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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in general, and at work in particular, have severe negative effects on the victims. Sexual harassment is any sexually related action, behavior and word that is likely to affect the dignity and the physical or moral integrity of a person.[1] There are different types of sexual harassment: in the street, in school, at work, revenge porn, etc. This article mainly focuses on sexual harassment at work.

Sexual harassment at work has to do with abusive conduct within an enterprise and with the aim of undermining the personality, dignity or physical or psychological integrity of a worker. Whereas both men and women can be victims of this phenomenon, females make up the bulk of victims. It often affects the performance of victims and threatens their job, creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The consequences are so deplorable that a group of workers at the International Labor Organization (ILO) demanded a proposal for new standards (convention with a recommendation) from the ILO on gender-based violence at work.

In West Africa, sexual harassment at work is at two (2) points: searching for a job and when employed in an organization.

Sometimes, before getting a job, the boss or recruiter may demand sexual favors in exchange for the position. The victim, caught in a difficult position, sometimes spends days pondering the offer. It doesn’t help if he/she lives in hardship. Should he/she ever give in, a dangerous cycle of perpetual harassment is created where the harasser continues demanding sexual favors. Predators capitalizing on the precarious situations of men and women in this manner should be judged and punished.

The second type of sexual harassment at work occurs within the company: harassment that takes place between colleagues. In West Africa, just like in other parts of the world, sexual harassment is manifest through unwanted physical contact such as; touching, pinching, struggling, rubbing, asking for unwanted sexual favours, making inappropriate sexual comments or remarks, asking intimate questions, leering, posting pornographic photographs, etc.

In some West African countries, legislation is rigid on sexual harassment cases in the workplace, but it requires the victim to show the damage he/she suffered as a result of the harassment which is often difficult. In Togo, for example, the law provides penalties ranging from 100,000 CFA to 1,000,000 CFA with imprisonment ranging from 3 months to 6 months for sexual harassers.[2] The Togolese law also makes provision for these penalties to be doubled in case of repetition. In Senegal, the prison sentence ranges from six months to three years and the fine ranges from 50,000 FCFA to 500,000 FCFA. The sentence incurred in Côte d'Ivoire is a criminal fine of between 360,000 and 1,000,000 FCFA and a prison sentence of one to three years. Sexual harassment is punishable by West African laws but they need to be implemented.

Beyond the legal arsenal that aims at rescuing victims of harassment, the phenomenon also persist because of the silence of the victims. As a result, harassers sometimes continue to harass with impunity, not because laws do not exist but because the victims do not report them. It is important for the victims to stand up, and against all odds, report the perpetrators of sexual harassment, for justice prevail and to stop the cycle, Break the harassment wheel as it were. The time has come for sexual harassment at work to stop, and this can only be through strong laws and victims.

The author of this article, Cesaltina Tavares, writes this in a personal capacity and does not speak for her employers.

[1] http://www.harcelementsexuel.ca/harcelement-sexuel/

[2] http://www.togo-confidentiel.com/texte/Opinions&Dossiers/Dossiers_Rapport_OMCT_2002.htm

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Cesaltina Tavares

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