Mauritius: Sexual harassment is an everyday struggle

Date: November 27, 2013
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Port Louis 28 November: Whenever women report sexual violence or harassment, the trend in Mauritius and many parts of the world is to blame the victim and find excuses for the perpetrator. This creates a vicious cycle of silence that discourages women from reporting cases to the police and ultimately fuels different forms of gender-based violence (GBV).

Sexual harassment is an everyday experience for most women, from whistles and catcalls to physical abuse and rape. Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of any sexual nature. This harassment is rife in many different spaces: the streets, public transport, schools and the work place.

According to the Gender Links War@Home GBV Indicators study for Mauritius, 4% of women said they have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their life. At 6%, sexual harassment in the workplace is the most prevalent.

Sexual harassment rates are even worse in other Southern African counties. Again, workplace harassment is the most common. In Lesotho a shocking 63% of women said they were sexually harassed at work, while 57% experienced sexual harassment at school. In four provinces of South Africa, 59% of women in Limpopo, 5% in KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape, and 2.7 % in Gauteng reported being sexually harassed at work.

In Botswana, 23% of all the women interviewed said they had experienced sexual harassment at school, work, in public transport or when seeking help from traditional healers. In Zimbabwe, 12% experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime, with 8% saying it happened in the workplace.

Despite these figures, progress on sexual harassment legislation has been slow. Only eight SADC countries have sexual harassment legislation. Angola, Mozambique, Seychelles and Tanzania still do not have sexual harassment legislation or provisions in other laws.

In Mauritius earlier this year a teacher of a private college complained about sexual harassment allegedly perpetrated by head of the Ministry of Education. He denied the allegations, but suspiciously took early retirement a few weeks later. According to Mauritian law, if the court found him guilty of sexual harassment he would have faced imprisonment, lost all his privileges and state pension.

The workplace is not the only place where women are vulnerable. Annie*, a student from the University of Mauritius said she had been harassed on a bus, but was paralysed by guilt and shame, and could not muster the courage to go to the police. “It is very embarrassing to go through that. Feeling a wandering hand, suffering and not being able to move. It is mainly for fear of reprisals that I did not act. I think that those who enjoy fiddling with girls or women in busses are perverts, and capable of other things,” explains Annie.

Many women now commute in groups while others make active choices about how they use public transport. Veronica* says she has been harassed numerous times. “When I get on the bus, I always sit next to a woman. If I’m sitting alone in a seat and a man comes to sit next to me during the trip, I get up and sit elsewhere. I prefer to do this because I’m shy and never have the courage to speak out.”

The streets are even more unsafe. Many women face catcalls, derogatory comments, indecent proposals and rape. Pooshpa* explains how she narrowly avoided a rape after being followed by two men after leaving her office.

“When I found myself in a small alley, they approached me and told me to give them everything I had. I did not resist, fearing the worst. I realised that they also wanted something else. One dropped his pants while the other gagged me to prevent me from screaming. It was horrible. I thought they were going to rape me. That day, God was with me; a homeless man came into the alley, yelled and the two men fled,” recounts Pooshpa.

Consumed with fear and shock, she did not report it to the police. Sadly, Pooshpa has stopped working and seldom leaves the house because she is still so traumatised. “I am paralysed by the idea of going out alone, because I fear the worst.”

Campaigns that target men and boys need to move beyond 16 days to 365 days. Men need to realise that whether they utter a catcall or rape women, they are doing irreversible damage to women’s lives and society as a whole.

The Mauritian government along with other SADC countries that are lagging must finalise and implement sexual harassment legislation. All workplaces must have an effective sexual harassment policy in place. The police and health sector need to improve on services and support for survivors to help women speak out against sexual harassment.

*Not their real names

Laura Samoisy is a freelance journalist in Mauritius. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service’s 16 days of Activism campaign, providing fresh views on everyday news.


One thought on “Mauritius: Sexual harassment is an everyday struggle”

Emalini Juhla says:

Yes, though we are shouting legality of men n women, still women are men’s prey. I have experienced these harassment in my life as am a divorcee. I have shut myself, never go to any social events, even in prayers and temples. Because when you are a separated and lonely woman, some men look at you in a different way as if you belong to them. Even my exhusband small brother is not leaving me at peace. I refused him 3 times n the 4th time, I threatened him to report him to the police. He revenged on me, he put a false allegation on me that I have stolen his daughter’s chain. N the case is still on going. Am still living in fears. He is making my life a hell because I went against his cheap intentions.

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