The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) has called for the review of laws that prohibit sexual harassment at workplaces, saying that the menace has persisted because perpetrators escape justice over the years.
Project Officer and Special Assistant to the Chairman of ICPC, Mrs Bunmi Olugasa, made the call in Abuja when HEIR Women Hub, women and girls-based Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) with support from Ford Foundation, paid an advocacy visit on the commission, as part of its strategies to nip the increasing long-existing crime in the bud.
Olugasa noted that the ICPC act prohibits the use of office for sexual aggrandisement, explaining that this remains an offence punishable before the law and abuse not only of the victim but of the office which the person manages.
“There are several gaps in the law, yes societies are dynamic but our society makes it easy for perpetrators to escape justice. The clamour should be on the review of the laws but unfortunately we have learnt over time that when you improve the law, criminals also look for ways to beat the law and thereby beat justice.
“The ICPC act clearly stated that anybody who uses his office to confer any kind of corrupt advantage for himself for benefit is guilty of an offence.
“What they consider as gratification in this instance is sexual favour, yes it is a corruption, in as far as there is an abuse of office. When using the position of office to intimidate somebody, making the environment unconducive such that the person is forced to submit to your request is an abuse of power and the law states clearly that it is an offence.”
She expressed worry that many Nigerians are ignorant of some crimes and so take it as a norm, adding that sexual harassment offence has been watered down because society rather sees it as a way of appraisal when in actuality can impede productivity.
“Instances where a boss continually hits the bottom of a female staff, most do not see this as harassment, and these things we realise are very uncomfortable and sometimes impede on one’s productivity and this needs to be addressed,” she said.
Similarly, Assistant Director, Public Enlightenment and Mass Mobilization Department, National Orientation Agency, Mrs Esther Akor, said sexual harassment should be addressed by the Human Resource department in organisations.
“Many ladies have lost their jobs in private organisations from speaking out while others face other challenges in the public sector.
“Therefore, enforcers should be put in place to seek redress in case of any of these.
She pointed out that speaking out is the major thing for victims to do as it is in speaking out that they can get help, adding that agencies like the labour union have a part to play as stakeholders in curbing the menace.
The Executive Director of HEIR Women Hub Añuli Aniebo Ola-Olaniyi, while explaining the aim of the advocacy visit, said the outcome of sexual harrassment at workplaces is traumatic event, a corrupt practice and wickedness.
She regretted that there are no existing data on workplace sexual harrassment unlike recent data on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) which is also widely published.
“We just feel we need our own data in Nigeria as most times we use the global data from UN but we seek to know how it affects us here in our climate, Nigeria to enable the proffering long lasting solutions with the aim of totally eradicating this from our society.
“Having had conversation with women who are thinking that it is normalised I am like no this should not be. Out of a thousand survey respondent and 60 face to face, what we find more challenging is to recount their stories as most of them lost their job in the process. It became very important to take this data and not just leave them at that”, she said.