Many African women experience unwanted sexual advances in their place of work or study. But where do you draw the line between friendly flirting and sexual harassment?
The issue of sexual harassment has been the subject of recent debate across Africa.
Benin's parliament has just made sexual harassment illegal in schools, at work and in the home. Last month lawmakers in Kenya included a similar ban in their Sexual Offences Bill. But in Sierra Leone, the law is silent on the issue.
The United Nations Development Fund for Women defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome or unwanted verbal, non-verbal, physical or visual conduct based on sex or of a sexual nature; the acceptance or rejection of which affects an individual's employment."
Whether a situation feels like harassment can be very subjective, so how would you define it? Have you been a victim of sexual harassment? Have you been accused of sexually harassing a colleague? Where do your boundaries go? Are women who cry foul overreacting? Or should this issue be taken more seriously?
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.
In most African cultures where the rights of a woman are little if not non-existent, and where the laws are not properly drawn to address the issue, sexual harassment is not usually paid much attention to. Most women victims of sexual harassment don't have the courage to report it because they have little chance to be believed, and more so, they do not see how the perpetrator would be prosecuted.
Ntsanderh Azenui, Chicago, United States
Sexual harassment and abuse are commonplace in Nigeria. While rape and defilement of young girls under 16 is criminalised in the Criminal Code, other forms of sexual harassment and abuse are yet to be criminalise. There is a vacuum in the law, thus those accused of sexual harassment may go unpunished.
Barr. Loveday Obari, Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Unless we want to keep the inhabitants of the African continent poor and ignorance, we should all be in favour of good programmes which intends to punish and educate at the same time - all those who exhibit sexual harassment.
Dani, Jerusalem, Israel
Sexual harassment is when dirty old men, who should know better, can't keep their hands of little girls.
To me sexual harassment as well as rape has little to do with sex. It is the wish of an individual to show absolute power or punish, torture the victim. Since most people engaging in this act are rather wealthy and in senior official positions, I believe when proven without a doubt they should be subdued by juicy fines and public exposure (males and females alike). Most people indulging in such offences have families at home and the risk of public exposure would make such a person think twice!
John Kamara, Freetown, Sierra Leone
I have seen where most female college/medical students have been harassed to the point where they are forced to sleep with their professor to pass the exam in Africa. So many young females have contracted HIV from this mess. This is wrong and offenders should be seriously punished. It makes me sick what we have to put up with and no one is doing anything about it.
Koku, Georgia, USA (Tanzanian)
We as women should be able to tell a man to "get his dirty hands off you" and it should be said in a serious tone. I always see women here at work being slapped on their behinds and they giggle. It really makes me mad because honestly some women encourage these men. Still, men need to respect women, period. The way you dress has nothing to do with it. If you are offended then tell the women that she needs to dress properly, especially in the office.
Lebo, Gaberone, Botswana
It is true that sexual harassment is bad, but our ladies of today aggravate the matter through what they wear. The women of today are bent on taking us back to the years prior to the invention of cloth, by going about in nudity, hence sexual harassment is on the rise. In a nut-shell, it is the women that are sexually harassing our hapless men.
Ashipa James Olashupo, Abuja- Nigeria
Why do we only look at one side of the coin when the issue of sexual harassment is raised? There are many innocent young men who become victims of the above subject. Many women of high stature take advantage of their positions to do same. Are we clear when we define what sexual harassment is?
Ikuwa, Maun, Botswana
One set of females who suffer from sexual harassment in Cameroon are female students. Many teachers have run into problems with parents and school authorities because they harassed students sexually. This harassment is common in secondary schools and universities and in most cases the students are shy to voice it out.
Mbecha Terrence, Kumba , Camerooun
I think most a large percentage of women who are harassed live a lifestyle that make them susceptible to harassment. Most women also have some underlying desire to be appreciated sexually so they subtly play along and don't say no outright until the harassment has gone too far.
Tobin Chukwu, Cape Town, South Africa
The law should be upheld. Women need to be protected. In most instances women are vulnerable to sexual advances and manipulation. Those who sexually harrass women should be severely punished. But mechanical application of the Sexual Offeneces Bill like here in Kenya can destroy the social fabric that exists between the two sexes.
Enock Maturwe, Nairobi, Kenya
I think women have a big role in stopping this happening to our generation, but they tend to shy away or act passively to this key issue. This might be because of a cultural upbringing which is hard to break. But women need to make a gradual change in many ways such that the men can just adopt also.
Peter Buyondo, Buwama,Uganda
Under English law, harassment is defined in terms of the victim's perception. This engenders a sense of mutual respect between the sexes. And it still allows for the occasional flirting at work.
Akpan, Kent, UK/Nigeria
I think everything that is against the wishes of the other person is sexual harassment. In Africa wa need to codemn strongly any violance against our women. Women are our mothers, sisters, wives and lovely daughters.
Hussein Wehelie, Minnesota, USA
Whilst I do not condone sexual harassment. I must say that women who dress in a provocative manner sometimes invite harassment. A well brought up African girl would not dress provocatively. Having said that, men who engage in this act at places of study or work must be punished.
