Sexual harassment at work place: FCT women’s plights

In this piece, ENE OSHABA writes on the prevalence of sexual harassment of women at work places in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated, and intimidated.

Gender experts and researchers have expressed concerns that the menace continues to thrive in Nigeria, without commiserate punishments for perpetrators and justice for victims. This is believed to limit women’s career journeys and participation in leadership.

HEIR Women Development, a social enterprise born out of the need to see young women take on more decision making positions and venture into leadership opportunities, shared the findings from an investigative research it conducted in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) during a validation meeting held recently in Abuja.

The research is one of the activities of HEIR Women Development under the Career Barriers and Workplace Sexual Harassment against Young Women in the FCT, which was carried out with support from Ford Foundation.

Executive Director, HEIR Women, Añuli Aniebo Ola-Olaniyi, said the investigative research revealed high rate of sexual harassment on young women, between ages 18-35, in the work place in the FCT.

She said HEIR Woman with Ford Foundation went on a field fact finding research to ascertain what the career barriers were and discovered that sexual harassment, which tops the chat, limits the progress of young women in work places in the FCT.

“We have actual data that exposes that there is the prevalence of sexual harassment in work places and also discovered that sexual harassment policies that should protect women are almost nonexistent,” she said.

Data overview

Giving an overview, a lecturer with the Department of Economics, University of Benin, Dr. Obianuju Nnadozie, explained that  the data was got using an online survey of 1,000 women and in-depth interview of 60 women methodology, with results showing a prevalence of sexual harassment.

Statistics from the online survey of the 1,000 women in the FCT conducted showed 77 per cent women report that they have faced career barriers at the workplace, while 51 per cent said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment at the work place which suggests that sexual harassment was a significant problem at work places in the FCT.

Nnadozie said the survey also showed that bullying/intimidation was the most common type of barriers young women face at the work place as identified by 76 per cent of the respondents.

She added that barriers include inflexible work hours, which is 70 per cent on the chat; mismatch of job placement and skills also 70 per cent; and the lack of organisational support for females returning to work after maternity leave at 41 per cent.

She explained that observations during an in-depth interview showed there were specific types of insecurities, harm and abuse existing in the work place which young women suffer.

The results showed 54 per cent of the women report that unprofessional conducts ranging from sexual harassment and stereotypes against women were the leading insecurities.

Prevalence level

The survey further showed that more than three in four women, amounting to 78 per cent on the chat, experience verbal sexual harassment in the form of obscene jokes and humours about sex; with another three in four women standing at 74 per cent experience online stalking/unwanted phone calls, messages and emails of sexual nature.

It revealed further that 68 per cent of respondents, which is seven in 10 women, report that they have experienced persistent and unwanted invitations of sexual nature at their work places; with another 57 per cent translated at close to three in five women having experienced physical sexual harassment like unwelcomed physical contact-touching, deliberate pinching among others.

“About 3 in 20 women, which is 14 per cent of the respondents, said they were raped at the work place.

“However, from the in-depth interview on sexual harassment at the work place shows hesitation/unwillingness by some respondents to share sensitive information.

“Some of the women do not seem to fully understand what constitutes sexual harassment. For instance: about 15 per cent of the interviewed women do not consider unwanted invitations of sexual nature and/or online stalking/unwanted phone calls, messages and emails of sexual nature as sexual harassment.”

Prevalence by age

Information from the online survey further indicated that the highest proportion of sexual harassment was reported by women within the age range of 31-35 years, showing that sexual harassment at the work place seemed to be positively correlated with age.

While the perpetrators of sexual harassment from the online survey showed that bosses/superiors top the chat with 91.5 per cent as culprits, 54 per cent subordinates, 13.0 per cent perpetrated by peers while the others prefer not to say.

Similarly, 81 per cent of participants in the entire research reported that they were harassed often, 13 per cent were harassed once in a while and 6 per cent said they were harassed twice.

Further findings showed 49 per cent respondents reporting that there organisations were not safe work places, while 24 per cent disagreed; just as 51 out of 60 women felt the organisations they work for was safe, with 68 per cent thinking there was a culture of gender sensitivity, with another 26 per cent disagreeing.

Victims recount ordeal

Some respondents who recounted their experience during the interviews lamented that it was disappointing to reduce anyone into sex objects, worse off in a formal environment like work place where people should or supposedly should be civilized, blaming the situation on the lack of policies against the menace.

“Sometimes because of the nature of the work some people will be getting ideas in their head and try nonsense but I always stand my ground. I had an experience where a guy tried rubbish sometime, it cost me my job eventually because I didn’t take it lightly with him,” one of the respondents said during the interview.

