Female MP fights back with new law on harassment

After other female MPs in the Romanian parliament were verbally harrassed by their male colleages in 2017, MP Oana Bizgan decided it was time to fight back.

Ana Maria Luca
Ana Maria Luca NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Female MP fights back with new law on harassment - NewsMavens
Oana Bizgan, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

On Monday, July 16, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis passed a law that actually punishes harassers, be it on the street or at the office. This is a first in the country’s legislative history. The penalties are quite serious -- EUR 650-2,200 -- in a country with an average monthly wage of 400 Euros.

Few people in Romania’s parliament were ever concerned about women’s rights and, in fact, several incidents in 2017 proved that even women MPs faced serious harassment and discrimination from their male colleagues. When several MPs were sanctioned by their parties in 2017 for sexual remarks addressed to women MPs from the opposition.

The most notorious case was Social Democrat MP Serban Nicolae who told Save Romania Union Deputy Cosette Chichirau “I have pictures of you during oral sex!” during a heated exchange over anti-corruption legislation.

The author of the law, 37 year-old independent MP Oana Bizgan, a business strategist who left her corporate career  to run for the Parliament in 2016, told NewsMavens that the incidents in the parliament were real eye-openers.  

“I realized that there were very few people who cared about this problem. To me it came naturally because I was exposed to environments where this was treated as a serious matter,” she explained.

She said that harassment as an idea was included before in several laws, including the Criminal Code, but none of those laws punished street harassment, psychological harassment and none addressed harassment at work.

Bizgan explained that although harassment was defined in the Criminal Code, there was no punishment for the infraction. “You call the police and they assess what happened, but they can't do anything,” she explained.

Meanwhile, studies have showed that the phenomenon is rampant in the country, although dramatically under-reported because many Romanians, both victims and witnesses and sometimes even aggressors, were unaware that what was happening was actually harassment.

“I felt I should fill the gaps. It will take time for the fines to work, but at least it's a start,” she added.

Details from the story:

  • The Law on Equality of chances and treatment between men and women bans harassment, sexual harassment and psychological harassment in public and private spaces.
  • It labels harassment as an infraction of regulation punishable with fines between EUR 650 – 2,200 if it happened under circumstances that don’t already deem it a crime according to the Criminal Code.
  • The law is to be enforced by police, gendarmerie as well as border police, depending on where the harassment occurs.
  • Employers who discriminated employees based on their gender, do not promote them or sexually harass them can also be fined up to EUR 2,200.
  • The law also says that catcalling falls under psychological street harassment and is also fined.
  • According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, 32 percent of the Romanian women say that they have been sexually harassed. However, 8 out of 10 Romanian women say they don’t feel safe on the street at night and 4 out of 10 don’t even feel safe during the day. Moreover, 7 out of 10 women are convinced that no one would come to their defense in a harassment situation.  
  • Feminist groups in Romania have started several campaigns in recent years to raise awareness and build solidarity, but legally there was little the victims could do.
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