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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Abdel-hameid, Shahira and AbdelRhman, Widad (School of Management Studies)

Abstract This paper presents different forms of violence against women and their negative impact on women's economic, physical and psychological status. The methodology used is based on qualitative analysis using secondary data in addition to collecting primary data through in-depth interviews with working women in the formal and informal sectors. Moreover, a random selection of men was interviewed to examine their perspective on this phenomenon. The data collected from the formal sector was analyzed using thematic categories and the data collected from the informal sector was analyzed using the grotinded theory methodology where data emerging in the field lead to give interpretations on grounded data. The study found out those women iii both sectors experience different forms of violence in the work place. The most common type of

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

violence practiced in the work place is sexual harassment which is perceived by the targeted women as un-welcomed, unaccepted and harmful actions. The types of violence against women vary according to the type of work, demographic characteristics of the sample and the general environment of the work place. It has also been indicated by all the participants in this study that men in senior positions in the workplace such as bosses and managers are the key harassers. In relation to the marketplace the main harassers are clients and suppliers and tax-collectors and policemen. However, generally speaking women lack the awareness of cultural and economic violence. In some situations women recognize this as gender inequality but they do not recognize the negative effects and its link to the phenomenon of economic violence.

The main recommendations of this paper are to high light the need -to conduct advocacy programme to strengthen the awareness of policymakers to create a conducive work environment free of gender-based inequality and violence. The paper also suggests the need to conduct awareness raising campaigns in mass media as well as community-based activities, such as meetings and discussions, as well as highlights the importance of carrying out scientific research on gender-based violence particularly in the informal sector and this is due to the wide prevalence of >

The A/ifad Joumal Vol 26. No 1. June 2009 this phenomenon and the lack of women's capability and knowledge to deal with GBV.

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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Introduction This paper studies the phenomenon of gender-based violence (GBV) in the work place, specifically in the formal and informal sectors. The first objective of this paper is to identify the pervasiveness of GBV and women's knowledge about it. Second, it examines the perceptions of the respondents in relation to gender inequalities and male domination on women in different organizations in the society and how it infnnges women's rights and stands as violent behaviours that enhance women's

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subordination. Moreover, the paper presents! different forms of violence


against women and their negative impact on ^'women's economic, physical and psychological status. Last, it reflects how GBV impacts on organizations and suggests recommendations:'

Methodology The methodology of this study adopts an insider, qualitative approach and non-positivistic stance. The qualitative technique allows one to take a respondent's point of view for granted without questioning the wider context of it. Issues regarding values, behavioural norms, and social stigma can be better understood by direct information from members understudy. In some cases, prior categories v^ill be used carefully, with the

intention of encouraging meanings to emerge. Hence, the study utilized an interpretive approach. Documentation analysis is also used as it is important in elaborating on the issues under investigati)n from a wider perspective. The study utilized a small scope pilot study (part of a larger study)

conducted during the period February 2007 in formal organizations and urban markets in Khartoum State to shed scime more light on the issue of GBV in formal organisations and in urban market places.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The methods used for investigation comprised semi-stmctured interviews that were conducted with 15 participants (10 females and 5 males) working in the formal sector (Universities and NGOs). They represented different functional and hierarchical levels to provide diversified views and perceptions. The interviews took place in the workplace and held on a one-to-one basis to assure confidentiality of the information disclosed. They lasted approximately 30 minutes. A

convenient purposive sample,was applied to choose the respondents from a limited population. The topics for investigation were respondent's concept of violence, common types of harassment practiced in workplace, individual-'s personal experience of any forms of violence in one's organization, respondent's reaction if ever encountered harassment in his/her organization and one's awareness of policy statement in sexual harassment and its impact on organization.

The data from the informal sector have been collected using indepth unstructured interviews from a purposively selected sample of female market traders. A number of six female food-sellers, three handcraft traders and one lady who owned a small stall bookshop and communication (telephone) service constituted the sample for this part of the study. In addition, two male customers, two male traders and a police officer (from the market office what is locally known as (Bast Alamn 8