“…But he called after a while and apologised. I have forgiven him though,” she added.

“Growing up I had the challenge of having to constantly prove myself. There is the general culture of looking down on women because society believes that they are not good enough.

“This made me always be defensive at the work place trying to always adjust to the status quo even when it does not matter. I was constantly second guessing myself just because I wanted to prove that I was good enough,” another respondent stated.

“I have also had my fair share of sexual harassment from people who first present themselves as willing to help but they end up having an ulterior motive. This led to my losing a job,” she added.

”I am a single mother, and it’s embarrassing  when senior colleagues think my good looks is only because I’m having a sexual relationship, and could conveniently ask me such questions in my  work place,” yet another respondent said.

Way forward

The executive director noted efforts by various individuals and organisations in the advocacy against various forms of gender based violence, however, she regretted that not much has been achieved with sexual harassments of young women in work places and so men continue to demand for sex before a capable young woman can progress.

 ”Globally, there is the advocacy for the inclusion of women in leadership yet the men themselves hinder this by demanding sex to enable a qualified woman move forward.

”Some look at me and say you are too beautiful and you don’t need to work, and so when I think I am pushing forward all someone is thinking about is my looks.

”There should be adequate policies against sexual against young women at work place because I think for now we there are only two laws that talks about this, the one in Kaduna and that of Lagos state and these are not enough. Young women have to be free from this kind of embarrassment,” she stressed.

Expert’s position

Sharing her views on the findings, Ford Foundation, West Africa Programme Officer on Gender, Racial and Ethnic Justice, Olufunke Baruwa, lauded the research, noting that such data helps in ensuring a more strategic planning towards tackling Gender Based Violence (GBV).

According to Baruwa, research should be the means to a tool and not an end in itself.

“When we have few evidence around issues of gender based violence and more narrowly sexual harassment in work places and you then have research that provides data evidence that can be used to back programmatic interventions it’s easier to pin point what hasn’t worked, what has worked, what currently works and what will work. That way you are being more strategic in planning,” she said.

The programme officer assured of Ford Foundation’s support to that which promotes evidence rather than the rhetoric or anecdotal evidence that is common in the country, that it is only certain kinds of women that are harassed.

“…but when we have this kind of research that defines harassment across age, religion and gives us the accuracy we need it helps us to tackle the issue.

“It definitely lets us undermine the fact that sexual harassment does happen in work places and those most affected are young women. That established, we need to know the variables, where and when it happens and who are the perpetrators,” she added.

Legal perspective

It may seem that no action was taken towards addressing sexual harassment at work places but several laws have been enacted by government at different levels, the challenge remains its full implementation.

The Nigeria constitution, which is the greatest of all laws, has spelt out punishment for sexual harassment as contained in Section 34, “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly.

Other laws against sexual harassment include the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, the Penal Code, Kaduna State Penal Code Law, 2017, Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011, etc.

As stated in Section 351 of the criminal code: Any person who unlawfully assaults another is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable, if no greater punishment is provided, to imprisonment for one year.

Section 352 states: Any person who assaults another with intent to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.

Section 360 states: Any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults a woman or girl is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for two years.

Onyekachi Umah in his book, ”An Access to Criminal Laws in Nigeria” explained that the criminal Code was applicable in the southern part of Nigeria and it contains provisions criminalising the offence of sexual harassment.

”The criminal Code contains provisions on sexual harassment that can be found in Sections 351 to 361 of the Act. It has varying punishments for sexual harassment, generally,” he said.

Also, Section 281 of the Penal Code states: Whoever, in order to gratify the passions of another person, procures, entices, or leads away, even with her consent, a woman or girl for immoral purposes shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 285 states: Whoever commits an act of gross indecency upon the person of another without his consent or by the use of force or threats compels a person to join with him in the commission of that act shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.

It provides that if consent was given by a person below the age of 16 years to such an act when done by his teacher, guardian or a person entrusted with his care or education shall not be deemed to be consent within the meaning of this section.

Sadly, despite the provisions in the Nigerian Constitution and other legal documents Nigerian women have continued to call for adequate policies against sexual harassments at work place, and the full implementation of existing laws against sexual harassment if the menace must be stopped or reduced to the nearest minimum.

Meanwhile, the Executive Director, Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities, Tunde Ademefun, while decrying the absence of enough laws and legal instrument for victims of sexual harassments to get justice, urged women to prevent what causes sexual harassments.

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