Furrowed brows and squinted eyes.
Some weeks back some colleagues recounted their national service experience and this time not everybody could relate, especially the guys.
There was a deafening silence from the guys as the ladies narrated the ordeal they had to go through at work.
Some of them were being pestered by men(mostly married) laying on them despicable proposals, some were overly touchy- groping, the cavaliers ones too who were caught in their self-hype often went for the jugular being mouthy giving pecks left, right, centre… I know right, unimaginable.
I chalk down the silence from the guys to one of these factors, they were silent because they felt ashamed by the actions of their male compatriots, silent because they were helpless and powerless, having no control over the situation or maybe because no lady in their place of work was dishing out pecks for free. Likely to be the latter, hehe… don’t mind me fellas.
But seriously this issue I believe is not peculiar to these service personnels alone but stretches across to various ladies all over regardless of position, age or marital status. So I decided to do a little research for myself.
What actually is sexual harassment?
Wikipedia defines sexual harassment as- Bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours
US Labour law– Unwelcome, offensive or importunate sexual advances or request made by an employer or superior officer or a co-worker, whether the worker is a man or woman
I couldn’t find any definition or policy on sexual harassment from the labour union of Ghana (makes you wonder if the sole purpose of the union is to only agitate for increment in salaries).
Asking around too I realized there was no clear and definite written down policy regulating and dealing with this issue in most workplaces.
Employer and employees were left to decipher on their own what is/not appropriate.
What I did find however was a piece on the topic by Augustine Kobina Andoh- SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE THE GHANAIAN EXPERIENCE
Though his definition was pretty much the same he did add that; Sexual harassment involved privacy invasion, or access to the self beyond which it is desired. It is distinct from romantic relationships that are consensual.
According to Andoh’s research on the issue, his findings indicate that about 74% of female employees and 42% of male employees in Ghana experience sexual harassment within the working environment. The forms of harassment experienced include:
• Unwanted repeated proposals;
• Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, questions or remarks;
• Pressure for dates;
• Unwanted love letters, cards, or telephone calls;
• Unwanted sexual looks, gestures or pornographic materials;
• Unwanted touching of intimate body parts;
• Pressure for sexual favours, e.g. kisses etc.;
• Demand for sex in exchange for employment opportunities;
• Demand for sex in exchange for employment-related benefits; and
• Attempted or actual sexual assault or rape.
Also like we already know, his findings confirmed that women were mostly victims of sexual harassment, largely the single and unmarried.
It was observed that the age group in which most female employees experienced sexual harassment in the workplace for the first time was between the ages of 21-25 years.The perpetrators on the other hand, two-thirds being males, most of whom were superiors/employers, 68% of them were married men. These men abuse and take advantage of desperate but potential female employees.
Although sexual harassment is very prevalent in Ghana, a great majority of the victims do not formally report their experiences to management or superiors for redress. About 95% of the cases go unreported. Most victims try to handle the issue on their own for a variety of reasons, including the social stigma attached to harassment cases, the fear of the consequences of reporting, the high ignorance of human rights among employees, the unprofessional and insensitive manner in which complaints are generally dealt with in organisations, and the lack of laid down channels for filing complaints of sexual harassment.
The effects of sexual harassment are many and quite damaging ranging from psychological to emotional, hence should not be taken lightly.
Loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as feelings of helplessness, distress, anxiety, anger and depression.
Stress-related illnesses such as headaches, stomach pains, nervousness, forgetfulness or insomnia resulting in tiredness, irritability and depression, in the long run leading to anorexia, alcoholism, drug dependence and even suicide.
Another consequence that quite a substantial number of victims in Ghana experience after refusing to acquiesce to the sexual advances or demands of their superiors is unfavourable performance appraisal reports by the harassers. The bad reports are often calculated to discredit the work performance of the victims, so as to form a basis upon which they could be subsequently dismissed.
Female victims specifically at times experience consequences such as unfair dismissals and transfers due to their refusal to give in to the sexual demands of their superiors.
Financial and economic losses are other consequences victims have to bear.
One funny thing that came up during the discussion was that those who were brave enough to voice out their displeasure and gave stern warnings to quell the actions of these predators started receiving the cold shoulder treatment at work. These men also in trying to spite these ladies would buy bowls of Tuo Zaafi for the other girls who were okay with the fondling and pecks. Yep! you read right, T-Z as an instrument of spite… hahaha
These sexual harassments also has adverse effects not only on the vitcms but the organization as well. It seriously tarnishes the brand and image of the organization and in situations where victims drag the issues to the appropriate authorities lead to prolonged process of settlement, wasting productive time and resource.
With all that being said ladies are not the only victims of sexual harassment.
Men too are harassed by ladies.
Female employees specifically sometimes sexually harass, or better, force themselves sexually on male superiors as a means of gaining access to certain expectations or needs. Some female employees deliberately engage men in authority through a variety of means to be related to them sexually so that they could get certain employment-related benefits such as salary increment, promotion or transfer; or for some other economic, religious, social and/or political benefits.
Men are also victims however rare the case may be.
I will urge persons experiencing these unpleasant situations to keep and strengthen their resolve and stand for what they believe in and not cave under the pressure.
In such scenarios it’s best to confront the person to stop it.
In instances where you might not be able to address the person head on I suggest you tell the issue to trusted and reputable people who can speak on your behalf to the perpetrator and nip those actions in the bud.
I remember one time during my attachment, the ladies in the organization had issues with some men who were overly touchy and passed sexiest comments. The ladies came forward and reported to the administrator who also being female could relate.
She then took steps to approach these men to put a stop to it and it worked. Though work relations were somewhat strained between the ladies and those men it was certainly worth it as everyone respected their boundaries had their peace of mind. So confiding in someone of a good standing also helps.
If after that the person persists report the person to management to deal with the situation. It’s best that management is aware of the situation because in case the issue blows over and there are consequences as a result the organization cannot be held liable if it was not made aware of the problem.
Also maybe learning some self-defence tactics and techniques like Tae kwon do or crouching tiger or snake-in-the-monkey shadow moves might come in handy if not the classic pepper spray in purse should be ok.
It’s a shame really that people abuse their position and power to cause distress to others in order to satisfy their perverted needs.
It’s about time our institutions started taking issues such sexual harassment serious in order to put a stop to this and create a healthy working environment.
Sexual Harassment In The Workplace: The Ghanaian Experience by Augustine Kobina Andoh http://www.oocities.org/cspslibrary/sexualharassment.html