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Sexual Harassment, Threats and Assaults

Aug 6, 2009, 11:11 AM | Article By: Isatou Dumbuya

Welcome to another exciting and educating read piece of "Bring it on" I hope that you enjoyed last week's edition on 'how to conduct an interview.' This column's foremost aim is to serve as a help source, confidence boost a form of therapy and how to enable one to go about one's every day business.

This week I have decided to come up with sexual harassment and its causes. In this society we live in, the youths who are the main benefactors of this column are usually harassed sexually or are the harassers themselves.

I hope that this little piece of information could go a long way in helping us all to avoid sexual harassment and how to confidently say no to sexual harassment without fear or favor. Always remember, it is your absolute right to say no!

What is sexual harassment?

Harassment can be defined either from a woman's or a man's perspective. From a girl's perspective harassment occurs:

. When a girl feels uncomfortable about gender-linked or sexual comments, gestures, touching, or threats of touching. Remember if it is not right, it just isn't right. Harassment is especially clear when the girl requests that the harasser ceases the offensive behavior and the request is dismissed or denied.

Based on the behaviors of males, harassment can be defined as:

+ Threats or disparaging comments from a boy(s) or man/men about women or girls, their abilities, or their roles in society, spoken in the presence of a girl or women by a boy or man.

. Orders given to a girl by a man or boy to do something the girl is unwilling to do, particularly with regards to actions, looks, gestures, or touching a girl in a sexual way;

+ Looks, gestures, or touching a girl in a sexual way in public after she has requested that the behavior be stopped.

It must be understood that touching has cultural underpinnings. Whether it can be considered offensive or not depends on the cultural milieu in which one finds oneself. For example, in the Gambia it is acceptable for men to touch women in a friendly, not sexual way, where as in the United States, for a man to touch a woman (or vice versa) is not common. In the Gambia, however, even with the seemingly permitted action, it ceases to be "touching" and becomes "harassment" if the other party disapproves of the act but still continues to be subjected to it.

In what situations is harassment more likely to occur?

Harassment can occur in any situation where men and women occupy the same space. First, it is important to understand that men dominate women in the private and public domains.

The dominance manifested in the private domain is.

. Control over women's sexually/bodies.

. Men's control over the reproductive process of women and children.

. The unpaid work of women to which very little or no value is assigned.

. The violation and relative absence of rights for women and children.

It is also manifested in the public domain in:

. Male control over public institutions and structures.

. Control over key areas of decision making and in men's visible social status.

. Men's resentment of women's participation and presence in the public domain since it is considered a male sphere of influence. For example, a woman of the working class can feel intimidated by her husband who doesn't want her to work due to his male ego. That is usually called male chauvinism.

The effects of sexual harassments are:

. Falsely elevating men's power by showing that a girl is powerless in relation to a man.

. Making a girl/woman feel ashamed, weak, or powerless because she is a female.

. Diminishing a girl's self esteem, competence, and power, making her vulnerable to other similar advances

Sexual Threats and Assaults:

The laws of the Gambia grant protection to women and girls against sexual threats and assaults with these provisions under Section 127 of the Criminal Code:

'Any person who unlawfully and carnally knows a girl under the age of sixteen years is guilty of felony, and is liable to imprisonment for a term of fourteen years.'

Although this law exists, it is hardly a deterrent because most rape victims do not report such crimes for fear of being victimized or stigmatized. Making rape known publicly can bring shame to the victim and her family as she is usually blamed for "bringing shame upon herself".

(This is from the training manual on gender issues). We can make a better Gambia and a world fit for all if we decide to guide each other over such social mishap and misfortune.