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EghtesadOnline: From Silicon Valley to Tehran, tech titans and startups have regularly reported stories of gender inequality, harassment and abuse of power.

Taking a stance against such issues, Iran’s IT Organization has issued a directive containing guidelines that will hopefully help victims take action against perpetrators while assisting firms in setting up safeguards.

The directive outlines what can be classified as abuse while describing a mechanism for recording complaints. The concise guidelines touch upon a wide range of cases, from verbal to physical assaults, while noting that both men and women could be at the receiving end.

It also envisages that an NGO be set up to educate people about harassment and inequality, while operating as a watchdog that records complaints, Financial Tribune reported.

The directive does not elaborate on the composition and the full scope of activities such an NGO could pursue.

In a talk with Financial Tribune, ITO’s Chief Amir Nazemi said speaking about sexual abuse and harassment is considered taboo. 

“People find it hard to speak about it with their colleagues. Therefore, as per the guideline, local NGOs should be tapped for reporting harassment cases,” he said.

“There is a tendency in companies to sweep such issues under the carpet. This encourages perpetrators. By involving NGOs, at least an independent pair of eyes will scrutinize such cases.”

In fact, people employed in such a specialized NGO have been trained to interview the affected person and create an environment where victims could speak freely about their experience.

“While it is difficult to draw a line in many cases, we have tried to describe what can be categorized as harassment in the directive. However, people should feel safe to come forward and voice objection against what they consider to be inappropriate,” Nazemi said.

“For devising this directive, we have drawn upon global examples. However, throughout the process, we worked to keep the text in line with Iranian and Islamic values.”

The ITO chief acknowledges that the directive will certainly have shortcomings.

“But, with the participation of people and experts, we can address these shortcomings … Work on this issue had to start somewhere. This is just the beginning. We can work together while going forward,” he said.



Warm Reception

Nazemi noted that the organization does not plan to push businesses to adopt the directive. 

“After the document was published, it was welcomed by several major startups, with some firms adopting the directive. The warm reception and feedback reveal that there has been a void, a long-standing lack of effort, for addressing these issues,” he said.

Following the move, several Iranian startups and tech firms, including ride-hailing company Tap30, online buying platform Takhfifan and cloud computing service provider Arvan Cloud announced their support for the move.

Bahram Asna-Ashari, the head of Iran’s ICT Guild Organization, also told Financial Tribune that a team at the guild is studying the directive.

Asked whether the guild will adopt the directive and call on startups and tech firms to follow suit, Asna-Ashari said, “We first need to conclude our studies.”



Hidden Face of Inequality 

Earlier in a talk with IRNA, Meshkat Asadi, the IT Organization’s deputy for women affairs, discussed the guideline.

Asadi, who has specialized in political sociology, told IRNA, “Sometimes inequality, whether it is experienced by ethnic minority groups or women, goes unnoticed since the issue has always been present.”

She believes that social conditions can prevent people from even perceiving that socially just and equal environments could be created, that the current inequalities are not inherent in the society and these vices can be eradicated.

“The first step for curbing inequality is to study the issue. Then comes devising a proper response,” she said, pointing out that such efforts can initiate a debate on related issues.

According to Asadi, the directive has been tailored to fit ITO’s structure, but she notes that it can be adapted by other entities.

“Offering insight and starting a conversation about sexual abuse, gender inequality and abuse of power were high on the organization’s agenda when the directive was devised,” she added.



Public Discourse

Psychologist and HR Consultant Maryam Keshtparvar told Financial Tribune that although the directive has shortcomings, it sheds light on the issue of sexual harassment, which is normally not discussed publicly. 

“When a state agency steps forward and brings the issue to the fore, it creates an opportunity for public discourse,” she said.

“IT Organization’s move has created an opening for people to talk about sexual harassment. Despite the importance of the issue, it has not been discussed openly and thoroughly in Iran … Sexual abuse and talking about it is taboo in Iran. This is while addressing the issue demands public participation and discussion.”

Keshtparvar mentioned some of the measures that could help in the fight against all kinds of harassment and abuse.  

“A pivotal element for preventing harassment is to create an environment where people can safely speak about their experiences. This openness will help people overcome their fears. In many cases, abusers are in a position of power. They threaten their victims with sacking, if they were to complain. Victims should feel secure to come forward and speak out,” she said.

According to the HR consultant, one of the issues that also needs to be addressed is victim shaming that wrongly condones the perpetrator’s behavior.

She notes that research and surveys need to be conducted to get a clear picture of the situation, stressing that guidelines need to be tailored to fit the local cultural complexity and organizational structure of each business. 

“In some cases, organizational structures should also be overhauled to implement safeguards against harassment,” she said.

Keshtparvar concluded that these efforts can also lead to the creation of independent watchdogs and legal mechanisms for monitoring and countering abuse.


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