Tanzanian women suffer sexual harassment in the workplace, despite laws in place to protect them

By Hadija Masoud

The Tanzanian Government has passed several laws in favour of protecting women’s rights. The Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act of 1998 is a law that protects women, girls and children from sexual harassment and abuse, but the issue is still widely felt in Tanzanian society which continues to discriminate against women.

Sexual harassment is technically a gender-neutral offence. Men can sexually harass women, and women can sexually harass men. However, statistics show that the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment claims and charges are brought by women claiming that they were sexually harassed by men.

According to the statistics released by the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC), 40-70 percent of women around the world experience some form of physical or sexual harassment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Report indicates, “about 43 percent of women workers were harassed by their supervisors, 27 percent were harassed by an employee senior to them, 19 percent were harassed by a co-workers at their level, and 8 percent were harassed by a junior employee.”

In fact, a hostile environment is the most common type of sexual harassment for women, but also more difficult to prove. This exists when an employee is made to feel uncomfortable and suffers emotional and/or mental strain due to frequent exposure to offensive sexual talk and jokes, pornographic images and repeated unwelcome sexual advances, although there is no obvious threat to the employee’s advancement in the work place or continued employment.

One worker from the Bakhresa industry, Ms. Anna George at Vingunguti in Dar es Salaam said, “Sexual aggravation for women at working areas has become a common issue in our country. Because even though there are several laws that protecting women but are the most affected with this issue.  And this is usual habit to see a boss intimidate his worker because for his own sexual interest.  In Tanzania about 60 percent of women live in absolute poverty.  This is a result of the increasing sexual harassment in working place especially in industries due to the poor working conditions that they are working in.”

According to the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA), employers that do not take steps to prevent sexual harassment can face major costs in decreased productivity, low morale, increased absenteeism and health care costs, and potential legal expenses.

When someone is sexually harassed in the workplace, it can undermine their sense of personal dignity. It can prevent them from earning a living, doing their job effectively, or reaching their full potential. Sexual harassment can also poison the environment for everyone else. If left unaddressed, sexual harassment in the workplace also has the potential to escalate to violent behaviour.

To address the situation, the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania has committed itself to improving women’s legal capacity through legal literacy schemes and mass campaigns to educate women and men on women’s rights. The objective is to enhance the status of women through increased knowledge of their legal and human rights.

In addition to the government’s position on the issue, initiatives have been undertaken by the mass media and various NGO’s to educate the public on women’s rights and issues of gender violence.

Hadija is currently upgrading her skills in human rights reporting in Dar es Salaam to expand her knowledge of journalism. Her goal is to become an international advocate on issues of women’s rights.

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