Allure Features: Stemming rising cases of sexual harassment
By Temitope Ojo
Sexual harassment has become a massive problem in Nigeria, with multiple claims of examples being a feature in our everyday news.
According to experts, sexual harassment is the “bullying or coercion of a sexual nature and the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours.”
Dickson J. defines sexual harassment as ‘the concept of using the position of power to import sexual requirements into the workplace, thereby negatively altering the working conditions of employees, who are forced to contend with sexual demands.’
It is an undesirable behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. And, it can be physical, verbal or written.
Available statistics say that most of the world’s women have experienced sexual harassment. Based on available country surveys, a conservative estimate is that no less than 75 per cent of the world’s 2.7 billion women aged 18 years and older, or at least 2 billion women, have been sexually harassed.
Speaking on the subject, Dr Pat Chiegboka, a clinical consultant psychologist/psychotherapist, noted though ”incidences of sexual harassment seem to be on the increase, it is not a new phenomenon; it is an age-long issue with humanity. Perhaps, what is new is that there is hardly any sphere of life that women and men (though minimal) do not experience harassment.”
Sexual harassment can happen anywhere; at the workplace, in schools, corporate organisations, in homes (between house helps and children, husbands and house helps), and even in places of worship.
In school, the case of Richard Akindele, a professor of Management Accounting, at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, who was enmeshed in a scandal, after a leaked phone recording of him seeking sex from Miss Monica Osagie, to pass her in an examination in 2018, is still fresh in memory.
In the audio, the professor requested five rounds of sex from Ms Osagie, who was then a Masters student of the institution. Although the professor denied anything like that ever happened, after an investigation by the school authority, he was sent away from the university, after being found guilty, for sexual harassment.
In December 2018, Justice Maurine Onyetenu of the Federal High Court sitting in Osogbo, sentenced the Akindele, to six years imprisonment for the offence.
Although there is justice in this case, there are several other situations still begging for attention.
Every day, employers and colleagues, and even prospective customers harras thousands of women (and men, but predominantly women)
The Nigerian society is awash with acts of sexual harassment, and sex exchange continues to define daily engagements. For a female applicant to get a job or promotion, she must exchange the sex commodity; for a lady who is a marketing executive in a bank to reach customers, sex is usually a part of it.
For an aspiring actress to get a role in a movie, she must offer her body. In the corporate world, in the military, the police, civil service and other government and non-government establishments, the female folks are inundated with request for sex before promotion can take place, or one favour or another.
Stories told about sexual harassment faced by women in the workplace from male colleagues and bosses are pathetic.
Take the case of Mrs Funsho Adeogun, a banker, for example;
Mrs Adeogun was a marketer with one of the new generation banks in Lagos for three years, earning good pay, and was the envy of many of her friends, with whom she graduated from the university.
She, however, had to resign her appointment after she was subjected to an experience, memories of which she probably would live with for the rest of her life, without telling her husband about it.
According to her, her immediate boss asked that she should go to Ibadan to market a business person, who was willing to open an account with the bank, but resides in Ibadan.
On seeing the prospective customer, he ( the customer)stated that though he was ready to open the account with N10m, that would only happen on the condition that he sleeps with her. Funsho said she declined the overture and quickly left his office.
On her way back to Lagos, her boss called to ask how the deal went. She narrated her ordeal, and to her amazement, the boss said if she does not bring the account, she should tender her resignation letter, the next day!
Funsho’s husband had lost his job a few months before then, and so she was the breadwinner in the house. She could not afford to lose hers too, at least not yet.
So, she returned to Alhaji who had his desires fulfilled.
In turn, he paid in the said amount the next day.
Funsho, however, revealed that afterwards, her conscience pricked her. Applying to another bank was a no-no because she wasn’t sure the situation would not repeat itself. Eventually, she resigned.
In an article published in 2018 by Aina Adetutu, a professor at the Department of Law, Sharda University, looks at it more holistically.
