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Zambia Unions Fight Against Workplace Harassment

FILE - A map of Zambia.
FILE - A map of Zambia.

Unions in Zambia are pushing the government to end sexual harassment in the workplace, joining recent social movements around the world to empower victims.

Zambian trade unions are spearheading a campaign to end violence and harassment in the workplace by demanding the government ratify the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions.

Bright Sinkala is a trade union lead researcher at the Zambia Institute for Labour Research and Development, which is part of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, the nation's biggest union federation. He has implored Lusaka to adopt the United Nations' ILO Conventions, which criminalize sexual harassment and other forms of violence in the workplace.

“There is still a substantial stigma surrounding the discussion of the issue and to make matters worse there are a variety of reasons including fear of retaliation," Sinkala said, adding "Most instances of sexual harassment are not reported to Human Resources, and the perpetrators feel comfortable to continue their unwanted behavior."

Thirty-year-old Zambian Ruth Mumba says she was sexually abused by her supervisor. That resulted in her getting pregnant. Like many victims of sexual harassment, she says she did not report the matter for fear of losing her job.

"The manager started following me around asking me for sexual favors since he was the one who made it possible for me to be in that office as he thought," Mumba said. "It was bad. Things got out of hand until my colleagues started telling me that if you want to stay at this company, you have to do what the boss wants. Before I knew it, I was a victim at that company."

ILO gender specialist Mwila Chigaga says the NGO has made ending workplace harassment a priority.

“The international community, [and] the ILO member states have recognized that violence and harassment in the world of work is unacceptable," Chigaga said. "It is a result of discrimination, it affects productivity in the workplace and I think they are demonstrating their commitment to eliminate violence and harassment in the workplace."

Chigaga added "Going into the next century, the ILO has decided to put the spotlight on gender equality by adopting this convention on violence and harassment in the workplace.”

Activists say sexual harassment policies are a must-have for any organization.

Due to global social movements of recent years, such as #MeToo and #YesAllWomen popularized on social media, more women have come forward with allegations of workplace misconduct.

Observers say it takes such heightened awareness and response to counter improper behavior.