Gender-based harassment is now legal in Lithuania?

On 15 July 2014 the Lithuanian Parliament has passed the controversial amendment to the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women, which will legalize gender-based harassment. 83 MPs voted in favor of passing the law, while 13 MPs abstained, thus outnumbering 2 MPs who voted against the proposal.

MP Marija Aušrinė Pavilionienė submitted an amendment to the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Equal Opportunities for Men urging to prohibit sexual harassment towards students. The amendment has been prepared on the request of the Office of Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson. Unlike employees at work, Lithuanian students were not protected from gender-based harassment at schools and universities prior to the endorsement of the amendment. Moreover, the Office of Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson was not entitled to inspect the complaints of students based on gender-based harassment.

Allegedly, M. A. Pavilionienė’s initiative to promote a neutral and tolerant atmosphere in Lithuanian educational institutions is of great importance and benefit. On the other hand, though, the conservatives took advantage of the situation to cross out the prohibition of gender-based harassment at work from the Law on Equal Opportunities for Men. That is, since the passing of the amendment Lithuanian employers are ought to protect employees from gender-based harassment only if a legal procedure has been initiated.

The initiator of the amendment R. J. Da­gys related harassment to a tractor: “Dear colleagues, the concept of sexual harassment is included in all the documents of the European Union directives. It is an explicit and completely understood rule. Harassment, as such is our invention. It thrived in the private sector but not in the public sector, it was not, because the hall of voting accordingly at the time. It is our invention, our tractor.”

MP’s observation hence inflamed comparable speculations from other members of the Lithuanian Parliament. A member of Seimas M. Zasčiurinskas would later evaluate the level of gender-based harassment in the place of employment by the number of MPs taking a stand. Concluding that only one MP stood up, M. Zasčiurinskas resolved that “if no one dares to stand up it means that the problem of harassment does not exist.”

The amendment to the law crossed out the term and the concept of gender-based harassment from the Law on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women. On 28 July 2014 MP Marija Aušrinė Pavilionienė presented yet another amendment to retrieve the protection from gender-based harassment at work. Still, the foundation of equal rights at any circumstances is established by the Law on Equal Opportunities.

The amendment to abrogate the concept of sexual harassment from Law on Equal Opportunities has not been initiated yet. Therefore, the amendment to the Law on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women is of limited purpose. The passing of the amendment thus clearly represents Lithuanian MP’s incompetence to comprehend the concept of gender-based harassment and its’ threats.