TheNigerianVoice Online Radio Center


By NNF News

Sexual Harassment (SH) is a violation of women's rights and a prohibited form of violence against women in many countries. Sexually harassing conduct causes devastating physical and psychological injuries to a large percentage of women in workplaces worldwide.

Harassment directed against women in the workplace by their supervisors, fellow employees or third parties interferes with the integration of women in the work place, reinforces the subordination of women to men in the society, violates women's dignity and creates a health and safety hazard at work.

Often, male managers or colleagues argue that sexual attraction is natural. Agreed. Consensual sexual behavior between two people does not constitute sexual harassment. But uninvited, unwelcomed or unwanted sexual advances are not natural. It is a consequence of the power which men have over women in the society. Men use this power to take sexual advantage of women. Most victims of sexual harassment are women. It is offensive, embarrassing, intimidating and humiliating and may affect an employee's work performance, health, career or livelihood. It takes various forms.

These are:
•Physical contact – ranging from unwanted patting, pinching, touching, to more extreme cases or sexual assault and rape;

•Verbal abuse – unwanted comments, leering, explicit jokes, insinuations of a sexual nature observations about the woman's personal life, lewd gestures; and

•Visual materials – pornographic pin-ups, letters, emails with a sexual content.

One unique thing about SH is its invisibility. Women who report it or, at least, make it public, are a tiny minority. So, silence protects its perpetrators.

International instruments
The United Nations (UN) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have adopted declarations, resolutions and conventions which are relevant to SH. Most recognize fundamental principles with implications for SH. But SH is not spelt out explicitly.

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights has many articles which recognize the human rights of all workers:

•All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights (Article 1);

•Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person (Article 3); and

•No one shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 5).

'States shall take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary, and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotype roles for men and women' (Article 5).

SH, although not mentioned, is covered under the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention No. 11 (1958) of the ILO. It has been ratified by, at least, 152 countries and says that all governments must have a national policy to eliminate discrimination.

Different regions have also adopted instruments relevant to sexual harassment, such as:

•African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (1968); and

•Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (1994).

National legislation
National legislation can be used to put pressure on employers. In Nigeria, this is an uphill task, but it is achievable if the struggle actually continues. In a country where government and employers ignore the law, basic labour standards are violated, how much more of SH which is considered a mere women's issue?

Philippines' Anti-SH Act of 1995, says: fortunately, there is good news.

In Nigeria on October 14, 2008, a bill ' … to prohibit corporate prostitution and exploitation of women in corporate organization … ' sponsored by Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila passed into second reading. He said 'we have seen where a female bank employee was given a job in January and by September, was expected to meet a target of N500 million '.

'It shall be the duty of the employer or the head of the work related, education or training institution, to prevent or deter the commission of acts of SH and to provide the procedures for the resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts of SH.' Nigerian activists need to take a cue from this.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Organizations/employers are culpable in undermining women s dignity. Airlines are a good example. They emphasize youth and beauty, design and enforce sexist uniforms on the women workers. Some restrict flight attendants' jobs to women only, especially in the Business and First classes. They condone unruly passengers especially those guilty of SH. They treat their women as sex objects. The banks are also well known now for using young women as bait to attract rich depositors and dictating their family lives. Some women get fired for getting pregnant.

European Commission Code of Practice: Measures to combat sexual harassment.

In 1991, the following code was adopted:
'Since SH is a form of employee misconduct, employers have a responsibility to deal with it as they do with any other form of employee misconduct, as well as to refrain from harassing employees themselves. Since SH is a risk to health and safety, employers have a responsibility to take steps to minimize the risk as they do with other hazards. Since SH often entails an abuse of power, employers have a responsibility for the misuse of the authority they delegate'.

Recommendations to employers
• Employers should issue a policy stating that SH will not be permitted;

• The policy must be communicated effectively to all employees;

• There should be training for managers and supervisors to deal with SH; and

• Clear and precise procedures should be developed to deal with SH.

Recommendations to Trade Unions
• Formulate policy statements on SH;
• Raise awareness of the problem in the work place;

• Raise the issue with employers and encourage the adoption of policies;

• Provide clear guidance to members as to what they should do if they are harassed; and

•Consider specially trained officials to advise and counsel members.

Guidelines for women (and men) activists and negotiators

•Ensure that your union has a policy on SH;
•Publicise it very well;
•Lobby the government for improved SH legislation;

•Find out the concerns of women workers in your work place regarding SH;

•Provide victims with the opportunity to talk to a female union representative or women's committee;

•Set up a service for counseling victims;
•Keep a record of complaints;
•Take action against the offenders;
•Encourage workplace and branch reps to go on union approved education and training courses which deal with SH;

•Raise the issue at union meetings and promote the removal of offensive pin-ups or other materials;

•Ensure that anti-harassment -statements are read at all union functions; and

•Take workplace action.
Whatever form your agreement with management takes, it must include:

•A clear definition of SH, including example of behaviour;

•A statement of the employer's commitment to tackling and preventing harassment; and

•How SH will be dealt with – an outline of procedures. Disciplinary measures must be clearly spelt out.