In October of 2015 and August 2016, two young Sudanese females couldn't maintain a tight press on the boiling pot lid which they had tolerated for years, consequently resulting in their departure.
Fatima (a pseudonym), 30, was an employee who was enjoying her work at a private company before her 60-year-old boss approached her in hopes of soliciting sexual favours. When she refused, he did his best to turn her life upside down. He demoted her, deprived her of promotion and training opportunities, etc... Having all these pilings atop her back, she found that she had neither the strength nor tolerance to bear this, and left her job.
Leila (also a pseudonym), 22, was a student at one of Khartoum’s famous universities. Her 50+-year-old professor one day, profiting from having her alone in his office, suddenly groped her by the bosom. Afraid, she immediately fled his office. She kept silence out of fear of worsening the situation or being stereotyped. The more she rejected the more he insisted. After countless failed efforts, he threatened to fail her if she wasn't to submit to his sexual allusions and beyond.
Leila temporarily quit after two failed attempts to complain to the faculty officials. A year later, she went back to the university and obtained her degree after his departure to another country. Despite all their setbacks, they remained optimistic.
Why had they both opted to quit and didn't have the affair exposed? That was my question.
"Who will judge us against our adversaries in that jungle? We have left out of fear of scandal, victimization and community profiling. In spite of denial, career loss, and permanently/temporarily putting our education/career on halt, we are now breaking the silence. Remember Halima, it is not necessarily that courage wins quickly enough, but better late than never," that was their answer in its entirety.
The story of these two young ladies reflects the situation of the workplace and educational institutes in most developing countries where a small group of people with an almost absolute measure of power control the future of a large number of workers (males and females) with no form of counter-power or an all-abiding law; they will definitely misuse this power and control one's future negatively. I believe that sexual harassment will not occur when we are having more women in managerial positions or equal powers. Males are also exposed to sexual harassment, but in this article, I will tackle the case of female harassment.
Archaic views on modesty, as well as legal, cultural and economic conditions, bring about barriers that discourage women from complaining about harassment. Sudan is no exception. However, a new law was implemented in 2015 for the first time to curb this plague.
Article 151 was introduced to the Criminal Law of the Public Order Law of 1991 which is solely implemented in Khartoum state, read as follows:
(1) There shall be deemed to commit the offense of gross indecency, whoever commits any act contrary to another person’s modesty, or does any sexual act with another person not amounting to adultery, or sodomy, and he shall be punished, with whipping not exceeding forty lashes and he may also be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or with a fine.
(2) Where the offence of gross indecency is committed in a public place or without the consent of the victim the offender shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or with a fine.
This article was implemented shortly post the aforementioned incidents, but they didn't make use of it. Why? For two reasons:
First, the term sexual harassment doesn't exist in article 151 as al-taharush al-jinsi (the Arabic term for sexual harassment) instead it was referred to as gross indecency (Af'aal fahisha, Arabic phrase) which an ambiguous term, whose interpretation was left to the judges or executives at the Public Order Law's courts.
Moreover, the vague definition of the meaning of sexual harassment in Sudanese law makes it an open arena for personal interpretation or judgment. For instance, Collins English Dictionary and Wikipedia define Gross indecency as a “… legal term that was originally used to criminalize sexual activity between men short of sodomy, which required penetration" a meaning that is so far removed from physical, verbal, online harassment and gender harassment. As the case, who guarantees that if Fatima and Leila went complaining, they wouldn't have been victimized and accused of seducing their predators with their ‘’indecent outfits’’, their way of talking or walking, etc…?
The African Centre for Peace and Justice Studies shed more light on the ambiguity of article 151 raised in one of its articles published two years ago, "The new provision on sexual harassment within the existing law on “gross indecency” introduced ambiguity about who the victims and the perpetrators are in sexual harassment cases. It refers to acts, speech or behaviour that causes seduction or temptation, and is likely to serve as a further deterrent to women reporting sexual offences, owing to a risk they could be accused of “gross indecency”."
Second, and most importantly, taking women to the Public Order Law has become a flourishing business for a small group who are in charge of carrying out the law. 3ayin is an independent network, and in one of its investigative videotaped reports revealed this "growing business". According to it, 20 Public Order courts were initiated in in Khartoum for this purpose, with their "the monthly recurring revenue of 20 courts is estimated at LS 135b (equivalent to $3.375000), distributed as follows: 15% goes to the public order judges, 5% to the public order police, 2.5% goes to the employees and workers of this law. Based on 3ayin's report, this situation makes judges top the highest paid officials in the country, including the president himself. As the saying goes when the reason is known, there will be no more wonder.
Regrettably, the missing statistics of this problem in Sudan have and will always undermine a country’s ability to make good policy, as well as my ability to write a balanced report on this issue. I had no choice but to rely on personal initiatives.
