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Why Kenyan women agree to office affairs

18 June 2014, 18:38 Shakila Alivitsa

Nairobi - As has been spoken about previously, there is a thin line between trading sexual favours for success at the workplace and on the other hand, sexual harassment.

Obviously, there is a difference, the former is an easy choice but the latter a difficult one as it may involve one losing their job and dignity.

According to the law, you can report any violation of sexual nature to the police and it is a prosecutionary offence meaning if you do report, the person harassing you can be jailed.

But how many report? And why? or why not?

According to police records, there are very few reports of female harassment at the work place, with most being domestic cases.

In a study done by the International  Labor Rights Fund, in Washington USA, 9 out 10 women workers in Kenya have been victims of sexual discrimination in their work places, with most agreeing to it in order to save their jobs. Faced with such hard facts, we can see how this is playing out.

So, why do most agree to it? Power trip, the risk involved in the idea of being caught, naivety, personal gain, stupidity???

Fatuma Chege, founder of the Gender Interest Group (GIG) at Kenyatta University observed that;

“The concept of sexual harassment is not African…..We have no vocabulary for sexual harassment in our local languages. Girls are compromised by their naiveté and trust of authority figures from childhood right through primary and secondary schools. In our country/ Society, the male figure is often the male and cannot be talked at…There are no statements or guidelines to regulate behavior in our public universities and implementing rules and directives is difficult… Sexual harassment guidelines do not exist. It becomes the way of life that follows a woman into the workplace.

Does it boost your career? Maybe… maybe not. Does it sour your name? Definitely, especially if your co-workers find out and word gets out within the industry you work in. It will be construed that you got where you were not from hard work but through secondary means.

Remember the scandal at the Nation Media Group a few years back. Stories of epic proportions.

If you agree to a work place relationship, do the benefits outweigh the consequences?

Mary, age 35, a single mother of three has been in a work related relationship with her boss which she describes as fulfilling. She has earned a few promotions, can get off-days to stay with her children and has made a success of it. Does she regret the relationship with her boss? No she does not.

" At first I did not want it and after speaking with my church minister, I was ready to quit the job, but at the end of the day I realized that I had to feed my children and the church was not going to do it, so I just went with it, but with conditions.

At first an entry level teller at a local bank, Mary has steadily risen through the ranks thanks to making life worthwhile for her boss. She says that were it not for her decision, she would probably be out of a job.

" He has been kind to me and I have not regretted the decision I made", Mary, now a proud home owner says.

Apparently, many women and especially those in lower positions in the workplace are forced into such arrangements because they are helpless and most are used and dumped, like Agatha, a secretary at a tour firm was.

" I was not in any position to argue with him because I needed the job. My husband does not have a stable job and he would have gone mad if I stopped providing, so I agreed to it.

Sadly for her, she ended up getting the raw end of the stick after the boss moved on to a different company and she was let go a few months later due to downsizing at her workplace.

" It was a slap in the face for me. I should have refused in the first place, she says.

The world is not perfect, and so is our society, especially for the woman. If you find yourself in this situation, and you cannot 'manouvre out of' this situation, be careful.

According to Agatha, the worst part of the relationship was going home to her husband every evening knowing the situation at work.

“ It was horrifying but I had no choice. No option.

According to Nina, who walked out of her job after being asked to make a choice, there is a clear option for the woman, walk out or report the case. She says that there is no excuse for sexual harassment in the office because if a woman agrees to it, the consequences are great.

" At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide but the reality is that every woman has a choice to make and if you go the wrong way, it is up to you. If you do the right thing and report then so be it, she says.

She left a good job in a renowned media firm in the country because she was propositioned by her boss but refused to agree.

He eventually forced her out with outrageous demands.

" He increased the work-load and then all of a sudden every mistake was made by me. I eventually resigned, she said.

She was lucky though, as her husband was supportive and even suggested legal redress over the matter, which they eventually let go of after she landed a new job a few months later.

The reality is though that none of the three reported the cases.

According to Jemimah Owae, a coordinator at FIDA, there will only be a reduction in cases of sexual harassment at office places if there are mechanisms to report the cases and she encourages women to report as much as they can.

" Women do not have the mechanisms to report such cases and also lack a fall-back option in-case the cases go sour, she says.

" At FIDA, we encourage women to approach us when they are in such situations, so they can receive both legal and psychological help.

But how many will report? The choice lies with you Kenyan women.

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