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Work Place Sexual Harassment

In the current global market, 72.2% of men are employed, compared to only 47% of women (UN Women). Furthermore, on average, women only earn between 60-75% of men’s wages (UN Women). Lastly, when women enter the formal sector, they can be faced with additional barriers regarding their gender – in the form of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a rampant problem that countries all over the world face, and has the potential to have a significant impact if it is ignored. A study conducted in the US estimated that the US federal government lost $327 million due to sexual harassment between 1992 and 1994 (National Women’s Law Centre). This can be attributed to people quitting their jobs, taking additional leave and sick days, and not being as productive at work due to a hostile environment. More than twenty years later, the damage could be even greater.
Sexual harassment can affect both men and women regardless of age or position. These some cited examples of sexual harassment at the work place

  • Unwanted repeated proposals;
  • Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, questions or remarks;
  • Pressure for dates;
  • Unwanted love letters, cards, or telephone calls;
  • Unwanted sexual looks, gestures or pornographic materials;
  • Unwanted touching of intimate body parts;
  • Pressure for sexual favours, e.g. kisses etc.;
  • Demand for sex in exchange for employment opportunities;
  • Demand for sex in exchange for employment-related benefits; and
  • Attempted or actual sexual assault or rape.

However, it is known that this form of harassment disproportionately affects women. If we are serious about getting women involved and increasing their role in the international economy, then sexual harassment and its negative effects cannot be ignored.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO), the global body working towards fair and decent work opportunities, identifies sexual harassment as a human rights issue. According to Jane Hodges, Director of the Bureau of Gender Equality at the ILO, sexual harassment “present[s] a significant barrier to women accessing and progressing through the labour market”, adding that it “erodes decent working conditions.”
Currently, in Ghana there are two national Acts that address sexual harassment in the workplace: The Domestic Violence Act (2007), and the Labour Act (2003). Just like The Constitution of Ghana (1992) which does not explicitly discuss sexual harassment, focusing instead on equality and prohibition of any discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex etc., these two Acts do not detail how and under what strategies sexual harassment policies should be implemented and strictly monitored.
The lack of proper explanation on handling sexual harassment creates a wide vacuum – leaving employers and organisations to produce and implement their own sexual harassment policies based on how they understand and interpret these acts. Due to this, most organisations do not strictly enforce regulations on sexual harassments, thus women continue to be unfairly marginalised and targeted in the workplace.
Aileen Sobeng Ashe, the author of “Implementing Sexual Harassment Policies in Organisations in Ghana: Analysis of Stakeholder Interviews” examined what current sexual harassment policies exist in Ghana, and whether they are sufficient in addressing the problem. She concluded that there are two main limitations in addressing sexual harassment in the workplace in Ghana: reluctance of victims to report incidents of harassment, and the ignorance of employers of their responsibility to implement the state’s law.
According to Ashe, the state has not emphasized the importance of this policy to organisations, and as long as the government continues to neglect its responsibility, preventing sexual harassment will not become a priority for organisations.
What makes sexual harassment a difficult policy to enforce is its subjectivity. Because what I interpret as sexual harassment may be completely different from what another person interprets.
The first of the suggestions to help combat the practice is the urgent need for the introduction of a definite and explicit national policy on workplace sexual harassment in Ghana. A definite and an unambiguously stated national anti-harassment policy that is effectively communicated to all employees in Ghana would certainly serve as a deterrent to harassers.
Secondly, there is the need for written anti-harassment policies at the organisational level. The Government of Ghana should make it mandatory for every organisation within the nation to have a written anti-harassment policy. And the written policy must, among other things:

  • State specifically that sexual harassment on the job will not be tolerated;
  • Outline the procedure for filing complaints;
  • Guarantee that complaints will be treated confidentially;
  • Guarantee that no adverse consequences will result from filing complaints; and
  • State that those engaging in sexual harassment in the workplace will be subject to discipline action including termination.

The most effective method for the reduction of sexual harassment in the workplace is educational training. There is therefore the need for educational training on sexual harassment to be made mandatory for all employees. The educational training must have the goal of teaching interpersonal skills; the national and organisational policies on sexual harassment; and how to prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Apart from educating employees on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, there is the need for organisations to train officials on how to investigate and handle complaints of sexual harassment in a more professional manner. Sexual harassment is a pretty delicate issue. There is thus the need for only specialists with the requisite know-how to be engaged to investigate and deal with complaints, especially at the organisational level.
Prevention, they say, is better than cure. There is therefore the need for all organisations in Ghana to take preventive measures against sexual harassment. One major measure to help prevent the high incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace is for organisations to have dress codes.
Another preventive measure is for female employees particularly to desist from persistently asking unnecessary favours from men, getting involved in indecent sexual jokes, and frequently using romantic or sexy language to male employees since that tends to create the opportunity for the occurrence of sexual harassment.
It is also recommended that the society as a whole would change the culture of blaming victims of sexual harassment and other sexual crimes as being the cause of their victimisation even where the harassment is through no fault of theirs. Not until society ceases the practice of blaming victims as contributing to their harassment, several victims may be forced to keep their experiences to themselves and not report to management or the legal bodies for the necessary action to be taken to stop the harasser from perpetrating the act.
To help minimise the incidence of workplace sexual harassment, it is also recommended that the government and private entrepreneurs would make efforts to solve the acute unemployment problem.
It is strongly believed that an effective implementation of the above suggestions would go a long way to prevent, minimise and/or eradicate the occurrence of sexual harassment within the working environment.

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