According to her, sexual harassment in the workplace is one of the dimensions of workplace insecurity faced by employees in different sectors.
“In the educational sector, numerous researchers have found that students, teachers and administrative staff suffer one form of sexual violence or another, ranging from fondling/grabbing sensitive body parts, sex for a favour, unwanted sexual remarks and rape.
“In the survey conducted among five commercial banks in Lagos, the workers, especially females, experienced and perceived various kinds of sexual harassment. Another Nigerian survey conducted on selected workplaces revealed that 68 per cent of the sample size had been victims of sexual harassment in their workplaces.”
Adetutu also stated that numerous researchers believe that a rise in sexual harassment in the workplace is due to several factors, such as the African patriarchal structure which ascribes power superiority to males over females, legal constraints, low reporting rates and tolerance of sexual harassment due to stigmatisation, loss of job and humiliation.
Most people believe that sexual harassment is prevalent now because of the way women dress. However, research has shown that it is not a function of how a woman dress, as young girls and women in hijab gets harassed daily.
According to research, most times, this development causes depression, psychological injuries to a large percentage of women in workplaces around the world. It presents an ongoing and growing risk to business operations. Although businesses know it exists, they appear unsure of what to do about it.
Chiegboka opines that sexual harassment is a particularly difficult crime to define and prove, because it’s secret, and dwells in shadows. Sometimes, it may or may not involve penetration, with the perpetrator instilling fear, or threat into the victim.
She, however, stated that while one may term market scouts, who sometimes pull prospective customers, calling for patronage as a form of harassment, it cannot be called sexual harassment. Some types of sexual harassment may also be offences under criminal law, these include indecent exposure, stalking, sexual assault and obscene or threatening communications, such as phone calls, letters, emails, text messages and posts on social networking sites.
As to what may be the cause of the rising case of sexual harassment, the consultant psychologist said there is no particular cause.
However, in men, their boy chemistry is; mostly responsible for these ‘uncontrollable’ urge.
“Men can have an involuntary erection as many times as possible in a day, especially when they see what can arouse them; they want to satisfy that urge.”
However, perhaps what is making it worse nowadays is the abuse of drugs, by many people. After taking these drugs, some of them have sexual inhibition, and they now let out their feelings without any control.
While blaming the government, who have made matters worse, because few provisions in Nigerian law deal squarely with sexual harassment, she added that for any fight against sexual harassment to be effective, adequate protection must be in our laws , as a matter of urgency.
Presently, Nigeria does not have any specific legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace, despite numerous occurrences.
She also noted that the law enforcement agency, the police and the judiciary system are equally not helping to stem the rising incidences.
She observed that when there is a report at any police station, the kind of question, the embarrassment they subject the victims often leave them frustrated, and that is why many do not report cases of harassment.
She further states: “No provision in the Nigerian Labour Act 2004 prohibits sexual harassment or any other kind of harassment during employment. Our government is not interested in what affects their citizenry. They are only interested in what gets into their pockets. Even where some of these cases get to the courts, you see where the courts stretch these cases that make the victims go through another abuse.
To curb or reduce these incidences, Chiegboka called for more sensitisation by the government and relevant agencies of the subject.
She also has words for victims of sexual harassment, parents and organisations.
“Parents, guardians, and religious organisations must become more aware of this problem. Parents must be more conscious of who they employ as caretakers; house helps because most cases in homes are by relatives and people who are close to them.
“Relevant agencies need to continue to educate those who have faced violations, with bracing up and telling their stories to help challenge the status quo.
“Government should come up with stringent laws that allow the courts to punish offenders.
“Again, the government should work on curbing the menace of drug abuse in the country. When men take these drugs anyhow, they become sexually aroused, and they then engage in actions that even they may regret later.
“Employers should consider reporting criminal offences to the police. Companies must also have a legal and moral duty to put articulated and visible policies in place that show that sexual harassment on any level will not be acceptable. It is not enough to have these policies; they should be regularly reinforced to staff as part of their continuous training.” She said.