Harassment robs women's rights

HARARE - Sexual harassment in the newsroom continues to rob women of their legal right to live and work without being harassed.

These sentiments were aired by former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (Zbc) employee Nyaradzo Makombe Hazangwi  last week during the launch of a booklet that profiles sexual harassment in the media.

The booklet entitled: Who Do I Tell; What Should I Do was  compiled by the Federation of African Media Women in Zimbabwe (Famwz)  who  collaborated with  the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (Zuj) on a campaign against sexual harassment.

“It just does not start in the newsrooms, it goes back to our training institutions where women because of their power relations with their lecturers are subjected to all sorts of harassment that they fail to deal with and at the end of the day, they decide not even to go into the newsrooms because of what they have gone through,” Makombe said.

The sexual harassment campaign was launched last year during the World Press Freedom Day commemoration, with the aim of addressing of sexual harassment in the newsrooms.

Sexual harassment is described as any form of unwelcome sexual advance, and according to the publication, it can come in the form of; “a suggestion or promise of employment or promotion in return for sexual favours, a request for sexual favours in return for employment benefits or the display of sexually offensive posters, cartoons or drawings, or any other form of verbal or physical behaviour that the recipients regards as unwelcome or embarrassing.”

Famwz acting chairperson Patience Zirima said the publication was a first step towards a more comprehensive, analytical and action oriented research aimed at raising awareness.

 “We have fewer women in the media, and fewer in leadership positions as opposed to their male counterparts.

“While the impact of sexual harassment is readily felt at individual level, it should be noted that the industry incrementally loses something as the practice drives out otherwise good journalists,” Zirima said.

A Famwz board, Virginia Muwanigwa added that the booklet would help change behaviour.

“I think our name is rather tainted as far as sexual harassment is concerned and we are hoping that this research will show the results of the impact of sexual harassment.

“We want to profile sexual harassment as an issue not necessarily helping one particular group but we are hoping by profiling the issues we help each other and we start preventing things which can be prevented,” Muwanigwa said.

She said the launching of the booklet was timely because the world had just commemorated International Women’s day and that the country was on the eve of a new constitution were some of the issues pertaining to media were a major highlight.

“We believe that one of the things we need to deal with that does not necessarily need someone from the outside to come and regulate us is sexual harassment.

“It is our hope as Famwz, that this booklet is going to assist us to reflect on sexual harassment stopping sexual harassment and its sequence in the media and to modify behaviour,” Muwanigwa who is also chairperson of the Women’s Coalition in Zimbabwe said.

Zuj secretary general Foster Dongozi said the absence of gender policies in Zimbabwean newsrooms was one of the reasons why media personnel still fall victim to sexual harassment in the workplace.

 “Sexual harassment represents one of the largest areas of complaints in the media. During outreach meetings with journalists, around the country, sexual harassment which had never been deliberated upon in the past was discussed openly, in very robust sessions indicating that it was a serious problem.

“However the absence of a law that deals specifically with sexual harassment has allowed culprits to commit these acts and get away with it,” Dongozi said.

He went on to say that if harassment in the workplace was not dealt with effectively, the organisation risked its reputation because of the law suits it can be subjected to.

“Conversely, the benefits for the media tackling harassment can be substantial. Sickness, absence, stress, and conflict in the workplace are reduced, staff retention, efficiency, moral and profitability can be increased,” Dongozi said.

Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef) chairperson Brian Mangwende who officially launched the booklet said his organisation did not condone sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Sexual harassment is about exerting power and is an unfair labour practice which the labour relations act clearly speaks about,” Mangwende said.

Media consultant for the Famwz, Reyhana Masters related an incident where she experienced harassment while she was still studying at the Harare Polytechnic.

“One of the lecturers one day when I was working late came up and said…Oh would you like to go for coffee and I said no I’m busy I’m doing my work. What I didn’t realise was that I would have to pay the price for that ‘no’ I failed his subject. What was interesting is that a lot of people couldn’t understand his subject but because I had been working at the Financial Gazette doing it in a practical way, I was able to teach some of my classmates and the fact that they passed and I failed was surprising.

“At such times how then do you go and tell somebody that I have been unfairly judged but that’s the thing about sexual harassment it’s not always that overt its very subtle,” she said.

She added that the booklet was about many people who had gone through such experiences and longed to have a solution to the problem.

“I think this is the labour of all we have worked for and wanted to see,” Masters said.

Muwanigwa who has worked for SARDC shared how she lost her  news source after being harassed.

“In 1996 I was very excited, I was working for SARDC and for the first time I was going to travel to a Sadc consultative conference. I very excited because I was relatively junior.

“I had one high commissioner from another country who was based here who was a very good source of information. We got to South Africa and we went into the meeting and I met his Excellency and I was treating him as a source but the only problem was that he was saying to me ‘sweetheart’ and initially I thought I had not heard him properly but I did not associate him and I with that kind of language but he had decided that now I was his girlfriend because we were outside the country. It was very disturbing and for me and I dealt with the issue but what was painful for me was that I lost a good source.” - Thelma Chikwanha, Features Editor

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