The African Union has failed to pro­tect its young fe­male em­ploy­ees from sex­ual ha­rass­ment

Observer on Saturday - - Analysis & Opinion -

or many of the young women who in­tern and vol­un­teer at one Africa’s most pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions, the op­por­tu­nity quickly be­came a night­mare.

Last week, the African Union re­leased the re­sults of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dal.

The AU made pub­lic only an ex­cerpt of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion car­ried out by a high-level com­mit­tee that spoke to 88 em­ploy­ees. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­cov­ered a de facto jobs-for-sex sys­tem that tar­geted young women, and its own fail­ure to es­tab­lish a sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy.

FThe pan-African in­sti­tu­tion had a ver­sion of its own #MeToo mo­ment in May this year when women staffers chal­lenged the “pro­fes­sional apartheid” they say they en­dured at the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Not only did the African Union fail to em­power its fe­male staffers as it cham­pi­oned women’s rights around the con­ti­nent, it also failed to pro­tect them from sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion fol­lowed a broad man­date to in­ves­ti­gate gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion, which iden­ti­fied seven el­e­ments and listed them ac­cord­ing to the preva­lence of in­ci­dents. At the top was “mal­prac­tices in hu­man re­source func­tions,” while at the bot­tom was “sex­ual ha­rass­ment.” The ex­cerpted re­port lumps bul­ly­ing, ha­rass­ment and sex­ual ha­rass­ment to­gether. It fur­ther states sex­ual ha­rass­ment in par­tic­u­lar was unan­i­mously con­firmed by all the tes­ti­monies col­lected with youth vol­un­teers and in­terns as the most vul­ner­a­ble. The re­port was frus­trat­ingly vague. Among the few de­tails it of­fered: sex­ual ha­rass­ment tended to take place on of­fi­cial mis­sions, most of­ten with male col­leagues who po­si­tion them­selves as “gate-keep­ers” and “king mak­ers” ex­ploit­ing the “in­se­cu­rity of ten­ure” of young women. As is of­ten the case with sex­ual abuse, the num­ber of in­ci­dents re­ported in the six-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion likely re­flected only a small per­cent­age of in­ci­dents. The women who tes­ti­fied in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion said that the lack of an ex­ist­ing pol­icy made re­port­ing “counter pro­duc­tive.” While stat­ing its re­solve to “re­in­force its zero tol­er­ance” [re­port’s em­pha­sis], it also con­ceded that the African Union has yet to es­tab­lish a com­pre­hen­sive sex­ual assault pol­icy.

Given the ex­cerpted re­port, it’s un­clear whether the in­ves­ti­ga­tors tracked down the young women who may have suf­fered sex­ual ha­rass­ment as an in­tern or vol­un­teer and are no longer part of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Yet, in spite of the grav­ity of these find­ings, the re­port still gen­er­alises bul­ly­ing and hu­man re­sources mal­prac­tice and in so do­ing down­plays the un­fair gen­der dy­namic be­hind this, that was so clearly stated when the fe­male staffers first came for­ward.

“It is im­por­tant to note from the ev­i­dence pre­sented to the com­mit­tee, both male and fe­male su­pe­ri­ors are re­ported to ha­rass and bully their sub­or­di­nates,” the re­port said.

The African Union has been in ex­is­tence for over half a cen­tury, has boasted a woman chair, cur­rently has women in se­nior roles and has made “women, gen­der and de­vel­op­ment” part of its out­ward pol­icy, and yet it is no safe space for the women work­ing there.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Swaziland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.