Friday, October 10, 2014

Leila Sheikh on Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment: Prevention is the Best Option

Leila Sheikh

Despite the enactment of the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act, 1998, Sexual Harassment continues to be the most perpetrated crime against women. In the workplace, Sexual Harassment often includes threats, bullying, intimidation and emotional abuse.

Tanzania has made strides in enacting SOSPA 1998 but much, much more needs to be done to protect women, especially in places of employment. For example, the statute of limitation in SOSPA 1998 places a deterrent on women to report cases of Sexual Harassment. The clause on time limitation needs amendment so that women would have the time to prepare emotionally and psychologically to press charges against the harassment.

We need to have a separate legislation on Sexual Harassment, which would make it mandatory for every employer to have a Gender Desk and an Information Kit on Sexual Harassment. The Information Kit should include the relevant clauses in the legislation in reader-friendly language, the forms in which Sexual Harassment takes place, what an employee ought to do when it takes place and the measures to be taken to safeguard the employee against bullying, threats of losing her job and the intimidation which always accompanies Sexual Harassment.

Places of employment in the formal and in the informal sectors should put up posters with information on Sexual Harassment. India passed legislation in 2013 addressing Sexual Harassment at work place specifically to prevent it from taking place. This is a milestone in the history of India and needs to be replicated in our country.

The impact of Sexual Harassment on women's health and incomes is gross. Women lose their jobs if they do not give in, or become emotional wrecks if they do succumb.

All stakeholders should take prevention of Sexual Harassment seriously. Prevention would help save the livelihoods and the lives of women. It would help in the Response to prevent new HIV infections. It would increase women's productivity. It would give the ownership of dignity and self-esteem back to women. It would be consonant with the Bill of Rights and the Charters to which Tanzania is a signatory.

Prevention of Sexual Harassment would remove the backlog of pending cases in law courts. It would give women the impetus to strive harder to break the glass ceiling in their careers. It would give women the opportunities to blossom into strong, assertive people which is our Right, instead of being wilted flowers, plucked in the bud of our careers.

A Commission on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment should be established which would coordinate the Initiative to ensure all places of employment are safe for women.

This can, and should be done, otherwise the Human Rights Charters, which we, as a nation signed, are just a sham.

Such a Commission would monitor the establishment of Gender Desks in all work places, that Information is posted in a visible place in reader-friendly language on Sexual Harassment and what to do when it takes place. Justice demands so!


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