The Oxford dictionary describes Sexual Harassment as behaviour characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation.
This week, Wednesday morning, my workplace gave us a Training on Sexual Harassment. Much as it was timely, i wished someone had given me this talk many years ago. As i listened to the presenter articulate his points, my mind made light of the very many incidences i could have termed as sexual harassment.
When a girl or guy asks you to define whatever is going on between you two, it’s because things that have names and titles carry more weight, they are valued more, both positively and negatively. When you can’t quite define something, many times you will ignore it even when it’s having a toll on you. Many times, Sexual harassment has been disguised as many things because we don’t recognize it’s happening. We paint it names like stalking, insisting, persistent, demanding, too much, e.t.c, and many times we are even scared to believe that we are living the experience. some shy away, but some actually have no available ear to listen to their cry.
The key words in the definition happen to be unwelcome and inappropriate. Sexual Harassment is divided into 4 main types. 1. Verbal/ Written. This involves things like excessive and unwelcome flirting, spreading rumors about a person’s sexual life, sexually explicit statements, questions and jokes,coercion of sexual activity by threat of punishment, requesting of sexual favors or dates, remarks of sexual nature about a person’s clothing or body 2.Physical.purposely brushing up against another person, impeding or blocking a person’s physical movement, playing music with offensive or degrading language, inappropriate and unwanted touching of a person or their clothing, inappropriate touching, patting, kissing, hugging, stroking 3. Non-Verbal. staring or whistling in a sexually, suggestive or offensive manner, following someone around or standing too close to them on purpose, making gestures or facial expressions of a sexual nature, ‘undressing someone with your eyes’ 4. Visual. showing others or sharing sexually inappropriate images, pornography, cartoons, pictures, videos , even sexually suggestive text messages and images
I’ll tell you about some of my worst sexual harassment experiences. I’ll save some because of the little respect i still have for the offenders. 1. (this very one, i only got the courage to share it with someone 2 days ago.) When i was in O’level, i was among the youngest students in my class, among the brightest too. I was quite shy and short. i had gone through a mixed boarding primary school, but i could barely remember anything of that nature. I later joined secondary school, a single girl’s school, a good school. we were quite much protected and naive too. But even when the sea seemed calm, there were some stories and rumor about certain teachers doing certain things. During Form 4, around the first term of school, one of my teachers said something to me( i honestly can’t quite remember the exact words), he went ahead to casually use me as an example for all the inappropriate jokes he ever made in class. Of course everyone in class found it funny, except me. I was 15, I didn’t know how to go about it, i couldn’t tell anyone. every time he entered class, i looked at the clock and wanted the class to end, i always wanted to leave the classroom or fake an illness, i just wanted to be away. I knew UNEB would consider my best done 8 subjects, so i mentally gave up on that subject. When UNEB released our O level results, i had excelled in all the other subjects except this subject. The difference was quite significant. My parents wondered if those were actually my marks. They asked me questions i couldn’t answer, i just told them the exam was hard. I later moved to another school for A level, and that was my escape. 2. (this one i have shared it with friends before) While at campus , during my fourth year, a resident (post graduate student doing their masters in a medical specialty) made my life quite hard. According to how knowledge is passed on in medical school, residents are immediate supervisors to undergraduate students. undergraduate students answer to them. Residents are supposed to teach us, give us assignments, punish us if they please, and sign our logbooks. So this resident was a second year, i had been under his supervision the year before. During year 4, undergraduate medical students at my former university don’t go to the wards, so i had a way to go about this, but not for long, because this same resident was to be among the many other residents to supervise me the next year. So i had to trade carefully. Flash forward, after months of turned down invitations, unanswered calls, unanswered texts and clearly stating my NO, this resident showed up to my hostel door several times. I never opened the door. he always knocked for minutes till he gave up and left, but would return days later. Once he met me on campus once, i told him i had moved to another hostel very far from where i used to stay. He stopped showing up to my door, but he still texted and called and offered to help me study. of course i always said no. When i blocked him, he always texted with another contact of his friends i guess. Then he stopped after close to 8 months. when my final year came and i had to be under his service, this time i was ready to embarrass him or report him, someone somewhere was senior to him, and i was ready to talk to someone senior in case he decided to punish me in any way. I guess he got the memo! I went through the rotation uninterrupted, i never let him sign my logbook. When my rotation ended, i didn’t care if he existed. Many stories have been told about people in places of power misusing their positions. I cant talk about the stories of many students who have had to give in sex for marks. A lecturer intentionally makes one fail a paper, and then they go ahead to propose sexual ventures in return for a pass. It’s okay to date your senior, but it should be out of love not coercion 3. (this very one is brand new) This was by a former patient of mine. I treated him once, he left and returned after 6 days asking to see me. He was told i was off duty, he declined to be seen by another doctor. He asked for my number but nobody gave it to him because he was behaving in a questionable way. He somehow managed to get the number from elsewhere and that night he texted and called. I honestly thought it was a patient who needed followup or to make an appointment, but his conversation didn’t seem like it. Next day he showed up at the hospital, sat at the reception area and waited for when i moved out and asked to see me, i didn’t realise immediately it was the same person from the previous night. If anything, it could have been a drug promoter. I let him in, but I didn’t settle well with his conversation so i asked him to leave. He wasn’t a patient, i had patients to see. He hesitated, i opened the door. H e left but my phone never stopped buzzing after then. I blocked him everywhere and he went to my Facebook. And he still expects to be my patient? Or should i mention the time a patient entered my consultation room and said he preferred to see my legs in a dress than trousers. How is this consultation even supposed to go on after such a statement? You must have heard of the many cries by nurses and doctors; both males and females. Male doctors have mentioned how female clients strip naked in consultation rooms. A lot happens in consultation rooms and corridors of hospitals. some how there are laws to protect patients from health workers, i haven’t met any that protects health workers from the patient. Tomorrow if you refused to offer this patient a service because of what they did to you, you could get sued for denying someone health care.
