There is a need for more research on sexual harassment in the workplace and corporate bullying as these issues are increasingly creeping into the country’s work spaces, thus requiring the development of policies to protect employees.

This observation was made by Ms Portia Dlamini, who was guest speaker at a Sexual Harassment and Corporate Bullying Symposium hosted by SWABCHA on Thursday (May 23) at the Royal Swazi Spa Convention Centre.

She noted that sexual harassment and corporate bullying are old but new phenomena; old in that these atrocities have been silently happening over time and new in that the first ever study on sexual harassment in the country was conducted in 2017 and the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence (SODV) legislation, which addresses these issues, was enacted in 2018.

The Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (ESEPARC) was commissioned by SWABCHA – supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Eswatini – to conduct a study on sexual harassment in the workplace, with a focus on the private sector and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

“Sexual harassment is a human rights issue and it violates SDG 8 which stipulates the need to provide decent work spaces for all, irrespective of context. The study by ESEPARC found that, for instance, a sexual favour granted once does not mean it will always be welcome, hence there is a need to understand the line not to cross,” she noted.

Dlamini said a perpetrator can be anyone; a client, co-worker, parent or legal guardian, a teacher or professor, student, friend, or a stranger, and perpetrators do not necessarily have to be of the opposite sex.

Dlamini further noted that often, bullying is known to be an issue found in schools yet studies have revealed that there is a lot of bullying in the workplace. She said one study defines bullying as a social interaction where one is attacked by another at least once every week thus causing the victim psychosocial, psychosomatic and social misery.

“Another scholar notes that it involves repeated incidents or patterns of behaviour intended to intimidate, degrade, offend, or humiliate. Different authors agree that for a behaviour to be defined as bullying it must have three characteristics; it is repetitive, not once-off, and there is a power imbalance between the perpetrator and victim,” she said.

Dlamini listed some forms of corporate bullying as: pressure bullying or unwilling bullying where work induced stress may cause unintentional yelling at others; the employer abusing staff because of job scarcity or the laws are too weak to protect employees; institutional bullying entrenched as corporate culture; client bullying where customers bully employees in an establishment; serial bullying where all bullying is orchestrated by one person; gang bullying which involves collaborative bullying.

“It is our duty as leaders in organisations to create a safe workplace where employees are motivated to wake up and go to work. People do not quit companies, they quit toxic work environments. I challenge scholars to undertake further research on sexual harassment and corporate bullying so that businesses and organisations respond to what applies in our context. I also encourage companies to develop policies that address these issues.”

Ms Jane Mkhonza-Simelane, Gender and Family Issues Director in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, emphasised that all emaSwati have a duty to make Eswatini a safe place for all people.

“Yindzaba yetfu sonkhe. We therefore appeal for the commitment of all in bringing under control these cases. To those complaining about the SODV Act, she wondered; uhlatjwa yini ugcoke sicatfulo? (Why do you have a problem with the legislation if you’re a law abiding citizen?)”

ESEPARC Research Economist Mangaliso Mohammed explained to attendees that the prevalence and impact of workplace sexual harassment is an issue of national and international importance. He noted that while some people consider it harmless banter, others see it as an egregious violation of their personal bodies and dignity.

He explained that the main objectives of the study were to determine the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of both the employees and employers; establish benchmark indicators to inform programming interventions; and identify the capacities of staff and management to support employees whose rights have been violated.

Presenting the findings of the study, Mohammed reported that it was found that one in five employees have experienced sexual harassment, and 80% of such cases go unreported in the private sector while 95% are unreported in the NGO sector.

“Various behaviours constitute sexual harassment in different circumstances, but the recipient is the barometer in defining/classifying it. Employees tend to be clear on sexual advances and verbal requests, and sex without consent, but cannot connect how bullying, financial harassment, physical abuse, and intimidating words can be fuelled by sexual harassment which leads to the creation of a hostile work environment,” he noted.

“Everyone is affected by sexual harassment! It is a public-health problem as exposure or increased risk at the workplace can increase chances of HIV infection.”

Some recommendations from the study are:

  • Focus should be on education rather creating stringent laws – educating employers and employees to alter behaviours and responses towards sexual harassment.
  • Establish an anonymous toll-free line for reporting sexual harassment cases across the country.
  • Establish an independent national body/council (such as SWABCHA, PSHACC, and CANGO) to manage sexual harassment cases/reports.