humbs up to Catherine Kunje, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) employee, for courageously sharing a personal experience with sexual harassment in the workplace.
Most survivors do not dare talk about their encounters, but sexual abuse is happening not only at MBC, but many organisations and homes.
The Gender Equality Act defines sexual harassment as any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature—requiring all institutions to take it seriously.
The labour law does not explicitly address sexual harassment, but the Gender Equality Act outlines how cases are to dealt with.
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.
Most sexual harassment cases are not reported.
A policy brief by Malawi Irish Consortium (2019), for example, revealed a lot of incidents of gender-based violence (GBV) in the workplace go unreported to formal institutions, including the police, courts and workplace complaints-handling structures.
This is partly due to fear of retribution, reprisal, loss of job and marriage when one reports the perpetrators.
The other major reason was a lack of reporting mechanisms within the organisations, human resource department’s being ill-equipped to handle such issues and no internal policies to safeguard staff.
Sexual harassment acts are also “normalised” within the society and the workplace.
For example, some men think whistling at a woman because she is well dressed is a compliment.
Some believe that women want to be chased and would persistently request for sexual favours despite several denials.
These acts constitute sexual harassment.
Malawi has also seen a rise in sexual harassment in learning institutions by lecturers and teachers involved in sex-for-grades scandals.
However, these learning institutions do not have reporting mechanisms specifically for GBV cases. Usually, there is lack of substantive evidence to back up the claims.
There is low reporting on these issues as well because offenders are rarely taken to book, giving the impression administration do not take the issues seriously.
In the education sector, the teachers are usually transferred to another school in a remote area where they are likely to abuse more students.
There is need to ensure enforcement of laws in all the institutions, starting with sexual harassment policies across all institutions.
The policies must have clear confidential and safe reporting procedures and consequences of such behaviour which should be followed to the end.
There is also need to build the capacity of police, labour relations officers and prosecutors to handle such cases professionally.
Currently, people in informal workplaces—including domestic workers, small business operators and those in agricultural markets or small businesses—would report directly to these offices.
Malawians also need to read and appreciate our laws and claim their right to protection once violated.
Furthermore, there is need to publicise the national hotline 5600 to adequately assist victims with psychosocial support and related services.
We hope that the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare will investigate all the reported cases and conclude them until all abusers are punished.
A new Malawi should not condone sexual harassment in the workplace.
Job opportunities, salary raise, and promotion should not be in exchange for sex, but on merit.
Finally, media houses need to ensure zero tolerance to sexual harassment. Victims must speak up, as things will not be corrected by keeping quiet.
Due to lack of knowledge of the existing laws on sexual harassment, empower workers through in-house training on these issues.
Such training could target interns and volunteers as they may also be the victims of sexual harassment.
The media has a role to play to advocate for zero tolerance to sexual harassment.