the Independent Institutions Committee of the Parliament regarding this issue because my name appeared in the timeline of events that took place that day, I have never looked back. My family and especially my father advised me that standing up for what’s right can never be wrong and that’s where I always find my source of strength whenever I find myself in despair over how casually people treat this incident and whether I should be worried about the fact that I cannot let this go. I was appalled at the level of apathy that most of the colleagues displayed. Some were disgusted because the one who stood up was ruining CSC’s image, others were of the mindset that she shouldn’t have made such a HUGE fuss and then there were those who thought and still thinks that Fahmy sports two wings and a halo over his head.

I was summoned to the Maldives Police Service as well as the Human Rights Commission (HRCM) to provide testimonies on what had happened, the HRCM being the agency that actually did the most thorough interviews to-date after being “harassed” by reporters as to why their investigation was being stalled for so long. They collected so many testimonies from different employees and thus it was a slap on the face to read their decision that there investigation hadn’t been enough to prove or disprove that the incident in question had happened; and this too rather helpfully right before the Parliament was to vote Fahmy out after giving him a grace period in which to resign and exit without making a fuss. But as the events that unfolded have shown, he didn’t, not surprising when he actually doesn’t believe that he did anything wrong!

November 20, 2012 was a day that I was proud of the members of the Parliament, a rare enough occurrence that deserves a mention. PPM was the only party that voted against the motion; not surprising when Fahmy is one of the founding members of the People’s Alliance registered as a political party on August 4, 2008, whose former leader is Abdulla Yameen, PPM’s current Presidential candidate. If you ask me, Fahmy deserves a thousand times worse than being voted out of his position for abusing his position of authority a million times over. If someone were to really probe into what happened; even write an investigative journalistic piece on him, they would find a lot of details that would really put this whole nation staying silent on this issue to shame. The relief felt by that those who believed he had done something wrong was short-lived as the tables once again turned around when on March 18, 2013, the Supreme Court totally proved themselves to be the hypocritical bunch they are and overturned the case of Parliament’s dismissal of the Chair of CSC. Thus began the “war” between the Parliament and the Supreme Court of the country. March 23, 2013 saw Fahmy resume office and later, on April 10, 2013, Fahmy was again voted out, this time the Parliament voting to replace Fahmy as a member of CSC. The bitch slap in the face was to hear that he had resumed coming to work again last week, a news that brought to home just how utterly shameless he really is.

So today, out of my frustration with everyone who was keeping silent and furthermore rallying behind him, for the very first time in my life, I joined the May Day rally (this is the first rally/protest that I have ever joined ever) which was organized by MDP. The last push needed came mainly with the news that the walk organized by CSC to commemorate CS day which coincides with Labor Day was led by Fahmy himself, a walk that was supposedly about the rights of the civil servants of this country. But what better way to mock the rights of the said employees than to let a man like himself lead the rally? But alas, no one seems that bothered about “trivial” issues such as this one. And whether you believe in coincidences or not, I was the one who ended up holding up the placard that says “Fahumy…OUT” (that’s a shot of myself holding the banner right after the rally ended) which if you think about it, is funny in one sense and then again exactly the point I want to drive across. The disappointing factor about the rally was that there was no chance to really vocally call out for his resignation and I think the rally was more focused on the upcoming elections than about labor rights apart from the short speeches that were delivered at the end. In the end I had to satisfy myself with the fact that at least MDP’s rally provided me with an opportunity to become more proactive in a cause that I believe in and helped me at least put the message across to those who have already forgotten.

Consequences for writing this post and participating in the rally is something I anticipate, but if anyone were to take steps against me because I stood up for something I believe in and wrote about the truth and nothing but the truth here, then Fahmy ought to go first. I’m willing to walk away from the position I hold at CSC because its an utter disappointment to work with people who actually have no qualms about him returning to work and resuming office like nothing ever happened. Its as if he went on a short leave of absence and returned to work. It shamed me to see my colleagues walk behind him and rally behind him today, holding up banners that called out for the rights of civil servants. But then again, I guess I shouldn’t expect a desensitized society to really care about the other person and truly empathize, because after all we are the people who would rather watch on a person being beaten to death than move in to help. We are after all the society that kept looking while police brutality rained down from left and right. Says it all doesn’t it?

If women want equal rights at the workplace and to be able to report to work without the fear of falling prey to some perverted male employee who isn’t getting enough; then its time to become proactive. I’m glad that MP Rozaina has put forward the Sexual Harassment Bill which is a direct effect of what happened with Fahmy playing peekaboo with the Parliament’s decision. I call out on women to stand up for your rights. Do what’s right. Doing what’s right now means you ensure the security and future of your own children who would tomorrow lead this nation. Nightmares wouldn’t be the only thing that would visit you when your own child grows up and walks out into a world filled with sexual predators left unchecked; and that’s the legacy you would leave behind if you don’t act now. If no one acts now, whatever leverage that we have on this issue will just disappear into thin air, never to be seen or heard of ever again.

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