How failure to report and manage sexual harassment is harming African news media


New research released on July 06th by the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)’s Women in News programme has provided first-of-its-kind insight into the scale of sexual harassment in African media organisations. And the numbers are disturbing.

The eight-country study reveals that nearly one in two women has been sexually harassed at work – alongside one in five men and about two in five gender non-conforming individuals.Further, many cases of physical and verbal sexual harassment go unreported because the victims fear further victimisation and lack confidence in management systems and interventions. And even when action is taken, the results are often underwhelming.

The research, the first phase of a multi-region study undertaken in partnership with City, University of London, set out to collect credible information about the scale of harassment in news outlets in Africa and to establish what was being done to provide safer newsrooms. It surveyed 584 respondents from eight countries across the continent – Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Almost half of the respondents (46.12 per cent) said they had witnessed at least one incident of sexual harassment, with nearly one in five saying they had seen five or more incidents at their workplaces.  Yet, only 30% of cases are reported, as victims said they were afraid filing a formal complaint would lead to the loss of their jobs, negatively impact how they work, lead to retaliation or mean they would be negatively labelled.

“The research highlights a lack of trust in the organisation, or sometimes a complete failure of management and systems to deal effectively with sexual harassment. This matters because the less confidence there is in an organisation’s ability to address the problem, the less likely people are to see value in calling it out and the cycle will perpetuate,” said Melanie Walker, Executive Director, and Women in News.

Almost half (46.7 per cent) of those surveyed said their organisations had no sexual harassment policy, while 35.9 per cent were unaware of what was in the policy and just 17.4 per cent were aware of its contents.

And while respondents said action was taken in 42 per cent of the cases reported, the most common organisational response was to warn the perpetrator. This was followed by emotional support for the victim, dismissal of the case after review and training for staff on sexual harassment.

Perhaps the biggest barrier in reporting is that the perpetrators are often managers or supervisors – people with responsibility and power.

Survey respondents identified their harassers as fellow employees (in 38 per cent of cases), but 21.5 per cent of the time, they were direct supervisors and in 19.5 per cent of cases, members of higher management.

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The full results of the research are available on:

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