Sextortion: Trampling on women’s dignity at the workplace

09Dec 2018
Deogratias Mushi
Guardian On Sunday
Sextortion: Trampling on women’s dignity at the workplace

AT times it is hard for a person to tell a sad story about one’s own life, but to Gema Akilimali such stories need to be told so that women's dignity is maintained in society.

Gema Akilimali.

Gema, a human rights and gender issues expert, recounted her personal story recently, which surprised many who had attended a function to mark 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence.

In this international campaign set to challenge violence against women and girls, Gema recounted how she was approached by a man who wanted to sleep with her so she could get a better position at her workplace.

Gema was approached when she was aged only 24 and by then she was already married. After her boss hunted for her for a couple of days she finally asked Gema to set a day when the two could meet to enable the boss fulfill his sexual lust.

"You can come to my house at Mabibo and I shall give you the right directions to reach there," Gema told her boss, who had not yet suspected the hook that was being used to tame him.

On the material day Gema's boss woke up very early and at around 7:00am he was already at Mabibo, knocking the door of Gema's house.

To the surprise of this lusty man, the person who came to open the gate for him was Gema’s husband, who gently welcomed him in an African hospitality, asking what he would offer him for breakfast.

The man resented, had some chat in the house before he asked to leave, and the person to see him off was Gema, who later recounted how the man insulted him and threatened to deal with her at work.

The following week, Gema was at work and the man continued to chase him for sex, but he couldn't be successful because Gema did not like to offer her body for sex so she could get some favours at her workplace.

The temptation for Gema continued on different occasions and she says that even when she was 48, another man asked her for sex so he would help her to get some benefits at work, but always she said 'no'.

It was after telling this story that the people (including students) who had attended the event at TGNP Mtandao grounds in Mabibo area clapped and congratulated Gema for standing firm in defence of her dignity.

It is a fact that some women in Tanzania today face extortion, which is a form of sexual exploitation that employs non-physical forms of coercion to extort sexual favors from the victim.

Sextortion here refers to the broad category of sexual exploitation in which abuse of power is the means of coercion, as well as to the category of sexual exploitation in which threatened release of sexual images or information is the means of coercion, just like in the experience of Mama Gema.

As used to describe an abuse of power, sextortion is a form of corruption in which people entrusted with power, such as government officials, judges, educators, law enforcement personnel, and employers – seek to extort sexual favors in exchange for something within their authority to grant or withhold.

Examples of such abuses of power may include government officials who request sexual favors to obtain licences or permits; teachers who trade in good grades, and employers who provide sexual favors as a condition to obtain a job.

At different working places in Tanzania today, sextortion refers to a form of blackmail in which sexual information or images are used to extort sexual favors from the victim.

Social media and text messages are often the source of the sexual material and the threatened means of sharing it with others.

At workplaces in Tanzania today, it is sad to note that many women experience sexual corruption that has led them to abandon employment, and such behavior calls for the community to eliminate such harassment.

TGNP Mtandao Executive Director Lilian Liundi stresses that it will be difficult for Tanzania to achieve Millennium Development Goals (SDGs) and an industrial economy if there are no efforts to fight gender-based violence, and especially sexual corruption at the workplace.

According to Lilian, sexual violence in society affects development, undermines women’s dignity, and also reduces the morality of work in various areas.

According to the Tanzania Women Judges Association (TAWJA), one of the challenges facing Tanzanian women when looking for employment is sexual corruption.

This retards their progress and also undermines their basic right to employment.

Most victims of sexual corruption are mothers, relatives, children, girls, or fellow workers at the workplace, leading others to die early after contracting HIV/Aids.

Lilian called on the participants to join other women's rights activists and gender equality groups to strongly oppose such actions because sexual corruption is the violation of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) Act number 11 of 2007.

The Act clearly states that a woman who is asked for sexual corruption in order to be offered employment should report to PCCB or other relevant offices to ensure that the culprit is arrested and arraigned.

Tanzania has adopted a number of agreements aimed at guaranteeing gender equality, women empowerment, and also protecting them from violence and other forms of violence.

They include the National Vision; Women Anti-Violence; the Beijing Declaration and the Action Plan; Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the SADC's Gender Equality Agreement and the Supplementary Prohibition on Abolition of Violence and discrimination against women and children (CRC) and the Five-Year National Development Plan.

Despite the existence of a law on equality between women and men, Lilian says, the equality is yet to be achieved in ensuring that women are always legally entitled to their rights.

Lilian stresses the importance of improving the employment environment and relations between the employer and employees in eradicating gender violence at the workplace.

There is also a need to maximize productivity in sustainable development, promote and protect women's dignity by eliminating sexual harassment, and increase confidence in women, economic development promotion, and enhancement in the expansion of Tanzania's manufacturing and eradicating sexual corruption, to give women decent job opportunities.

Two years ago, Tanzania warned its public officials that using positions of power to extort sexual favours from women would no longer be tolerated after nearly nine in every 10 women in the public sector were estimated to have been sexually harassed.

Guidelines which were issued in 2016 by the independent Ethics Secretariat that oversees ethics in public leadership marked a crackdown on sextortion - when an official exercises power to sexually exploit someone for a service in his or her authority.

The move came after hundreds of women in Tanzania’s public sector complained of becoming increasingly susceptible to sextortion in the male-dominated system.

Two years ago, Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) reported that up to 89 per cent of women in the public sector had experienced some form of sexual harassment while looking for a job, promotion or seeking a service.

Salome Kaganda, who was by then the Ethics Secretariat’s commissioner, said sextortion had become a major problem in the country due to erosion of morals.

“Sex corruption has caused a lot of pain to women who sometimes have no choice but to accept it,” she was quoted as telling the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In 2015, women’s rights groups launched a campaign to raise public awareness about the scale of sexual harassment at the workplace, schools and higher learning institutions, and the move seems to be bearing some fruit.

Two weeks ago, Dr Vincesia Shule of the University of Dar es Salaam tweeted to President John Magufuli telling how female students are pressured by tutors to have sex for good grades in exams.

“You have to be very bold to resist temptations, but it is not easy since it involves a lot of risks such as failing or sitting for supplementary examinations,” a student at the Hill says.

People interviewed recently propose that there is a need to establish guidelines by which women can report sexual abuse to various public offices anonymously through letters, emails, Whatsup, Twitter and Instagram.

The guidelines should also highlight disciplinary measures that could be taken against any official found to abuse his or her power including written warnings, demotions, fines, or the sack.

Lawyer Faudhia Yassin from the Women’s Legal Aid Centre once said that although no law recognizes ‘sextortion’, the action involved two crimes - corruption and sexual abuse - both punishable with jail or fines of up to Sh5million.

She cautioned that the anti-corruption law was too weak to handle cases of sextortion because it was difficult to prove the crime beyond reasonable doubt as it was carried out in secrecy.

“There is a need to amend the law and make it an exception to the general rule of evidence and allow proof not to be beyond reasonable doubt. This will give justice to victims,” she said.