Interview with Secil Coban of TARIM-ORMAN IS

15 October 2019 13:19

Secil Coban, a 24-year old public servant with the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry and member of TARIM ORMAN-IS talks about her story of being a victim of sexual harassment in the work place and how she was able to win her case with the support of the union.

Can you tell us your story?

I started working at the Ministry of Forestry in Turkey four years ago. I had been facing verbal harassment as my boss and coworkers kept telling me how to dress, how to behave and which political party to support as a public servant. The head of my department would consistently tell me to be a good Muslim by reading the Quran.

My job responsibilities were such that I had to spend a lot of time in his office to assist him. In these occasions, he would try to get closer to me. Instead of providing me support, my co-workers, especially women, supported my male supervisor stating that I deserved it due to my “style.”

I submitted a formal complaint to the Deputy Director General of the Ministry as this was the formal procedure. Even though he agreed that my supervisor was verbally harassing me, he did not want to disturb the balance of the Ministry and thus he chose to not intervene.

I then turned to my union, TARIM ORMAN-IS to continue with my complaint. The union President got an appointment with the Minister and I was able to talk directly talk to the Minister. Following this process, the Head of Department, my supervisor was suspended from his job. This result had a deep impact at the Ministry, as it was the first time that a young woman stood up and persistently pursued a case resulting in victory with the union’s support.

My victory is for all women who have been harassed, some for many years.

What was the response of your co-workers?

My co-workers were extremely surprised but more importantly, they realized that sexual harassment in the workplace will not be tolerated. Many workers approached me and asked for advice on how to fight against all kinds of harassment and sexual violence.

How can trade unions support women workers who have faced sexual harassment and violence?

Unions play an important role in the fight against sexual harassment and violence. In cases where women are being harassed, unions can negotiate directly with employers and managers. If I did not have the support of my union, I would never be able to reach the Minister to talk about my problems. It is important that women are aware that unions are there to defend their rights under any circumstances.

I believe it is important unions negotiate specific clauses in collective bargaining agreements addressing discrimination, harassment, and violence against women in the work place. There should be specific processes and mechanisms in place for filing and resolving complaints and more importantly to end all practices.

What advice would you give to young women who have just joined the union?

I am also a woman who has recently joined the union. In this regard, my advice would be to remind them that they should not hesitate and be afraid to fight against the male domination and violence against women. They should understand that this fight will surely become stronger when they join a union and thus be a part of the union movement.