Sunday, 11 October 2015

When does a joke go too far in the workplace?

"Why are you so uptight? It was just a joke…" is not funny when it comes to sexual harassment.


In 2005, I was working in a school along with a whole lot of other colleagues, male and female. I was 28 and getting on with my job which I was leaving in a matter of weeks to go abroad for further studies.

One particular male colleague was the flirty type, even though he was married with kids. Unfortunately, he hung around with another female colleague, who used to love dressing provocatively, banter with the men and enjoyed their suggestive comments and looks.

I think he thought his behaviour was fully condoned by hanging out with this woman on coffee breaks, etc.

So one day, he asked me if I had a stick of Pritt glue which he could borrow. I was working on something on my computer and in a distracted way I rummaged in my drawer and let him have a stick of glue.

A few minutes later, he returned the stick of glue, and asked me, “So where do you want me to put it?” The ambiguity was totally lost on me at that moment, as I was still concentrating heavily on my work.

I said something like, “I don’t know, just put it anywhere.”, as I opened the drawer of my desk for him. 

Suddenly, he bursts out laughing and couldn’t stop snickering, and then rushed off to another male colleague a few desks away and I heard him recounting the story to this other guy:

“She doesn’t mind where you stick it in, front or back, it is all the same to her.” They started laughing and snickering even more.

I was so angry and humiliated when I realised what had happened.

I walked up to them and told them that it wasn’t funny at all, and of course I got the usual reply, “Why are you so uptight? It was just a joke.” and “M would have laughed and found it funny.” (M is the provocative dressing co-worker).

I told the perpetrator of this harassment that I did not appreciate the sexual undertone of his joke, and being the subject of their joke and having them laughing at my expense.

There was no remorse or apology, just a blatant insistence that I was the one in the wrong.  I reported the incident to the owner of the business, who was not impressed. 

Fortunately, they were quite progressive in their outlook and did not condone this guy’s behaviour at all. I was involved in a hearing with this guy and the management, where I recounted what had happened word for word. 

The guy still tried to make light of everything, but I could see that he did not feel so sure of himself any more. Since I was leaving,  I let the matter rest. I knew that this guy would be a lot more careful around me in future, but that other women would probably have to continue to watch their back while he was around.

He didn’t last for much longer in the company, management was not happy with his work and a year or two later, he resigned from the company.


Sunday, 4 October 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and Women Rights

Every 10 seconds, somewhere in the world, a little girl is a victim of genital mutilation. Three million girls are excised every year. Together we have to be able to put an end to this human tragedy. Excision is a matter of universal concern. The issue of female genital mutilation has been on the agenda of organizations for many years.

Despite the fact that FGM causes pain and suffering to millions of women and girls and can be life-threatening, it remains deeply entrenched in certain social value systems. Changing this reality to bring about positive and protective social behaviour requires a holistic and integrated approach with harmonized programmes of action to achieve the common goal of Zero Tolerance to FGM.

To combat FGM, a synergy among international organizations, political and religious leaders, the media, civil society and the medical corps is absolutely necessary for the goal of abandoning this practice within a generation to become reality.

The international community has long expressed its rejection of this extreme manifestation of gender inequality, notably through international instruments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and regional instruments, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Its Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Only a strong and international alliance will enable us to put an end without delay to such practices

One of the most important elements of international human rights law is that the State and only the State has responsibility for upholding those rights. It is not left to individuals. What the State must do is ensure that through its actions it prevents individuals from committing human rights violations. It is one of the most fundamental precepts of international law.