In July 2012 at 9:00 am, I walked into the Executive Director’s office to have my appointment letter signed and at 12:00 pm I strolled out through the gate for the last time. In the 3 hours of my employment as IT Officer, the Executive Director had tried to unbutton my blouse & skirt, stalked me to my work station, sent me lewd pictures & propositioned me for sex. It was the first time I realized that the stories weren’t lies; they were the honest, bitter truth.
This precise memory is what hit me hard while I was watching the Fasi Fas! show last Thursday on ‘Women & Sexual Harassment’. How is it that in Uganda 1 in 5 women (ages 15 – 49) have been sexually harassed at one point (this number scares me!)? Are we not using the proper technique of communication or are men simply ignoring the signs? Perhaps our customs and cultures are so embedded in patriarchy that it promotes a sense of entitlement without consent.
Conversations with my girlfriends have often revealed how we all constantly have to stave unwanted sexual advances in exchange for higher allowances, promotions or special attention particularly at the work place. I was glad to see that the subject of workplace harassment was broached on the show but disappointed that the options of tackling it are limited. While I did agree with Patricia Kahill Kuteesa’s approach of informing your significant other and Crispin Kaheru’s idea that it’s best to seek solace outside to avoid being the subject of office gossip, I was disappointed that seeking the protection of the Ugandan Law & Company policies isn’t a viable option. Why does the Employment Act & the HR Department exist if not to bring justice to survivors (I detest the word ‘victims’) & deter future perpetrators? Although the law is specific about sexual harassment, we live, as Arinda Daphine pointed out in a country that doesn’t enforce these laws.
Daphine spoke true on the element that speaking up about sexual harassment exposes you to the VERY HIGH possibility of being fired from your job on a fabricated pretext to rid them of the PR nightmare. Unfortunately the mechanisms of addressing these issues aren’t clear cut. Dragging a rich corporation to court for a matter that could last years and cost millions in legal fees is less desirable to polishing a CV and hitting the up streets for a new job.
I do feel though that we’re missing out on great women leaders who are ether afraid of being sexually harassed or are survivors that choose to change lanes and avoid the situation completely. While it would be easy to stay low, speaking up and joining the fight is the only thing that will bring change. Look at the revolution that the #MeToo campaign started. Assaulters don’t escape justice and everyone who attempts to try knows what punishment awaits them.
I thoroughly enjoyed and feel that this Fasi Fas! episode helped bring to the forefront how we as women are struggling to live in a broken society that doesn’t support our growth. I say instead of laying down in the filth, we take action, inspire action and start a revolution. Bring the judicial system to task to enforcing the laws & providing legal services to those wronged on speaking up about their assaulter. Company policies and cultures should have a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment, investigate a reported case and take the necessary action.
What I’m curious to find out is Would you report if you were sexually harassed? Would you do it publicly (social media) or privately? Would you feel ashamed if others found out you were being sexually harassed?
Fasi Fas! is a talk show brought to you by ACFODE in partnership with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and UN Women and produced by Mango Tree Educational Enterprises. It aims at changing community perceptions and building up support towards women’s political participation and gender equality in Uganda. You can watch this episode and all the other episodes here
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