SEXUAL harassment in the workplace is a pervasive and insidious problem, and one that is all too familiar to many women in Zimbabwe.
According to a recent study by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, as many as 30% of women have experienced sexual harassment at work.
This is a shockingly high number, and it is likely that the actual figure is even higher since many cases of sexual harassment go unreported.
The 30% of women who have experienced sexual harassment report to authorities. And the consequences of sexual harassment can be devastating.
Women who have experienced sexual harassment at work are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and they may even be forced to leave their jobs as a result.
Sexual harassment on women has greater impact as some end up losing the zeal to work or furthering their future endeavours.
Recently, allegations of sexual harassment have been rampant in media organisations as skeletons are tumbling from the closet at State broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), with senior managers implicated in sexual harassment allegations.
It is not only at ZBC where the practice is rampant. In the public and private sectors, cases of sexual harassment are on the rise.
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However addressing the issue of sexual harassment in workplaces has its pros and cons which will be discussed in detail below.
Sexual harassment on women has emotional and psychological effects.
Women who experience sexual harassment often suffer from emotional distress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
They may feel violated, humiliated, and disempowered, leading to increased stress levels and decreased job satisfaction.
Women who experience sexual harassment may face negative consequences in their careers. They may miss out on opportunities for promotion, raises, or important projects due to a hostile work environment.
Some women may even leave their jobs or change careers altogether to escape harassment, resulting in setbacks to their professional growth and financial stability.
Sexual harassment creates a toxic work environment that affects not only the targeted women, but also their colleagues.
It erodes trust, teamwork, and morale among employees, leading to a decline in overall job satisfaction and employee engagement.
Productivity and performance
Sexual harassment can significantly impact a woman’s ability to concentrate and perform her job effectively. The fear, anxiety and distraction caused by harassment can hinder productivity and creativity, leading to a decline in job performance and overall organisational effectiveness.
Addressing the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is challenging for several reasons.
Underreporting: Many women are reluctant to report incidents of sexual harassment due to fear of retaliation, disbelief, victim-blaming, or concerns about damaging their reputation or career prospects. This underreporting makes it difficult for organisations to address the issue effectively.
Power imbalances: Sexual harassment often occurs within the context of power imbalances, with the perpetrators holding positions of authority or influence.
This power dynamic can create barriers to reporting and addressing the issue as victims may fear negative consequences or lack of confidence that action will be taken.
Lack of awareness: Organisations may lack comprehensive policies and procedures to prevent and address sexual harassment. Insufficient training and awareness programmes for employees and managers contribute to a culture where harassment thrives unchecked.
Legal and procedural complexity: Navigating the legal and procedural complexities involved in addressing sexual harassment can be challenging for both victims and organisations.
Legal requirements, investigations and potential consequences add layers of complexity to resolving the issue effectively.
To combat this problem effectively, a multi-faceted approach is required, encompassing stronger legal protections, improved workplace policies and increased awareness.
First to combat this issue, companies should have strong legal protections. Stronger legal protections are essential to deter sexual harassment and hold perpetrators accountable. Legislation should be reinforced or introduced to provide clarity on what constitutes sexual harassment.
Clear definitions of prohibited behaviours, such as unwelcome advances, offensive comments, or explicit imagery, should be outlined.
Legislation should be reinforced or introduced to provide clarity on what constitutes sexual harassment. Clear definitions of prohibited behaviours, such as unwelcome advances, offensive comments, or explicit imagery, should be outlined.
Moreover, penalties for offenders should be heightened to reflect the severity of the offence.
By instilling fear of legal repercussions, stronger legal protections create a deterrent effect.
Additionally, extending the statutory limitations for reporting incidents of sexual harassment can empower victims who may need more time to overcome fear, trauma or professional repercussions.
Whistleblower protection is crucial to encourage employees to report incidents without fear of retaliation, ensuring a safe space for victims to come forward.
Effective enforcement mechanisms must be established to ensure employers are actively addressing and preventing sexual harassment within their organisations.
Secondly, companies should have improved workplace policies. Implementing comprehensive anti-sexual harassment policies is vital to foster a culture of respect and zero tolerance to harassment.
These policies should clearly define prohibited behaviours, outline reporting procedures, and establish consequences for offenders.
By explicitly addressing the issue, organisations can set expectations for appropriate conduct and create a safe work environment.
Confidential reporting channels, such as hotlines or dedicated email addresses, should be established to encourage victims to report incidents of sexual harassment without fear of exposure.
Ensuring a fair and impartial investigation process, conducted by trained professionals, is crucial.
Transparency in the investigation process protects the rights of both the victim and the accused, promoting a sense of trust and fairness.
Organisations should provide support and resources for victims, such as counselling services or legal assistance, to help them navigate the aftermath of harassment.
Promoting the well-being and recovery of victims is essential in rebuilding their confidence and ensuring continued professional growth.
Thirdly, it is vital to have regular evaluation and monitoring. Regular evaluation and monitoring of implemented policies and training programmes are necessary to gauge their effectiveness.
Assessments should be conducted to measure the impact of these initiatives on the prevalence of sexual harassment and the overall work environment.
Collecting and analysing data on reported incidents can help to identify trends and patterns, enabling organisations to address specific areas of concern.
Feedback from employees should be actively encouraged through anonymous surveys or suggestion boxes.
This feedback provides valuable insights and suggestions for improvement, allowing organisations to continuously refine their strategies and policies.
Lastly, companies should promote gender equality and diversity. Promoting gender equality in leadership positions and throughout the organisation is crucial.
By ensuring equal opportunities for all employees irrespective of their gender or other protected characteristics, organisations foster a more inclusive and balanced workplace environment.
Diversity and inclusion initiatives should be implemented to challenge biases, stereotypes and discriminatory practices that may contribute to a hostile work environment. Cultivating a workplace culture that values and respects diversity is essential.
Employees from different backgrounds should feel safe and supported, knowing that their contributions are recognised and valued.
By fostering an inclusive culture, organisations create an environment where sexual harassment is less likely to occur.
While the Sexual Harassment Act is being debated, organisations should be using alternative means to deal with this issue at primary level, so as to minimise or eradicate it completely and create a safe space for women.
A zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment is necessary to create safe and productive workplaces in Zimbabwe.
Organisations must take concrete steps to prevent and address sexual harassment, and hold perpetrators accountable.
By creating a culture of zero tolerance, we can create an environment where everyone feels safe and respected.
Gary Gerald Mtombeni is a journalist based in Bulawayo. He writes here in his personal capacity.