Gender Links (Johannesburg)

Zimbabwe - Stop Workplace Sexual Harassment

Men's domination of women has a lengthy history. Women have long been assigned laborious and arduous tasks such as cultivating the fields and child rearing, while men were mostly involved in creating wealth and surplus production, including herding, mining and trading.

In many ways not much has changed. Today, one of the key targets in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development is to achieve a 50% representation of women in all areas of decision-making by 2015. The media is one of the areas where that target has to be achieved.

In Zimbabwe, while women struggle to break the glass ceiling, they also frequently face sexual harassment in the workplace. In some cases, women are forced to trade sexual favours for job security.

This inequality and abuse must stop. It fuels the spread of STIs, especially HIV and AIDS. Many Zimbabweans are involved in risky multiple concurrent partnerships, including married men and women.

In 2011, the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists (ZUJ) held Press Freedom Day celebrations under the theme of equality. It highlighted gender stereotypes and women's relegation to "soft" news beats like entertainment and health reporting. Women rarely hold managerial or decision-making positions in Zimbabwean media.

The growing problem of female journalists reporting that they are sexually harassed by media bosses and news sources, especially "big wig" politicians is of concern.

ZUJ Secretary General Foster Dongozi recently revealed that the union has received numerous reports of female media practitioners who have been harassed, both verbally and physically.

"Of late we have been receiving complaints from our fellow female comrades in the newsrooms that some male media practitioners were demanding sex from them while others viewed them as sex objects by saying degrading sexual connotations," Dongozi said.

Jessie Majome , Deputy Minister for women affairs, gender and community development, said it is time journalists stop using the term "media fraternity" because it is discriminatory towards female journalists.

"Women must also be deliberately included in managerial and decision-making positions in the media as news editors and must be allowed to report on hard news such as politics so that there is equality," said Majome.

The two also encouraged women to become more aggressive in claiming their rights and bridging the gender divide.

Aggression in this case might mean women should fight harder for media jobs rather than abandoning their journalistic dreams for careers in public relations.

According to Zimbabwean media training institution reports, women constitute the highest number of students enrolled in media training yet these numbers are reversed in the country's newsrooms.

The world of media, like the political realm, needs to adopt a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment. This would go a long way to making journalism a safer career choice for Zimbabwe's women. Media houses must also enact policies that mandate women's participation at all levels, including newsroom management.

It is vital, too, that women journalists continue to report sexual abuse and workplace harassment when it occurs. This problem can only adequately be addressed if stakeholders are aware of its pervasiveness.

Nothing is impossible and today's women have nothing to lose but the chains of gender-based imbalance.

The fight for gender equality, however, must include men. Men and women in all countries need to unite for a better world free of sexual discrimination but full of equality and harmony.

Thabani Dube is a freelance journalist based in Zimbabwe. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Violence.

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