RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
She has been fighting for nearly six years to prove that she was a victim of sexual harassment and extortion at work.
But the battle is not over for Anna Belousova, a former school employee from the village of Pertsevka in northern Kazakhstan.
Belousova, 35, has filed a lawsuit with the Saryarqa district court in the capital, Astana, this week demanding that authorities pay her $22,000 in compensation.
The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) supported Belousova's claim in 2015, and advised Kazakhstan to pay her financial compensation for "moral and material damages." The convention's recommendations are nonbinding.
So nearly two years later, Belousova and her lawyers say Kazakh officials have done nothing.
Anastasia Miller, the regional head of Kazakhstan's Bureau for Human Rights in Qostanai, says Belousova's decision to repeatedly lodge sexual-harassment complaints in Kazakh courts and then take her case abroad is "unprecedented not only in Kazakhstan but in all of Central Asia."
Miller has urged the Kazakh government to pay the compensation to "the victim of sexual harassment."
Reliable figures are difficult to come by, but sexual-harassment lawsuits are extremely rare in Kazakhstan and such incidents in the workplace often go unreported.
Belousova, a married mother of two, has had deep ties with the primary school in Pertsevka in the Qostanai region, where both her parents worked and where she first attended school.
She was hired by the school at the age of 18 to work as a technical staff member in the cloakroom, a position she held for 11 years, until a new director was appointed in late 2010.
Belousova claims she was subjected to sexual harassment and attempted extortion by the new director. "He told me I had to sleep with him, otherwise I would have to leave my job," Belousova says. "He kept calling me to his office, but I didn't agree."
Belousova also accuses the director of demanding money from her after she refused his sexual advances.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Kazakh Service in 2016, the school director, who didn't want his name to be published, denied Belousova's claims.
Belousova's annual job contract expired in May 2011, and the director didn't extend it -- a decision Belousova links to her refusal to sleep with him. Belousova says the school had been extending her contract every year for 11 years without any problem.
Belousova lodged sexual-harassment complaints with education authorities in her local district, but to no avail. She went on to file complaints to law enforcement agencies and even wrote to the office of the president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, asking the authorities to open a criminal probe against the director.
Each time, however, she says she was told there was no legal ground to launch a criminal investigation into her claim, despite potential evidence that included statements from two witnesses and a mobile-phone recording of a conversation between Belousova and the director.
The director, too, fought back, suing Belousova in a Kazakh court for libel. He won his case, and Belousova was ordered to pay his legal costs and make a public apology in front of the school staff.
Not Giving Up
Belousova lost her appeal but was determined to fight to the end. She took her case outside the country, to the UN's CEDAW, in 2013.
Two years later, CEDAW concluded that Kazakhstan "failed to fulfill its obligation" to protect Belousova's rights.
The committee recommended that Kazakh authorities pay "adequate financial compensation for moral and material damages caused to [Belousova] as the result of the violation of her rights," including the loss of income, legal costs, and "suffering caused by the sexual harassment and attempted extortion."
Belousova says she has suffered from stress-related depression and hasn't been able to work since she lost her job at the school.
In March 2017, Kazakhstan's Supreme Court upheld a ruling by a lower court in Qostanai that the regional education department didn't have to pay compensation.
Belousova has now turned to the Finance Ministry in hopes that it will pay her the compensation recommended by the UN agency.
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