MUTARE– Government through the Gender Commission of Zimbabwe is stepping up efforts to protect women against sexual harassment through a dedicated act of Parliament to curb the scourge in workplaces.
The Gender Commission says it is lobbying for legislative reforms, including the setting of a Sexual Harassment Act, as part of efforts to tackle existing underlying systemic barriers which continue to stifle gender equality.
The Commission is also working on a National Sexual Harassment Strategy in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to address sexual violence at work place
Commissioner Naome Chimbetete, speaking on the sidelines of a Provincial Gender Forum in Manicaland recently, said the act would address ambiguity of the complex issues of sexual harassment.
She said the loose definition associated with sexual harassment, has contributed to continuance of pervasive actions against women in workplaces, an anomaly that can be addressed by a standalone law.
Chimbetete said sexual harassment can be any unwelcome act that has a sexual connotation, including physical or even offensive messages sent through social media, email or other forms of media.
“It is important to categorize and define sexual harassment explicitly. It ranges from issues around employment even in a situation where you are not employed because of a situation where there are sexual favors are being asked.
“In some of the cases it could actually mean engaging in suggestive physical control and expressions that are not welcome. It is critical that we come up with a definition that actually looks at all these issues including the images that re sent on social media, email that are of a sexual nature and not welcome.
“The act will define all categories of sexual harassment, it will also raise awareness on those unwelcome situation so that workers have am right to say no and the law can help us protect ourselves,” said Chimbetete.
The Gender Commission says it has been dealing with several cases of violence and harassment in the workplace, including sexual harassment at tertiary institutions, government ministries, departments and agencies and also the private sector.
Chairperson, Commissioner Margret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, in a speech read on her behalf by Commissioner Dr Nyepudzai Nyangulu, said available legal instruments emphasize that violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of gender equality, development and peace.
She said to further strengthen existing provisions which protect women against sexual violations and various forms of gender based violence, there was need for a legislative regime which tackles directly.
“The Commission is implementing initiatives aimed at law reform through lobbying for the adoption of a Gender Equality Act which shall provide a clear framework for adherence to gender equality provisions in the Constitution.
“Further we are lobbying for the enactment of a Sexual Harassment Act which will explicitly define sexual harassment and offer more deterrent penalties than it is in the current Labour Act.
“The Commission is finalizing the development of a draft National Sexual Harassment Strategy in partnership with ILO to address sexual violence at work place,” said Mukahanana-Sangarwe.
ZGC is one of the five Independent Commissions established in terms of Sections 232 (c) and 245 of the Constitution and operationalized through the Gender Commission Act [Chapter 10:31], with a responsibility to facilitate promotion of gender equality and equity, as well as ensuring adhering to gender equality provisions of the Constitution.