You are here: HomeNews2019 10 28Article 794107

Opinions of Monday, 28 October 2019

Columnist: Faisal Mutari

Sexual harassment in the workplace: a taboo topic in Ghana

Sexual Harassment Sexual Harassment

For most people, the workplace is a ‘confined’ space where someone works for his/her employer. The place can range from a home office to a large office building or a factory. This space, although expected to be safe is sometimes an arena for discomfort and harassment for employees.

Harassment is a type of discrimination which may be subtle but very devastating. Harassment can take many forms including derogatory jokes based on ethnicity or age to name-calling and slurs, threats and outright physical violence.

Sexual harassment is a pervasive issue in many countries. It can be defined as an unwelcome and unwanted sexual advance, requests for sexual favours and other verbal or physical contact of sexual nature.

A study in Australia by UNWomen found that almost two out of five women aged 15 and older who have been in the workforce in the last five years have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace during that period, compared to one out of four of their male counterparts.

Sexual harassment in the workplace can be evident in two ways. It includes Quid pro quo which is an exchange of sexual services for gains at the workplace such as promotion, increased pay or avoidance of transfer or demotion.

The second type is a hostile work environment that is, any form of harassment that fosters an intimidating environment for the victim. It must, however, be noted that harassment leading to hostile work environment is not always sexual in nature but may include stereotypical or offensive remarks about gender roles.

The workplace, however, is mostly narrowly defined and limited to ‘formal’ places of work such as offices where there are hierarchies etc. The problem with this view is that it excludes the majority of women who operate in less formal spaces such as markets, the streets, farms etc. In Ghana, more than 80 percent of people employed work in the informal sector which includes petty traders, market women, hawkers, farmers amongst others.

These women face various forms of harassment ranging from verbal abuse to groping and in many cases, physical assault. Thus, for an inclusive debate on sexual harassment at the workplace and developing ways of tackling it, there is the need to identify the experiences of the women in the ‘informal’ workplace in order to include these experiences in policy formulation.

There have been attempts by governments and institutions to address issues of abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace. At least 144 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 154 have laws on sexual harassment.

However, even when laws exist, this does not mean they are always compliant with international standards and recommendations or implemented. Again, many institutions do not have sexual harassment policies as well and where the policy exists, fear of being ostracized or not receiving justice prevents victims from coming reporting.

The debate on sexual harassment is one that needs to be had. Its consequences to the physical and emotional development of employees can be devastating thus affecting productivity.

However, for a holistic debate on harassment in the workplace, it must also be acknowledged that men do face various forms of sexual harassment including verbal abuse and groping amongst others.

Thus, an attempt at developing policy aimed at addressing sexual harassment at the workplace should be all-inclusive and representative of the experiences of both men and women.

Join our Newsletter