The Ratification of ILO Convention Number 190 is paramount to combating workplace sexual harassment.

Blog by Sarah Nyakio, November 28, 2019

Sexual harassment is increasingly one of the most terrible forms of violence against women in the world of work and is particularly a problem in the new global economy where the workforce is comprised largely of young women with little formal education or previous work experience. As a young 21-year-old graduate, I was desperate for work and any form of experience to add on my resume and as I worked as an intern and sometimes as a volunteer I did not realize that the unwanted touches and teases were a form of sexual harassment.

Workplace sexual harassment is most difficult for the victim who fears for their career and job security. The women at work poll 2015 show that nearly one-third of women in G20 nations have faced harassment at work, but most suffer in silence. It also shows that nearly 50 per cent more victims are reluctant to report for fear of being blamed by the perpetrators who are usually the victim’s superiors.

Sexual harassment in schools

In recent times we’ve also seen an increase in sexual harassment in schools, in Africa; reports of sexual abuse of girls by their teachers have increased with the help of social media and new recording technologies.

The World Health Organization reported in 2014 that young women are commonly taken advantage of in-school environments, while UN Women reported that up to 20 per cent of women in Nairobi schools have been sexually harassed. A documentary ran by BBC Africa on October 7, 2019, christened “Sex for Grades” shows how universities in Nigeria and Ghana have been plagued by stories of sexual harassment by lecturers and professors for decades. Allegations include numerous cases of abuses; from blackmailing students for sex in exchange for marks and admission to lewd comments and grooming.

Sexual harassment includes behaviour that diminishes, dehumanizes, and has the effect of harming the victim. The sad truth is that sexual harassment is so pervasive that we do not see it.

As the international awareness campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence 2019” takes place, it provides an appropriate opportunity for organizations, companies, corporates, and higher education institutions to reflect on a crucial issue touching the lives of many women across the world.

Global campaigns like the #MeToo and the #TimesUp, movement pointed us to the different scenarios that have protected the perpetrators of sexual harassment for decades, however, more needs to be done to ensure every woman is protected and safe in the world of work, schools and public transport.

Kenya

In Kenya, the Employment Act states, a worker is harassed sexually if the employer or its representative or a coworker request’s (directly or indirectly) for any form of sexual favour to get preferential treatment at the workplace, or threaten the worker of detrimental treatment on the present or future employment status of the worker. Any kind of sexual behaviour that makes the victim feel uncomfortable includes using language (written or spoken) or visual material of sexual nature and showing physical behaviour of sexual nature is considered sexual harassment.

Similarly, the Sexual Offences Act of 2006 clearly states that any person who is in a position of authority, or a person holding a public office, who persistently makes any sexual advances or requests which he or she knows, or has reasonable grounds to know are unwelcome, is guilty of the offence of sexual harassment and is liable to imprisonment of at least three years or to a fine of at least 100,000 shillings or to both.

ILO Convention Number 190

The good news is that the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention adopted No. 190 of 2019 in Geneva, June 21, 2019, on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of work seeks to provide a legal framework for the prevention, protection and redress against violence in the workplace.

The convention defines “ violence and harassment in the workplace as a range of unacceptable behaviours and practised or threats, whether single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, the result in or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.

Governments’ commitments

In the absence of state commitment outlined in the regulation, it will become increasingly difficult to put an end to violence and sexual harassment experienced by women.

Therefore, governments need to ratify ILO Convention Number 190 to show their commitments to eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work. The country’s commitment is of paramount importance in encouraging companies and institutions in creating a dignified world of work as this will also enable countries to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.

As we approach 2020 to commemorate 25 years of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we need to take stock of what needs to be achieved as women are the backbone of the family and the bedrock of a nation.