The Ahfad Journal VoL 26. No i'l. June 2009 Alshamil) were also interviewed to better understand even partly the way the patriarchs in the market and their behaviour impact on GBV issues. All interviews were conducted at the workplace (rnarkets) and lasted for about 1-1 1/2 hours maximum, and were in the Arabic language. Due to the

limitations of this study, the emergent data from the coding process were classified into two major categories: women's awareness and perception of the types of GBV and their perception of sdxual violence. The study has revisited field-notes and data collected previously during 2007, where this data was considered as a spring-board to add more information to fill gaps in the previous data so as to elaborate more on the issue of GBV. Main Findings Violence in the Formal Sector Demographic profile of the respondents The demographic profile of the respondents for this study fall in the age range 22-45, most of them have completed^ their university education. Eight of the participants were married and ipiost of the married women have children from 1 -4. The majority of the participants came from middle-class families. All of them were Muslim women. " '

Sexual Harassment n the Workplace

Violence in the workplace From the analysis of the interviews, we find that the stance of the interviewees in their conceptualization of violence in the workplace can be summarized as any unaccepted/ un-welcomed and harmful behaviour whether it is verbal or physical, or emotional harassment (similar to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 1993). According to the majority of the respondents verbal violence is perceived as any insulting, humiliating or belittling remarks from the boss or a colleague and/or when it interferes with the victim's job perfomiance, others added sexually discriminatory remarks made by a colleague in the workplace which is perceived as belittling. The interviewees commonly believe that physical harassment includes any sexual advances or sexually explicit offensive statements. Emotional or psychological harassment as explained by the targeted respondents encompass demands for sexual favors accompanied by implicit or explicit threats concerning one's job performance, evaluation, and promotion, as one respondent stated: 'Sexual harassment extends to denying a. qualified employee an opportunity or benefit that was granted to another employee because he/she submitted to the employer's sexual advances, humiliation and bullying'.


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Common types of harassment practiced in the workplace The majority of the interviewees indicated that the common types of harassment practiced in the workplace wljether from their own personal experiences or from incidents occurred to their co-workers vary from verbal and written to physical and psychological. Verbal harassment takes the form of yelling and intimidation by managers/supervisors that instil a feeling of discomfort, insecurity and '' coercion on the recipients. Correspondences such as sending sexually explicit/implicit messages/ jokes through mobile text messages (SMS) or e-mail, physical harassment that commonly occur is body touchingj whether it is accidentally or intentionally, unwanted hugging in greetings, as well as emotional harassment manifested in unfair performance evaluation and blackmailing to be fired from the job. In addition all the interviewees share the same opinion that harassment constitutes a problem in the workplace. The reasons that were frequently repeated by the respondents can be cited as it leads to 'unhealthy and uncomfortable working environment', as some manifested: 'it puts stress on employees and is likely to create grievances between coworkers. ' 'it affects the victim 's reputation. '


Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

'it makes me feel insecure and leads to great mistrust among colleagues '. Personal experience of any form(s) of violence and/or sexual harassment in your organization Very few (5 interviewees) expressed that they have been subjected to sexual harassment, ranging from flirting, body touching, being asked to reveal parts of their bodies or persistently being asked by the boss or direct manager to have a personal relationship. Two of the respondents have reported the incident to the general manager who gave the harasser a warning and the other three kept silent and have dealt with the matter themselves. This is not unusual reaction, it is very common in many situations that sexual harassment is accompanied by a 'culture of silent' due to the sensitivity of the issue and the social stigma that implies it is the victim's provocative or encouraging behaviour that invited/led the harasser to react in that way. It is worth mentioning that none of the male respondents have admitted any incident of sexual harassment. This could be attributed to men's attitude of not acknowledging being in a weaker position. One needs to highlight that one of the complexities in understanding sexual harassment is that it involves a range of behavior, and is often


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difficult for the recipients to describe to themselves, and to others, exactly what they are experiencing. Hence, very few admitted harassment. Reactions of respondents if they have ever been sexually harassed in their organizations From amongst those respondents who admitted they have not experienced any sexual harassment during the course of their work, a large number of respondents said that they would report the incident to the immediate boss and/or human resource manager if they have ever been sexually harassed, however quoting one ofthe respondents: 7 would report the issue to the top management but I would be very sceptical because people who harass ate usually within the top management '. ) Others said they would resign and the rninority of the respondents

mentioned that they would keep silent about it and may resign if they find a better job opportunity. Awareness of policy statements on sexual harassment The largest number ofthe respondents indicated that they d^c not aware of any policy statement addressing sexual harassment or any otb;r fonn of


Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

harassment. This could mean that either the respondents did not encounter any sexual harassment or they have kept silent about the incident as they find it too embarrassing. With regard to protection against sexual harassment, violence and discrimination, a study conducted by Badri (2004) in public and'private universities indicated that there is no specific mechanism for gender discrimination emphasized, yet there is a system of complaints and any person can file a complaint. The offices in charge indicated that there was no compliant filed on the basis of gender discrimination. Others added that gender discrimination does not exist. Others mentioned that female guards protect females against violence/harassment. While others considered that university regulations and penalty systems safe guard against such acts as well as the state penal system. However, no special measures or systems to address such issues were indicated. Effects of sexual harassment on organizations From the results of the interviews, the majority of the respondents agreed that sexual harassment would definitely have its implications on the organization. This would be decrease productivity and increase

absenteeism, produce less job satisfaction, loss of valuable staff from resignations to avoid harassment and loss of respect and trust in managers 14

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who mdulge in or turn a blind eye to sexual harassment (within the formal sector). Violence in the Informal Sector (Market Place) Demographic profile of the respondents The demographic profile of the participants for this study revealed that the majority of the women traders were in the a^e range 25-55, most of them were not educated or with very modest educational status, 9 were married (6 of them are heads of their families, either divorced or widowed) and all of them are within large families for wfcch they are main or only supporters. Thus, they were in low economic status and low economic motives in entering market activities were major ones. Some of them were from the western tribes of Sudan who migrated to Khartoum at times of drought and/or war. All of them were Muslini women.

The male respondents refiected wide variation m their demographic features; the traders were middle-aged men^ they can only read and write, one from western Nuba tribe, the other from northern Sudan, bom and lived in Khartoum, they own small types of business which they manage themselves with 1-2 workers assisting thenii


Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The customers were also middle-aged, educated, both married, one lives' with his own family while the other members of the family are at his home village. One is an accountant at a small company in the market, the other works in a car dealer agency. The police officer was relatively young, educated to the primary level, married, and has been in the market for six years. The data analysis focused on categories emerging from the coding process, these are: Women's awaireness and perception of types of GBV It was noticed that the first impression of these women about the word "violence" was a connotation of physical violence which implied physical power such as beating and hitting. Thus, they in the start did not seem clear about many types of violence and de-linked violence as physical violence as battering and bullying in the market, but they mentioned that it is a common practice at home. However, they have expressed awareness of the fact that they are physically burdened by the multiple roles they assume, the drudgery of housework and market activity. They stated that their day starts at sunrise and extends much beyond sunset, the time most of them leave to the market. One participant stated that


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"... we are actually enslaved, and yet we get what is hardly enough to feed the many open mouths...leave it to God. "" Some think it is too much work in hard conditions and the influence and

harm could be in the simplest case as swollen legs from- long hours of

sitting in the market, back-ache, and lack ofpleisure, rest, social pleasure and interactions.

The above mentioned statements and otheirs indicate that almost all

women are aware of the extent of agony^ drudgery and deprivation pertinent to their market involvement. However, they were not clear in

their perception of all these state of conditions as violence and violations to their right to work in decent, secured facililjated conditions.

Cultural and attitudinal violence was better envisaged by most participants ! l who stated that they are well aware of the overall socio-cultural differentiation of men and the positive preferences they enjoy. Though some in themselves think that it is a natural and normal thing for men to be superiors and hold many entitlements, as one lady said: "it is even the God's rule that men are "Quamoon Ala Alnisa", quoted a

Quranic Verse".


Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

They face the implications of this when they enter different trading transactions and feel not equipped with enough knowledge and information on the needed assets to be near the status of their male counterparts. All these cultural attitudinal aspects exemplify the low level of trading scale which women can usually afford to get involved into. Due to the gender disparities and female subordination at all levels, women have less access to resources and are less endowed with the needed resources to start businesses beyond the micro-small and self-employed scale. Due to gender disparities and inequality, women lack resources in many forms such as education, credit, assets such as land-ownership. From their statements these women perceive themselves as poor, burdened and loaded with difficulties but the way they attributed that to male dominance and gender inequality was very blurred. The most definite participant about this issue was the one who owns the bookshop and another who owns a small cafeteria. Both were educated and they were better self-expressive. They gave long narratives attributing the adverse situation of women in general and the market in particular to the cultural value system within communities. Perception of sexual violence Sexual violence to the majority of the participants was apparent phenomenon, each stressed that they have experienced at one stage of 18 ^ y,,^..

