Over 1,000 reports of gender-based discrimination in Belgium last year

Over 1,000 reports of gender-based discrimination in Belgium last year
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Over 1,000 instances of gender-related discrimination were reported to the Institute for Equality of Women and Men (IEFH) last year – 16% more than the year before.

The 1,020 reports received by the Institute in 2021 can be divided into three categories: complaints (51% increase compared to 2020), requests for legal information (12% increase) and notices (13% drop).

"Society is increasingly aware of the problem of sexual harassment, sexist comments and the phenomenon of non-consensual distribution of intimate images, also called revenge porn," Liesbet Stevens, Deputy Director of the IEFH, said in a press release.

"Both traditional and social networks are also paying more attention to gender equality," she added. "These two trends undoubtedly play a role in the increase in the number of citizens reporting discrimination they have experienced or witnessed."

Gender discrimination at work

In 2021, the highest number of reports were again made about gender-related discrimination in the workplace (34% of all reports). Those mainly concerned working conditions and pay (38%), access to a job (30%) and the end of the employment contract (18%).

Almost one in three reports concerning work (30%) was related to pregnancy or maternity. "It is striking that over the years, pregnancy and motherhood continue to be grounds for discrimination or harassment at work," she said, adding that this figure is "just the tip of the iceberg," as not all women dare to assert their rights.

Sexual intimidation, too, was increasingly reported to the Institute, especially at work: the figure was up 37% from 2020, despite the significant increase in teleworking due to the pandemic.

"I am particularly concerned by the state of discrimination in the world of work. Young women find it difficult to get a job because they are likely to become mothers, women lose their jobs or are demoted because they are pregnant. This is unacceptable in 2022," Sarah Schlitz, State Secretary for Gender Equality, said in a statement.

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Following work-related reports, the second most represented domain was incidences in the public space, both offline and online – representing just over one-fifth (21%) of all reports.

The number of reports of sexist street harassment rose sharply in the space of a year (+75%), which can be explained by the fact that society is becoming increasingly aware of this problem, but also by the development of innovative methods: in some police zones, such as Liège or Brussels-North, plain-clothes officers patrol the streets to identify offences more easily.

These methods have led to several findings and reports, and some cases have already been brought to court.

Revenge porn

The number of reports of digital sexist intimidation also continues to increase (+23%), which can partly be explained by the fact that the Institute became competent to support victims of non-consensual dissemination of intimate images (so-called 'revenge porn') through the law of 4 May 2020.

"The Institute receives a large number of reports regarding the non-consensual distribution of intimate images or other forms of digital sexual violence, such as voyeurism or threatening to distribute intimate images to extort money, for example," said Stevens. "By making the Institute a central point of contact for the assistance of victims of digital sexual violence, the law meets a real need."

Schlitz added that she is working with the Ministers of Justice, Home Affairs, IEFH and social media platforms to "develop actions that protect citizens on the Internet."

More reports concerning transgender persons were also registered, as 13% of all reports were about discrimination against trans people last year – an increase of 28% compared to 2020.

Most incidents that are reported occur when changing the gender registration in an official document: these represent 19% of trans discrimination and have more than doubled compared to 2020. Schlitz stressed these figures highlight that the procedure must be made easier to protect people.

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