What you need to know:
- Most respondents to a study on sexual harassment in the media in Kenya stated that they have been harassed by a colleague at work.
- The Kenya Employment Act 2007 directs employers with “20 or more employees” to develop sexual harassment policies in consultation with their staff.
- MCK acts on behalf of journalists facing physical threats by providing various resources, including legal aid.
I carry a small bag of pebbles and keep them close by so that when I sense that a colleague is about to sexually harass me, I let the bag loose on the floor and draw attention to my desk.” This is a defence strategy used by Joyce Kimani, the secretary-general of Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA), to keep herself somewhat safe from harassment at work.
Journalists should feel safe at their workplace. Unfortunately, most respondents to a recent study on sexual harassment in the media in Kenya stated that they have been harassed by a colleague at work. The report on the study by Roshani Consultancy Services, “Heshima: Highlighting and Eliminating Sexual Harassment in the Media”, shows that half of the respondents, all current or former media practitioners, had experienced or continue to experience sexual abuse and harassment at work.
But Joyce says her experience does not compare to some gory stories she heard while reporting for South Africa’s Mail & Guardian in 2018.
Most victims of sexual harassment are women, many of whom choose to leave the profession of journalism to pursue other careers after their plight goes unaddressed by organisational leadership.
The study also shows only one in 10 victims would come forward, for fear of victimisation. Most of the respondents said they faced inappropriate conduct from their seniors during internship, just at the beginning of their careers and during promotions. Some said they found it difficult to get justice due to unclear redress processes.
During the report launch, Mary Kambo, a labour expert at Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), described the power play in sexual harassment cases that must be addressed during investigations. She said perpetrators “take advantage of unclear or missing policies to prey on their victims” and that sexual harassment “is not about the perpetrator’s intentions” but “the impact on the victim”.
Following the global anti-sexual harassment #MeToo campaign, professional industries are keen to address sexual harassment at work by safeguarding all spaces by drafting and enforcing employee protection policies.
The Kenya Employment Act 2007 directs employers with “20 or more employees” to develop sexual harassment policies in consultation with their staff. Kenyan laws on sexual harassment have been tested, with the courts giving fair rulings for victims.
But while some media houses have these policies, the report shows there is no goodwill to enforce them. Without clear complaints mechanisms, victims are unlikely to report abuse.
To underscore the importance of the issue, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recently adopted a ground-breaking global treaty to improve protection for workers facing violence and harassment. As an ILO member state, Kenya should ratify the treaty and legislate the explicit protection of employees.
Kenya has seen a rise in gender-based violence reports in the media, including those affecting minors. According to 90 per cent of “Heshima” survey respondents, sexual harassment perpetrators in the media are likely to be biased against victims when reporting on sexual violence. Although society is at a disadvantage if the media, as a watchdog, is biased towards crime, that is a solvable problem.
The Media Council of Kenya (MCK), the institution charged with media oversight in the country, should rein in media houses that do not provide favourable working conditions for journalists. Some of the survey respondents saw no value in reporting their incidents in-house due to perceived backlash or favouritism towards some of the perpetrators who hold positions of power.
MCK acts on behalf of journalists facing physical threats by providing various resources, including legal aid.
To improve the welfare of journalists, that should be extended to victims of sexual harassment at work. The council should come out strongly to handle grievances on behalf of victims where media houses fail. That would give victims an alternative platform to seek justice.
If media stakeholders are serious about promoting gender balance at the management level — which affects how women stories are treated as shown by a survey by Graca Machel Trust’s “Women in Media Report” — they have to redouble their efforts to stop losing women workers when they begin their careers. This not only saves media houses’ reputation, but is an opportunity to attract and retain talented employees in a competitive environment with diverse ideas.
If the enabling culture that sustains sexual harassment is to be addressed, the media, as a mirror of the Kenyan society, must purge itself of this iniquity.