A report by the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has shown that there is a huge knowledge gap on sexual harassment at workplace and business sector in the country.
The report titled, ‘Situation Analysis: Report on engaging the private, public, and informal sector on addressing sexual gender-based violence and sexual harassment in the workplace’ has shown that about 70 percent of the cooperatives, journalists, district labour officers and Industrial Relations Court/ Magistrates have little knowledge of sexual harassment.
The report released yesterday, further exposes absence of sexual harassment workplace policy documents in most institutions.
“The perceived knowledge gap hinders effective realisation of human rights and access to justice to victims of sexual harassment, and sexual gender-based violence in general,” reads the report in part.
The report further established that despite most institutions having existing sexual harassment reporting mechanisms and psycho-social support services to victims of sexual harassment, many people are not aware of the laws that protect them from abuse and violation of their rights.
The Commission has since recommended that Public and Private sector institutions should develop response mechanisms such as sexual harassment policies which include proper structures for reporting and handling sexual harassment-related issues.
“The commission should mobilise resources and embark on sexual harassment and its relevant laws orientation programs in the public, informal and private sectors,” it recommends.
Commenting on the report, Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRRC) director Emma Kaliya blamed the silence culture, urging women to stand up and fight the vice by not shielding perpetrators.
Said Kaliya: “Women should use their self-consciousness and realise that they did not get into that office to sleep with men. It’s sad that mostly those in low positions are afraid to report such cases for fear of losing their jobs while some sections do not report especially when they are benefiting in form of special favours such as job promotions.”
The Gender Equality Act defines sexual harassment as any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
Although the country has enacted laws against gender-based violence, including sexual harassment, a huge gap remains in the implementation and popularisation of these laws leading to many unreported cases.
Last year, the High Court in Blantyre made a landmark ruling which made employers liable to compensate workers for sexual abuse or harassment while on duty.
Further, the court stated that female employees do not have to necessarily suffer physical injury to sue for sexual harassment because emotional, mental and psychological injury is more serious and would be compensated if the act occurs.
In the ruling, Judge Mike Tembo ordered Mota Engil Construction Company to pay K100 million for damages in a sexual abuse case involving one of the senior officers at the company.
On March 29 2021, MHRC made a recommendation for a Workplace Sexual Harassment Policy for Malawi Broadcasting Corporation in its report on sexual allegations at the institution, which found former director general Aubrey Sumbuleta guilty of numerous alleged sexual harassment offences.
The corporation was ordered to compensate Sumbuleta’s victims.