Sexual harassment a well-known office secret

Sexual harassment a well-known office secret

Date: December 1, 2011
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Sarah Banda* is a female journalist who has been working in the media for three years. She experienced sexual harassment at work, and as a journalist has the desire to speak out. However, like many women who either currently or previously faced sexual harassment, she’s scared to disclose her name for fear that colleagues will laugh, or that she will lose her current employment. Sexual harassment remains a well-known office secret, even in media houses.

Banda works as a reporter at a private television station. Her story starts when she resigned her job because the salary amounted to “peanuts.” She started looking for a new job, but many months passed without finding one. She decided to go back to her previous employer. With a clean record and an amicable parting, she was sure that they would give her the previous job back.

Banda went to see her former boss, who was male, and explained the situation to him. He empathised, and agreed to give her the job – on condition that she allow him to touch her breasts and thereafter allow what followed between the two of them.

He complained that he was tired of helping women for free, and there was nothing for nothing nowadays. With a heavy heart, Banda left his office with a promise that to come back after she had made up her mind about the condition set before her. However, she did not intend to ever go back.

A month or so later, the economy was harder. In desperation, she decided she would have to give in. On a Monday morning, she dressed up and was ready to go and see her former boss. Luckily, arriving in town, she met an old colleague who told her a private media organisation was looking for female journalists. Without giving it a second thought, she diverted to go and seek out the new opportunity.

Sarah Banda’s story turned out well, but for many women this is not the case.

The 2009 Glass Ceilings: Women and Men in Southern Africa Media research conducted by Gender Links found that sexual harassment is a serious concern. Media women across the region complained about being treated as sexual objects in media houses and men showed little appreciation and understanding of what is meant by sexual harassment. Only 28% of media houses said they have sexual harassment policies.

A female respondent in Zimbabwe, for example, pointed out that complaints often go unresolved. “Where issues of sexual harassment or sexist language are concerned, women who raise these issues are often not taken seriously and in particular cases of harassment, male bosses sympathise with those accused of harassment and at times try to underplay the charge at hand.”

The report also noted that sexual harassment comes into play when it comes to promotions. Interviewed recently, another Lusaka-based journalist recalled how for many years she watched as colleagues received promotions and she did not. She also found she was the last considered when it came to assignments. Slowly, she stated wondering why.

“I decided to approach one of my male bosses,” she recalls. “When I told him the issue, he started by laughing. He bluntly told me that he had the key to my success. If I would accept to go to bed with him, then the doors would be unlocked.”

Like Banda, she told no one. “I felt hurt about the statement, but I could not share it with anyone because I thought no one would believe me or that I would be the laughing stock of the office.”

Banda admits that, tired of being unfairly stuck in one place, she was in the process of considering the offer, but the man was transferred to a different department. When the new boss took over, within six months she received a promotion because, according to him, he saw the potential in her. “I was very happy,” she beams.

It is obvious that female journalists face sexual harassment in their newsrooms or media houses, and they are scared to disclose for fear of losing employment or being shunned by others who may not believe their stories. Of course, this is a problem in many different working environments. What makes it somewhat ironic in this case, is that this kind of gender based violence receives little media attention, and those who are in the best position to raise awareness are even reluctant to do so.

Perhaps it is partially because of stereotypes that women should remain in private spaces (i.e. at home), and not very public ones, like the media, that contribute to the acceptance of harassment against journalists. Regardless, given the importance of women journalist to raise the voices and issues of women, it seems obvious that they should be able to do their job without fear of strings attached.

During Sixteen days of Activism, it’s important to remember that not all abuse leaves bruises. When a woman is denied the ability to work and pursue employment because of sexual pressures, it is a serious violation, and one that both media and others must tackle head on.

* not her real name. Perpetual Sichikwenkwe is a writer from Zambia. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.



0 thoughts on “Sexual harassment a well-known office secret”

Jackson Mwalundange says:

Man, sexual harassment is a serious matter in our societies. In one SADC country a married female army recruit once told me that she’d waste no time to get promotion from ‘these stupid male idiots’. She “played cards for her male superiors” and moved up the army ranks very quickly. Corruption?

Female learners from a Namibian combi ned that I gave a ride were discussion how they were going to work on the (named)obstinate male teachers so that they’d bring them in bed.I asked why they chose their teachers. The answer was simple: “People want where the money is”. Coercion? How should we handle all of these 3 types of issues?

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