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Online debate on sexual harassment calls for policies to address misconduct

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A section of netizens have asked Kenyans to shun sexual harassment at the work place, including in newsrooms.

Their reactions were ignited by a tweet by Fredrick Nyambare who shared his experience after a ride in a taxi operated by a woman in Nairobi recently.

Nyambare wrote: “I ordered an Uber (taxi) yesterday and the lady driver accepted the request. When I got into her car, the first thing I noticed was the ‘No Sexual Harassment’ stickers on all her windows.”

“I asked her why and the story she told me! Men, we need to do better!”

The tweet received more than 600 retweets and about 1,800 likes within hours.

Sexual harassment is becoming epidemic. Photo/courtesy

In his next tweet, Nyambare said he learnt from the driver that she does not work at night, and many of her colleagues had quit the job, due to sexual harassment.

“Sexual harassment is denying many women opportunities to make money in this economy. It is making working environments untenable for many women. It is really a serious issue. Look at yourself and be better,” says Nyambare.

There were various reactions to the tweets, although a majority agreed that sexual harassment was rife, and that it was being perpetuated in the work place.

@males urged Uber to improve its app so that “lady drivers can be matched with lady passengers as a priority.”

Winny Chepkemoi (@WcChepkwony) said that Kenya needed safe spaces for everyone to thrive.

But Yosef Torts (@Torts) seemed not to agree with the lady taxi driver’s strategy of keeping possible sexual offenders at bay.

“If she has such mentality, I will cancel the request. Not all (men) have such intentions. She should not offend others by trying to protect herself,” Torts said.

Men too are victims

Human rights activists opine that it is not only women who suffer sexual harassment. Men too become victims, but many don’t talk about it.

The online debate came in the wake of a report launched in July 2021 by the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) Women in News’ programme, which revealed that sexual harassment was rampant in media houses in Africa; with Kenya leading the pack at 60% verbal sexual harassment incidences reported.

The research was carried out between July and November, 2020, and surveyed 584 respondents from eight countries across Africa, including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana and Uganda.

WAN-IFRA research findings in July 2021. Photo/courtesy

It shows that 56 per cent of women suffered both verbal and physical sexual harassment.

According to the study, women stay silent because of fear of retaliation, and lack of faith that their organisations will do anything about their reports.

About 24 per cent of men faced verbal sexual harassment and 15 percent experienced some physical form of sexual harassment.

Women were most subjected to verbal sexual harassment, with Kenya leading with 79 per cent, followed by Zambia (66 per cent) and Uganda (63.1 per cent).

Overall, the executives are the main perpetrators (41 per cent) of the sexual harassment, followed by colleagues (38 per cent) and news sources (17 per cent).

The research urges media organisations to recognise the extent of sexual harassment and put in place steps to provide a safer working environment.

Safer working environment for all

The study echoes the findings of a November 2020 report by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), which pushes for policy implementation to provide a safer working environment for all.

“73 per cent of female journalists are highly likely to experience sexual harassment during assignments, according to the MCK study, which was conducted in partnership with Article 19 Eastern Africa.

It is required that media organizations not only develop policies to curb sexual harassment but also enlighten employees on the same.

But Ken Bosire, an editor and media trainer in Kenya observes that media houses fear repercussions on their image and shy away from actively confronting the issue of sexual harassment.

To end sexual harassment, experts have often advised on the importance of media owners and managers committing to providing a safe working space not just for women but for all staff.

This is in addition to taking leadership in efforts to break the culture of silence around sexual harassment.

 

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