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Gambia: SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND THE CALL FOR A ‘#METOO MOVEMENT’ IN THE GAMBIA

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“BY AYESHA”

Labour Act defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome, offensive or importunate sexual advances or request made by an employer or superior officer or a co-worker, whether the worker is a man or woman.Men are no exception to this but in most cases it is the women who are most vulnerable.

There are no specific laws to protect women from sexual harassment however Labour Act requires the employer to take action against harassment at workplace. Sexual harassment directed against women in the workplace by their supervisors, fellow employees, or third parties interferes with the integration of women in the workforce, reinforces the subordination of women to men in society, violates women’s dignity and creates a health and safety hazard at work.

Stories told about sexual harassment faced by women in the workplace from male colleagues and bosses are pathetic. Most times, women are left with depression and aggression which have adverse impact on their psyche, making it difficult for women to work.

Some of the revelations we hear are “My Boss pinned me to a wall, romancing me. But I freed myself eventually.”

In some workplaces, this development is used as a method of intimidation and control of women and unless this is addressed, sexual harassment will continue to make workplaces unsafe for women.

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In cases where the perpetrator succeeds to take advantage of their ‘victim’, they are left traumatised, suffering great depression, poor bodily image, feelings of shame, guilt and isolation. Other conditions include feelings of suicide and poor decision-making in relationships.

The decision not to report and attendant lack of willingness to prosecute have ensured that perpetrators become’ heroes ‘while survivors become the ‘victims’.In The Gambia, most women are subjected to this menace be it at the workplace,during job interviews,in the classrooms,hotels,etc and no report of such unfortunate cases has ever been a subject of public scrutiny either by the mainstream media or the Civil Society Organizations.

Therefore there should be intense public enlightenment and education at schools, social clubs, cultural group gatherings and through the media, to first of all, demystify the myths about sexual assault. These myths inform the way many people think about sexual assault, and because they are in the background unconsciously influencing people’s thoughts, the false assumptions may be seen as being true. What happens next will involve a cultural shift. We need to see some political will, and not just strong words. But everybody has a role to play – not turning a blind eye is vital.Call it out if you see something that’s not OK and we must disrupt the idea that these things are normal.

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This, in my submission, is the only way we can achieve a sane society. Lecturers,CEO’s, Directors, top government officials and other individuals use their positions as ‘bait’ to violate rights – this must stop.The  civil society organisations in The Gambia must step forward and push for the implementation of laws and policies that guarantee rights Protection.It is imperative that we create a #Metoo movement in the Gambia or its equivalent where victims of sexual harassment will have the opportunity and platform to be heard and tell their stories.

To champion the public enlightenment crusade, the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the media occupy a major role in this respect.

Encouraging victims/survivors of sexual assault to break their silence by making freely available such services, which should be community based, and the successful prosecution of perpetrators, will serve as a deterrent and hopefully prevent the next person from falling victim.

We will also continue to educate those who have faced violations to brace up and tell their stories and help us challenge the status quo.

When you face sexual harassment, don’t condemn yourself, trust yourself and seek help, know your legal rights and speak to an organisation that you trust.

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There are steps to follow when you are sexually assaulted. First and foremost confront the person and Inform the person that you find the action or words offensive and you would like them to stop.

If the person refuses to stop after you confront them, then you need to begin to build a case by gathering as much evidence as possible to ensure that you are able to back up any allegations you make when you report the person.

If gathered enough evidence against your perpetrator now you can report the case to the police and if there is no success in your case I will advise you to quit your job(those in the workplace) and seek legal assistance.

Sexual harassment though distinct, should be integrated into the theory of discrimination and violence against women as this will lead to a broader platform for dealing with questions of individual dignity and health and safety in the workplace.

This isn’t about excluding men but you wouldn’t blink an eye if you saw an all-male line-up.

This is about putting the spotlight on women and women’s voices which has been about listening to women who have previously been silenced.

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