A friend who works in the United States told me of a scenario at his workplace. one day while at work, he stared at the behind (read buttocks) of his workmate as she passed by. He didn’t point, he didn’t make a sound, he just looked. Another coworker saw him and filled for Sexual harassment to their HR. even when the person who had been looked at didn’t complain, and wasn’t ever going to file for harassment, the co-worker filed because she felt it was inappropriate for her to watch (this is to say you could be telling your sexual joke at work to John, but because Micheal is passing by and he finds it inappropriate, you can go down for it). It was put down that he had securely harassed her. This friend of mine was suspended from work for one month, unpaid and had to take a course under sexual harassment that month. He did a test at the end of that course and when he hit the pass mark , he was granted permission to return to work. I know what you’re thinking…..yes, He just looked! He just looked at the wrong time. You must have heard of the popular stories going around about Bill gates and how he made advances at some people that worked for him. things that happened many years ago are being unveiled now. we also know the female Member of parliament who sued a student for sexual embarrassment. Many of us just said he had been stalking her, but well, he harassed her. Nobody is above the law, especially in a place where systems are transparent.
There are several things in our society that actually promote sexual harassment. Biggest one would be ignorance of the law. Because not many people have gone down for it, somehow people think its okay to do all these things.. second reason is absence of functional systems in organizations , workplaces and institutions. a workplace has to first of all recognize that there is a possibility of this happening and therefore put across measures to prevent it from happening, and also clearly align and execute punishment when one is found guilty of the act. Lack of empowerment is another big factor to sexual embarrassment. very few people get to stand up to the offender for various reasons. some fear to lose their jobs, others fear discrimination at the workplace e.t.c
The Uganda employment sexual harassment Regulations state that an employer with more than 25 employees shall adopt a written policy against sexual embarrassment. this statement must include a notice to the employees about how the act is unlawful, and consequences must be stated. Yea, walk to your HR and challenge them. many places actually don’t have a policy for this in place.
For the record, it’s very okay to ask a girl or guy out because it’s a starting point of many good relationships, it’s very okay to complement and text them but please be very rational with what you say at what stage of your friendship. You can’t meet someone on the first day and feel its appropriate to talk about their breasts. some may not be offended, but many will be. when you ask someone out and they say no, have the common decency to not insist and call them countless times and show up to their workplace unannounced or stalk them. These things happen a lot. People end up changing phone numbers or even physical addresses. You have to understand that you are not everyone’s taste. When someone turns you down, you could politely ask them when you should check in again. could be after a month or two or even a year. if they give you a chance to check in after a month, show up and ask again, if you are turned down again, walk away politely. if you are not given the chance to check in, politely walk away or ask to be friends if you so wish. But when you become friends, you must know your limits.
When you realise you have offended someone; knowingly or unknowingly, have the common courtesy to appologise, show some remorse. It mends the relationship and friendship between you too. I’m not sure it mends the broken respect they had for you too, but you gotta try.
This post is not meant to attack anyone, it’s meant to create awareness to those who may not know that what they encountered was harassment, and its also a lesson to whoever is doing these acts and not actually knowing they are harassing someone. Male or female, we are all potential victims. When i set out to share this topic, i got strong resistance and attacks. i was told about how this is another feminism act. I hope you realise I’m not only talking for the females. sexual harassment is something faced by both genders. I’m female and obviously most of my offenders will be male. I’m very happy to make room for male speakers to share their experience. You could comment below or ask to feature on the blog. It’s free, and I’ll be glad to have you.
Sexual Harassment is among the leading causes of poor performance in workplaces, and institutions. STAND FOR WHAT’S RIGHT EVERY CHANCE YOU GET.