A country should not be expected to live by the expectations of others, especially the Western countries. Why is sexual harassment not much of a big deal in much of the former Warsaw Pact countries, China, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent? Those countries put together constitute about about half the world's population. Why are some bright minds around the world mulling the idea of dragging Africa into another ethical quagmire?
Kaikorma Sahr, Minnesota, United States
We cannot talk about sexual harassment as such without talking on the loose dress style exhibited by some of the women in our society today. Skimpy dresses that expose huge swathes of a woman's sensitive parts are a recipe for the so-called sexual harassment. Change of habit is therefore highly sacrosanct!
Israel Ambe Ayongwa, Bamenda, Cameroon
Many men claim that women who dress provocatively bring harassment on to themselves. Well I say, how about the men who walk around bare-chested all the time? Isn't that provocative? Women should be able to dress however they please and men should not use their physical strength to intimidate women.
Dee Okang, United States (Ghanaian)
I think we need to define what constitutes sexual harassment. Sometimes with friends, you never realise what some consider sexually harassment. During a class in college, one lady felt that men with tightly fiting T-shirts offended her, while men generally concluded that provocatively dressed ladies spoilt their eyes and emotions. As they say; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is sexual harassment!
Dominic Tomno, Nairobi, Kenya
This is inhumane, I say. There is no defence for those who practice the habit. The only way is to punish the behaviour according to the law.
Prudence Mugisha, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Sexual harassment is relative. Depending on which culture you are conditioned to, you might mistake mere fondness to mean something else.
Patrick Ayumu, Accra, Ghana
With poverty and hunger at its highiest levels in Africa, sexual harassment is rampant in Africa. Employees have been sexually harassed in order to win favours from their bosses and this has gone un-reported and un-checked
Francis Chibwinja, Kitwe, Zambia
It is a shameful thing that men always want to have their way whenever their organ are signalling them. They should have some level of self-control. I think having fun must be consensual but men are take advantage of females just because they can overpower them. There shold be a lasting solution that will serve as a deterrent to others. This will be achieved by punishing any body found guilty of such act both male and female.
Sexual harrasment is wrong. It is a crime against the victim. It should not be condoned at any time. Women who cry foul do so when things are getting out of hand. Government and corporations should do everything possible to curtail it. Relationship is not by force. It is something you do out of your own volition. No one should be forced against his/her will. We should respect someone who says no to an advance.
Omorodion Osula, Boston, United States
Sexual harassment simply is the inability to draw a simple line between moderation and excessiveness. A man can admire a lady without being misunderstood, and vice versa, but when the admiration begins to make any of the parties uncomfortable, then it translates into harassment. The key word here is MODERATION.
Nelson Onwuzuruigbo, Ohio, United States (Nigerian)
Perhaps people should in fact be teaching their sons that no matter how a woman dresses she should not be subjected to sexual harassment. If this was the case then every girl and women in a costume on the beach would be at fault when she was sexually harassed!
Angela, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Anyone found guilty of sexual harrassment should be punished severely to discourage would-be offerders. With HIV/AIDS in our midst, let us join hands in condemning the offerders. Elderly women who abuse young men should receive the same punishement like men!
Gady Mwamba Museka, Lusaka, Zambia
Most women don't overreact on the issue of sexual harassment. In Ghana, our universities are bedeviled with the issue of sexual harassment, and the major players are the senior lecturers, senior research assistants and teaching assistants. Some students were failed in causes because they failed to give in to sex, some had their assessment marks changed or reduced. I believe that most universities in Ghana, Ghana agencies and parliament must take the issue of harassment seriously even if it involves their own.
Noah Nash, Ghana
It may be difficult to draw a line but forcefully wanting to be heard or noticed by the oppisite sex could be considered sexual harassment. This term should not be used for the feminine gender alone as men could be or are also sexually harrassed. I also believe those who suffer from this are those who are vainly dressed or materially minded. But this should not be an excuse.
Besenty Gomez, Kitty Village, The Gambia
I believe this act is really a bad thing to do and those found guilty should be punished.
Eugene Aka, Tema, Ghana
Sexual harassment can be said to be a delibrate act of saying, displaying and holding the opposite sex in such a manner that can trigger the sex organs when there is no consention between the two parties. Yes, I have been harassed at the clinic. This is wrong and offenders should be seriously punished.
Pius Atariie, Ughelli, Nigeria
It is somewhat interesting that men have always had a predator approach to life. However, our sisters will do us men a great deal of assistance by dressing and conducting themselves decently. Their dressing and conduct also constitutes sexual harassment of men by women, implying that some of the men's conduct is a reaction to an action. That hopefully will reduce the incidents of sexual harassment. Besides, parents need to teach their children limits in relating with the opposite sex. We can only reduce the problem, we cannot wipe it out. It has always been with mankind albeit in different shades.
Oyinkro Olobio, Port Harcourt, Nigeria