In solidarity with March 8, “Make it happen” International women’s day, We dare say that our manifest democracy ought to include a coherent national policy on sexual harassment; that our 58 year old freedom and justice forward march, should categorically, implement specific procedural regimen and sanctions at governmental and institutional levels . We should deliver our learning institutions and workplaces from becoming prisons of sexual enslavement as a developmental imperative!
Sexual harassment in educational institutions and in the workplace, at its core, is a corruption and power abuse syndrome and a curable ego-centric disease. It is primarily the veiled prostitution of women by men in positions of power, extracting their ‘bribes -in –kind’ in abuse of entrusted power. This moral hazard in both the public and private sectors is in need of authentic leadership resolution.
All over the country, our women and our girls are wailing to no avail: their destinies are being betrayed, their lives disjointed, their dreams unaccomplished and their ambitions turned into nightmares. There is empirical data from various researchers suggesting an epidemic of sexual harassment in our country. Sex is being demanded in our basic and premier educational and tertiary institutions including Medical and Nursing schools, Universities, Colleges and Polytechnics. In educational institutions, where they should be trained and groomed as effective and skilled participants in national life, they are coerced into illicit sexual partnerships to obtain grades and professional qualifications.
Sex is required in our classrooms, lecture halls, offices and boardrooms, sex is required as a condition of employment, sex is overtly and covertly extracted in ‘quid pro quo ‘ propositions as a prerequisite to sustain a career and for training opportunities and promotions; Sex for wages, sex for public services, sex for contracts, sex for grades, sex for life!
Consequently, so many of our women’s lives are being constricted and cheapened as sexual fodder. In our work places where their skills and contributions should impact national development and their self worth reinforced, we have minefields of intellectual waste and developmental malaise.
The repercussions and punitive measures taken against women who are non-compliant run the gamut from hostile work environments, withheld wages, unsavory assignments and transfers, lack of promotion, unlawful dismissals, forced resignations, threats, violent physical and sexual assaults and even rape. This is a litany of national disgrace.
This is the predicament that must be cured. We must stop this sub-cultural phenomenon from becoming the norm rather than the crime and aberration that it is. This crime against the right to non -discriminatory work must be condemned and addressed in the interest of broad based and inclusive national development, good social governance and human security.
Women’s individual voices are muffled on this issue because they dare not point the finger at the male ‘deities’ highly placed in society and clothed with respectability, who instead of being role models and mentors breed fear and insecurity and defile in secret . These ‘power houses’ have influence and money to buy media support etc. they can ruin lives and get away with it. Pitched against them, these ‘mere women’, have no voice, so they suffer in depressed silence as we pay lip- service to their emancipation.
Those who dare speak up are doubly victimized and, or ostracized by a hypocritical, patriarchal and permissive society that applauds, justifies and covers up male mischief by making the victim responsible for the crime. Instead of confronting the sexual predator, we turn the issue on its head victimizing the victim twice, making her responsible for incessant male misbehavior. Evidently the workplace is a morally hazardous terrain, without ethical boundaries, no checks, no corporate policies or procedures or sanctions and no societal abhorrence for wrong doing. Is this our idea of freedom and of social justice?
Let us take some poignant moments to review the cumulative deprived contribution to our national developmental initiatives, if our women are penalized with failed grades and cannot complete their education, if they cannot have educational or professional merit and experience, or are unable to function with requisite skills simply because they will not compromise their integrity or work under oppressive, unhealthy, offensive and threatening conditions. For them, the lecture hall and workplace has become a hostile sexual battlefield where they cannot survive. Is the human right to live and work in dignity and in freedom not enshrined in our constitution for all citizens?
Apparently, we need a national ‘zip it up ’awareness and educational campaign and support services for victims. Sexual harassment is not an issue for jokes and giggles. It is a crime of violence that causes emotional and psychological trauma and stress related long term health risks. It is not a dating scenario. It is about wicked, unscrupulous, protracted often heinous misconduct that debases women and the relatively few men who experience this venom. It impacts human and developmental security negatively and breeds socio-economic dysfunction. It also reinforces stereotypical notions of women in highly placed positions as a derivative of sexual patronage thus undermining their credibility. It has no redeeming value.
Let us end with the ultimate human security proposition for our country: That, ‘Every woman, everywhere, shall have sexual security within the confines of her own body.
By Nana Fremah Busia