Ghana will soon have in place, a comprehensive and stringent law to tackle issues of sexual harassment at work places, workers have been assured.
The assurance is from the General Secretary of the General Agriculture Workers Union (GAWU) Edward Kareweh, who made the disclosure at a dialogue to discuss sexual harassment at work place.
The dialogue was organized by ActionAid Ghana in Accra.
Mr Kareweh, revealed that currently GAWU, in collaboration with sister worker organizations such as the Trades Union Congress (TUC), are drafting a national policy that will provide the framework, to understand issues of sexual harassment.
The drafting of the policy is being undertaking in partnership with ActionAid Ghana.
Upon completion, the document will be presented to government for adoption. The process of sponsoring a bill on sexual harassment to Parliament, will also commence.
He was hopeful that by close of 2021, the bill would have been submitted to Parliament for deliberation and passage into law.
“So before we have the act, we need to have a national policy, a national policy that will give as the framework, the landscape, and also allow us to understand what happens in the world of work.
So, that will be the national policy and then the national policy will now give room for the sexual harassment act.
But we need to sponsor the bill to Parliament which will now come out to be an act, so we have been looking at these things but we have now gotten to the point where, we need to draft national policy on sexual harassment to government, to look at”.
He continued “And we are doing this in collaboration with our partners, particularly ActionAid, which has been a great partner to us, to make sure that we have a draft on national policy for sexual harassment and also a sexual harassment act.
We hope that by the end of this year, we have our bill ready and now push it to Parliament and also government for the national policy to be adopted”.
Throwing more light on the issue, Mr Kareweh, said even though the topic is often not discussed, it is pervasive at work places. He said often, women who suffer this act shy from reporting it because of the stigma or lack clear-cut evidence.
To avoid the persistence harassment, these women mostly quit the job without citing reasons.
He said he is aware of many women, who have resigned from work because they were sexually harassed.
Expressing deep concern he noted “Well, we are a trade union and we have been very concerned about human rights particularly workers’ rights and what we have seen over the years is that, the female workers have had a lot of challenges in respect to sexual harassment.
It is serious in the sense that we all know that getting a job in Ghana is very difficult so when you find a female worker resigning, you have to be worried about that because there is also this general provision or legal understanding that you don’t need to give reasons for your resignation therefore the lady will just resign and say that I am resigning and no reason is given and therefore we are not able to understand why the person”.
He said what is contained in the Labour Act is also not weighty enough and so the understanding is limited. The coming law will, therefore, consolidate all the existing provisions that are scattered and are not punitive enough to deter perpetuators.
“Now all matters relating to sexual harassment are supposed to be comprehensively addressed however, if you check the Labour Act, the aspect that deals with sexual harassment is just under Section 175, which is the definition which is not adequate.
There have not been further development on this as to how sexual harassment can be reported and what will be the resolution to it and so on.
And there have been many provisions in different acts that talks about sexual harassment so in view of that it is difficult to actually understand sexual harassment or to have comprehensive knowledge of it.
Now our view is that, we should consolidate all these laws, all these provisions that are scattered all over many acts into one and to do that we need to give it a very befitting title and that is sexual harassment act”.
Several women groups and organisations from both formal and informal sector, like FIDA, TUC, UNFPR, as well as worker unions, Ministry of Employment and Labour, Police shared several perceptive on the topic.
Speakers agreed that even though there are laws frowning on sexual harassment in the world of work, they are not stringent enough.
They agreed just like Mr Kareweh that, the current laws are also scattered in several acts including the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DVVSU), Children’s Act, Labour Act and it is time they are brought under one law.
A panel of experts including a journalist lawyer, entrepreneur, labour expert agreed that it is time Ghana had a law strictly for sexual harassment at work place. There was also call for Parliament to ratify Convention 190.
Country Director for ActionAid Ghana, Sumaila Abdul Raman, underscored the importance of speaking out against sexual harassment at work place.
He said to be sexually harassed was unacceptable and it pervasiveness nature was devastating enough. He asked participants and Ghanaians to ensure the act is curtailed to provide conducive environment for all.
“Access to decent work is key and the focus of our work is as part of an effort in the evidence-based advocacy.
We commissioned research in 2018 that showed that women in the informal sector also face sexual harassment, 67% were between the ages 19-35 years and 18% were under the age of 18 and 13% were aged between 36-45 year”, he said.
Chairperson of Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa (LAWA-Ghana) Sheila Y. N Minkah-Premo, stressed on the importance of having a comprehensive law that will make the place of work a hostile environment for perpetuators of the act.