As a Cameroonian woman, not only I witnessed harassment of other women more than once, but also I endured this. And to be honest, experiencing violence publicly or privately is a way of life for most women in Cameroon. For instance, a former male supervisor publicly stated derogatory terms about me in front of my colleagues. Some male colleagues, seeing that the former supervisor had no respect for me, didn't hesitate to treat me the same even though with a lesser intensity.
My male supervisor's harassment intensified after I reached out the management of the situation. I felt alone, miserable and stressed out. While I would never want to relive this horrific experience, the latter made me stronger mentally and emotionally. I benefited from the unconditional love and support from my family members. Since jobs are hard to come by in my country, they prayed for me and encouraged me to hold on until I find a better job opportunity.
Why some men feel free to harass women in Cameroon publicly or privately? While I cannot make any generalizations, I will use my experience to suggest some answers. As a young single female professional, I didn't meet the social expectations of having a child running after me or being claimed by a man through a ring on my finger. I was neither someone's mother or someone's wife. Therefore, no number of degrees would give me the respect I deserve as a woman, a female colleague or merely a human being. As a young, educated woman who has traveled outside the national borders, I stood as a threat for my male colleagues who didn't seem to know what to do with me socially. When I was in the room, their conversations about women turned out to be so insulting that I requested my then-supervisor to ask them to keep the sexist discussions about women for after-work hours. Their behavior was even more disturbing to me because most of them were married. How can they insult other women, when they have a mother and a wife they love? My former male supervisor didn't see any issues with having sexist conversations about women at our workplace. Instead, he advised me to loosen up and be more understanding. In fact, he set the tone by casually leading these types of conversations.
I would like to point out that another older lady was working in that workplace. She silently watched the supervisor and all other male colleagues harass me and subtly participating in the process. Unlike me, she was an older married woman with children. It was my understanding that these characteristics earned her some respect from the abusive supervisor and male colleagues. Not having support from another woman is another reason why some men can keep harassing women publicly and privately. Whether they are our relatives or our colleagues, I wish more women would speak up for other women. In my case, I quickly knew that I would be better off staying far away from that female colleague as well.
The toxic work environment in which I dwelled into for about a year affected my mental and physical health. Whenever I went to the doctors for a check-up, they could not find anything wrong with me. I was depressed and stressed for months. The support of my family played an important role in keeping me sane every day, every week. I attended Church twice a week to refill my spiritual energy.
I wish that taximen, my colleagues, and strangers in Cameroon have never harassed other women and me. These men felt empowered to attack my women sisters and me because as a society, we let them get away with their despicable behavior. I wish that the media and the police will be used to stop the harassment of Cameroonian girls and women. I want that harassment on Cameroonian girls and women will be seen as an anomaly, not the norm. I hope that more women would stand for others whenever they are harassed privately or publicly to stop this vicious cycle of violence against women.
Neither I or any other woman should be abused at their workplace or anywhere else. I decided to share my horror story to encourage other women sisters who may be enduring a similar situation in Cameroon or around the world. I also want to raise awareness about this social issue which affects millions of women regardless of the backgrounds. For better or worse, being harassed by my former male supervisor and colleagues was an eye-opener to the working conditions of my fellow women sisters in Cameroon and around the world. This experience has strengthened my decision to be an advocate for girls and women because clearly, we still have a long way to go. I hope that one day, men would not be harassing girls and women in my country because they can. My former male supervisor and colleagues wanted to break me, but they failed. I left that toxic work environment as a better and stronger young professional woman!