In such an oppressive intimidating epoch for Sudanese women where tackling sexual abuse till recently had topped a list of taboos, a young lady had taken a giant step by conducting an interesting randomly sampled research on 374 students of the University of Khartoum, based on Beth A. Livingston’s of University of Cornell A Universal Study on the Effect of Sexual Harassment on Women, 2016. It is worth mentioning the number of students in this university exceeds 25000 students. As an ex-victim of sexual harassment, Rayyan Ismaiel's research findings had uncovered
Her research findings are as follow: 91.2% had been exposed to sexual harassment. 25.5% are continuously sexual abused. The most common types of ordeal include dirty looks 70%, unwelcome advancement 59.9%, words and whispers of sexual value, 42%, sexual facial expressions, 36.6%, an explicit call for sexual intercourse 10%.
According to her findings, the most common places where female students are exposed to sexual harassment are: the streets 78.2%, in transportation 23.2%, over social media, physical engagement 2%
- 78.5% of the students admitted that harassment has negatively affected their moods.
- 55% of female students admitted they were scared to go out of home for daily routine.
- 55% agreed that their exposure to sexual harassment reduces their ability to work and carry out their daily activities.
- 59.2% said that sexual harassment has affected their ability to concentrate.
- 86.1% (of 59.2%) of females students feel fear and insecurity in their surroundings because of sexual harassment
- 39.1% of the students said they blame themselves when they are sexually harassed
- 36% of students feel ashamed of their femininity and their bodies because of sexual harassment
- 25% lose confidence in themselves due to sexual harassment
- Sexual harassment creates a feeling that 18.2% of female students betray partner
- 40% of the students had to change their appointments and return home because of sexual harassment
- 15% had to refrain from or avoid social events and gatherings; half said that this affected their relations and their social life.
- 46% had to change their usual routes so as to avoid harassers, 71% said it cost them more time or money or both.
- 45.3% admitted having changed their outfits to avoid sexual harassment.
- 10% of the students refused a good job, study or training due to the fear of being sexually harassed.
- Respondents' responses to sexual harassment: 78% silence and disregard, 14% threat and threat views, 8% verbal harassment, and 2% physical engagement.
Regionally, more than 37% of African women face sexual harassment throughout their entire life. In a study conducted by the UN called “The World’s Women 2015, Trends and Statistics” published in April 2016, the study concluded that Africa possesses the highest rate of sexual harassment statistics worldwide. The high rates are mostly attributed to mostly unstable regions in Africa.
In an article dating to 3rd of Oct, 2017 entitled “Egypt: 82% of women are harassed on public transport”, Egypt ranked the highest in sexual harassment against women, topping Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria, the report noted, quoting a study by the Thomson Reuter’s Foundation.
Another article from the Middle East entitled “Female pilgrims speak about sexual harassment at the hajj” speaks about the experiences endured by female hajj performers during the pilgrimage. Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalist residing in America, had shared her story of being harassed during the sacred hajj ceremony. This came after a viral Facebook post by a Pakistani woman called Sabica Khan detailing how her experience of being sexually harassed during hajj left her feeling violated and depressed. Mona Eltahawy had encouraged more Muslim women to voice their harassment using the hashtag #MosqueMeToo.
In Rwanda, a baseline study conducted by the UN conducted in Kigali established that harassment has made 42% of women wary of heading to public institutions during the day, and 55% during the night. Sexual and physical violence has made these women feel uneasy while commuting to and from work throughout the entire day.
The scary figures of sexual pressure show that women, who are the subject of this assignment, are not safe at the workplace or educational institutes and immediate action needs to be taken. Women have a lot to worry about in case of accepting or rejecting, as far as the predators go unpunished. Sexual harassment is an international phenomenon that all communities, whether developed or developing are suffering from. We need to understand that sexual harassment is the result of power abuse, whether the predators are in developed or undeveloped countries.
How to attain a work environment free of sexual exploitation?
A unanimous decision and innovative solutions are needed to counter this plague.
The mentioned above data gives the feeling that the workplace is a battlefield between males and females; this is not the case. The economist Prof. Richard Wolff, a co-founder of Democracy at Work, tackled in depth this point; he stated in one of his updates on economics on You Tube, published on January 9, this year, that the first step in addressing this problem is that restructuring the workplace in a way to not to leave a certain minority with absolute power atop an establishment without abiding by a certain law. "It is the power imbalance that exists in most modern workplaces where top decision-makers hold our fate in jeopardy", he said.
Moreover, companies or establishments should revise the attitude of their employees and seek their well-being by increasing their doses of awareness on the sexual unwanted advance, securing the work environment with more manuals or handbook, firm laws and training.
Laws alone are insufficient measures to eliminate this phenomenon for good. Laws and continuous campaign of awareness and empowerment are effective tools. The recent solid foundation stone was laid down in October last year when the #MeToo movement was initiated and women' shared their experiences on sexual abuse, thus a global discussion was generated on the subject.
The recent experience of #MeToo has reinforced the importance of social media in linking and networking the people (especially women) to each other, as when the World Pulse Media platform launched 15 years ago the initiative "Nobody speaks for me. I speak for myself".
Briefly, we need a secure environment, and we need to work towards changing attitudes men and women look and connect with each other for a long run. If we could do that at World Pulse and get connected from 190 countries and carry the mission of transforming our communities in great harmony, in spite of our cultural and geographical social barriers.