BusinessDay

Workplace sexual harassment still prevalent in Nigeria

A new report has shown that workplace sexual harassment is still a prevalent issue in Nigeria and females are more likely to be victims.
‘Sexual harassment’ is any form of unwelcome sexual behaviour that’s offensive, humiliating or intimidating. Most importantly, it’s against the law. Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem with a devastating toll on employee well-being and performance.
But behind closed doors, many companies and institutions have done little to address sexual harassment, which has contributed to hostile work environments for victims of sexual harassment.

A report by Stand to End Rape Initiative (STER) titled examining the prevalence, context, and impact of workplace sexual harassment in Nigeria, was based on the responses of 493 participants who had maintained some form of employment within the last 12 months.

According to the report, most participants in this study were between 18 and 30 years old. The findings showed that of the 493 participants, 259 participants (64%) have experienced one or more instances of sexual harassment.

Here are other highlights from the report

Females are the most common, but not the only, targets for sexual harassment.

85 percent of participants who have experienced sexual harrasement in the workplace are females while about 15 percent are males.. In addition, comparison tests revealed that younger participants (between ages 18 and 30), female, heterosexual, have never been married and worked at large organisations (with over 50 employees) were significantly more likely to experience sexual harassment compared to others.

Read also: Normalising the conversation around menopause in the workplace

The various forms of workplace Sexual Harassment

The most reported forms of sexual harassment experienced by participants include – (a) Being looked at in a sexual way (45%), (b) Receiving unwanted sexual comments/remarks about their clothing/accessories (44%), (c) Being told sexual jokes or stories that made them uncomfortable (43%), (d) Receiving sexual comments/remarks about their bodies (35%), (e) Being told crude/gross sexual things and asked to talk about sexual matters when they did not want to (34%), and (f) Receiving nonstop invitations to go out, get dinner, have drinks, or have sex even after declining (27%).

91% of the offenders/perpetrators are male
91 percent of the offenders/perpetrators of workplace sexual harassment identified in the study were male. Additionally, participants reported that 48% of the offenders were their peers, 41% were senior colleagues, 10% were clients/customers, and 1% were junior colleagues.

Impacts of sexual harassment are felt beyond just the harassing interaction
The impacts of the sexual harassment do not end with harassing interaction as 77 percent of participants reported adverse outcomes. Specifically, 65% of participants reported having trouble being enthusiastic about their jobs, 62% had difficulty getting along with co-workers, and 49% had trouble performing work tasks.

75% of participants who were sexually harassed reported experiencing mental health problems. Specifically, 69% experienced symptoms of anxiety, 60% experienced symptoms of depression, and 34% experienced symptoms of PTSD.

A culture of silence
Only 9% reported the assault through formal channels, while 34% took no action or tried to pretend it never happened, 26% engaged in de-escalation behaviours by asking the perpetrator to stop, and 10% told a colleague.
Participants that did not report the incident through a formal workplace channel were asked to indicate their reasons for not reporting. The most cited reasons for not reporting were – (a) thinking that nothing would be done (35%), (b) not considering the incident as severe enough to report (33%), (c) not wanting to get the offender into trouble (10%), and (d) not knowing where to go or who to report to (10%).

Most reporting systems don’t work or don’t exist
Only 38% of participants in this study reported the existence of sexual harassment policies at their workplace. When asked to specify the prevention measures to deal with sexual harassment at their workplace, more than half of the participants (58%) indicated that they were not aware of any sexual harassment prevention measures in place. Additionally, almost half of the participants (44%) reported no encouragement by any person or group to report sexual harassment at their workplace.

9 of the 16 participants (59%) who reported sexual harassment through formal workplace channels indicated no disciplinary action was taken against the harasser. When offenders received disciplinary actions, the most cited disciplinary action was a verbal warning (23%). In addition, 81% of participants who reported the incident through formal channels at their workplace did not receive any support from the employer. Overall, 73% of employees who reported the incident through formal workplace channels were dissatisfied with how their cases were officially handled.

Call to action
The report provided recommendation to the government, employers and employees on addressing this issue.
The Nigerian government is responsible for ensuring that all citizens and residents have legal and social protections against workplace sexual harassment. This can be accomplished through the ratification of international standards for workplace violence prevention and response. The government should ratify the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention 190 (C190)6, and Recommendation No. 206, which acknowledges the right of every person to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment.

Organisations and employers play an important role in creating a safe work environment free from discrimination and harassment. This can be done through, creating and enforcing anti-sexual harassment policies and response procedure. Every report should be taken seriously, investigative procedures outlined, and immediate measures should be implemented to stop any confirmed harassment and ensure it does not recur.

Employees are also essential in ensuring a harassment-free workplace environment. This can be done among other things by being familiar with the organisation’s sexual harassment policies and procedures and treating all co-workers, clients, and vendors with respect and by always be professional.

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