ActionAid is a global justice federation working in over 45 countries to achieve social justice, gender equality, and poverty eradication. Throughout the world, ActionAid works to strengthen the capacity and active agency of people living in poverty and exclusion, especially women, to assert their rights.
ActionAid Ghana has followed with keen interest, events leading to and following the release of the BBC undercover documentary titled “Sex for Grades” which sheds more light on the sexual exploitation of young women in the University of Ghana and Lagos.
As a result of our extensive work in the area of gender-based violence and sexual harassment, we know of the far-reaching devastating effects of any form of abuse on women. Since 1990, we have trained thousands of women on gender-based violence and in some cases supported these women to achieve justice against their perpetrators.
The issue of sexual exploitation of women is pervasive in our society affecting women at home, work, and informal workspaces. The statistics present harrowing facts that cannot be ignored. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, 35% of women representing- 818 million women globally - over the age of 15 have experienced sexual or physical violence at home, in their communities or in the workplace.
Last year, ActionAid Ghana conducted a study on 307 young women living in the Greater Accra, Northern, and Upper East Regions. Even though the focus of the study was on the sexual and economic exploitation of women in the informal sector, it revealed that as many of 44% of respondents had experienced sexually-oriented behavior such as touching, rubbing or groping at the workplace.
Additionally, 17% of respondents had experienced the incessant or repetitious telling of sexual or dirty stories or jokes. Unfortunately, because of the lack of systems and policies which protect the rights of victims of sexual abuse in such situations, 60% of respondents indicated that they did not report these instances of abuse.
The pervasive nature of this canker requires a holistic approach to ensure that the rights of women are protected and respected at home, academic institutions, religious spaces, formal and informal workspaces. While we welcome the interdiction and suspension of the lecturers featured in the documentary. We call for a thorough investigation and subsequent hefty sanctioning of the alleged perpetrators if, found culpable to serve as a deterrent to contemptuous ones. we also believe that it is time to have a national conversation on the issue of sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and gender-based violence to figure out how to deal with the root causes of these unacceptable behaviours.
ActionAid Ghana understands that sexual harassment affects both men and women, however, there is no denying the fact that unequal statuses and power relations put women at a disadvantage. Let us, therefore, create the environment that not only prevents sexual harassment but encourages victims to speak up and seek justice. Sexual harassment is an infringement on human rights and should not be condoned no matter the circumstance.
While we urge society to provide the enabling environment, we would like to use this opportunity to remind the government of Ghana to ratify the adopted ILO Convention 190 which seeks to prevent gender-based violence in the world of work. The state is an important actor in the fight against gender-based violence, sexual harassment, and exploitation, thus it must act swiftly and efficiently to protect the rights of its citizens.