The Ahfad Journal Vol. 26. No 1. June 2009 their lives, one middle-aged lady who has been in the market for 7 years now said: "sexual harassment is a common thing thai' we face almost everyday especially from some noisy customers. The general belief is that market women are easy women and many people relate this to tea-sellers...they were the major problem to many other wonien because they allow men to sit and talk and do many wrong things...even when I wanted to start work in the market my elder brother did not allow me and said market women are bad women ". il

These women said that they are sexually harassed in ways such as unwelcomed sexual gestures or behaviour such as body movement, physical contact and advances or a demand foi| sexual favours. Also they complained of dirty language and jokes inposed on them while doing their work. Most of these women find it arihoying and humiliating to face such un-welcomed situations. Some stated that they have even been intimidated by some of those with power such as suppliers and official bodies. It was used as a threat to women in leases of failure to comply with formal obligations or trade payments. [

Generally speaking, many did not reveal the issue as their personal experience; rather they use the "othering" concept of the situation of GBV.


Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

This goes in line with what is stated in the literature that sexual violence and harassment is mostly not reported or revealed. Many victims shoulder their responsibility to cope with the harmful consequences. In general, many factors- basically fear from social gossip and stigmas are behind that. The male respondents did not seem to perceive the issue more than as a result of personal behaviour and tended to adopt the blaming of the victim perspective, accusing women of misbehaviour and wrong self

representation. On the other hand the police officer denied that no violence is practiced by people from the official bodies nor did he witness any reports of violence (sexual) during his work in the market. This could be interpreted as another "silent and denial" situation thus it is hard to generalize at this level. Conclusion From the findings of the research, it was highlighted that sexual harassment in the workplace as indicated by the largest number of respondents lead to decreased work performance, low self-esteem. Some mentioned public embarrassment, humiliation and gossip. For instance, the harassed becomes the accused or blamed whether for her dress,

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lifestyle, and private life and will often becon-ie under scrutiny. This will unfairly affect the reputation of the harassed person. It may result in loss of job, as quite a number of respondents decid'ed to quit their jobs. Others indicated loss of trust in the types of people tliat occupy similar positions as the harasser and some emphasized extrerike stress in the job and in

relationships with others. For those who hav'e a slim chance to change occupation (market women) they mostly endure silently.

In many aspects this resembles results from pifevious studies, sonie of the psychological and health effects that can occur in someone who has been sexually harassed are depression, anxiety and/or panic attacks,

sleeplessness and/or nightmares, shame and guilt, difficulty concentrating, headaches, fatigue or loss of motivation, feeliiig betrayed and/or violated, feeling angry or violent towards the perpetratipr, feeling powerless or out of control, increased blood pressure, loss of confidence and self esteem, withdrawal and isolation, overall loss of trustliin people, traumatic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts or attempts to commit suicide (UNFPA, 2005). Recommendations

Gender -based violence is one of the issues that have not received great attention from policymakers. Hence, it is highly needed to


Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

conduct advocacy programmes to strengthen the awareness of policymakers to create a favourable work environment free of gender-based inequality and violence. Violence against women is considered a private matter and there is no collective action by women to combat this problem. Hence, there should be active awareness campaigns in mass media as well as awareness-raising discussions. There is a need to review organizations' policies to ensure that they are gender-sensitive and address the issue of GBV in the workplace. Formation of taskforce committees within organizations to routinely monitors GBV. Creation of specialized bodies within organizations to handle and take actions on all cases of GBV. This should be followed by professional counseling and healing services. It is imperative that the government should promote justice and fairness that seeks to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women through ratifying CED AW. activities, community-based meetings and


The Ahfad Journal Vol. 26. No 1. June 2009 References Alnagar, et al. (1985). "Management of Small Scale Women Enterprises". A Paper Presented at a Workshop Sudan, Academy for Sciences, Khartoum. |

Badri, B. (2004). 'Gender Mainstreaming in Sudanese Universities'. Research paper commissioned by the World Bank. Bahsin, K. (2002). "Understanding Gender". Salma Centre for Gender Studies, Khartoum, Sudan. i:

Einarsen, S. et al. (1993). Sexual Harassment: .the BnHv and the Blond at the Norwegian Workplace. Sigma Forlag, Nonvay. Elson, D. (1995). "Gender Awareness in Modem Structural Adjustment. World Development". Vol 23, No 11, ppl85-168.

Pitamber, S.(1999). "Women in the Informal Sector in Khartoum State: Between Poverty , Small Scale projects and iWomen Empowerment". A ' Phd thesis . Bremen University, Berlin, Germany.


Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

UN (1979). Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, resolution 34/180 of 18 December 1979. UNFPA (2005). Gender Based Violence in Sierra Leone. Consultative Meeting: Bucharist, Romania, 17-20 October 2005.


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