Panos Institute of Southern Africa (PSAf) says sexual harassment is one of the biggest hindrances to women’s advancement into positions of influence in Malawi and other countries in the region.
In a statement issued last week in Lusaka, Zambia, PSAf executive director Lilian Saka Kiefer said a recent review of political party systems and structures noted that women who aspire for positions of influence are often subjected to sexual advances and also expected to perform sexual favours to men in influential positions.
“PSAf has noted that sexual harassment has become so entrenched to the extent of being normalised in some sections of our society. As a result, women are afraid to speak for fear of appearing to be challenging some aspects of the social set-up. In some cases where the women take a bold step to speak out, society tends to shame the victims instead of supporting them to fight the harassment,” she said.
Kiefer, however, commended Malawi for having clear provisions against sexual harassment in the country’s laws, citing Sections 6 and 7 of the Gender Equality Act (No. 49 of 2012).
“But we are concerned that while there are clear provisions for addressing sexual abuses, many victims have been threatened into fear and are not willing to report any form of sexual harassment. This is common in rural areas where some of the perpetrators are people who are supposed to be trusted by the victims such as teachers,” she said.
The Psaf director also lamented that despite sexual harassment being so rampant at home, in the workplace and in learning institutions, few women have come out to report.
She cited an example of some cases where reports are made but the cases are usually swept under the ‘carpet’.
In a newspaper interview earlier, human rights advocate and social commentator Undule Mwakasungura described sexual harrassment as unfortunate and unacceptable.
“Women must at all cost be protected. The nation must stand up and stop manipulation and abuse of women. Women themselves must also stand up and resist to be sexually abused,” he said.
Despite the laid down laws that protect women, sexual harassment at work places continues to flourish in the country with most victims not willing to reveal their ordeals.