The Institutionalisation of Women’s Maltreatment

The African Union recently announced that a policy on sexual harassment at the workplace will be put in place. This was a rude awakening to the fact that there were no clear prior policies to protect women working at the African Union from sexual misconduct. Unprotected workplaces present scenarios that have and continue to put women in situations that do not offer safety.

Harassment in the workplace or schools brings with it emotional trauma, and when matched with a system that does little to protect those who have fallen victim, the injustice is allowed to continue.

Sexual abuse fills one with an initial shock and wave of embarrassment that strikes unexpectedly with a cloak of anger and shame engulfing the body. The victim rethinks the moment to see where the misstep was, and how the problem that led to that situation could personally have been dealt with.

These painful circular thoughts do nothing to appease. In the end, if one decides to tell others, they risk having their legitimacy questioned even when clear evidence is presented.

Surviving the culture of abuse is hard, yet many brave souls triumph each day. They have to choose to survive, because the alternative is to keep falling victim. Even while all this is in the back of women’s minds, they have more than survived. They have triumphed. They continue to compete alongside men and have not fallen short.

Each and every office and learning institution needs to have a sexual harassment policy in place to protect women and girls. Mandatory notifications of where to go and what to do in this incidence should be given to everyone. An information gap is one of the reasons many have taken refuge in the system while abusing women.

Institutions like Addis Abeba University have such a policy. Yet many have complained at the lack of procedural decorum. Those implementing the policy and procedures often fall short of protecting students and female faculty members through – those that have attended the university would say – unnecessarily long procedures and antics that weaken the survivor’s will to get justice.

Even as a woman who has had all the advantages education can afford, I do not feel safe. Higher education, marital status or income merely eliminate the few common problems society says stand in the way of girls becoming capable woman. We are educated women in a patriarchal world that has sophisticated ways of muffling our voices and dominating spaces that are equally ours.

The sophistication in having embedded systems that continue to oppress women is far reaching. Friends of the abuser lie in testimony. Colleagues find loopholes for him to keep his job. All of this provides the abuser with advantages over victims.

It is also the culture that tells a woman not to speak up and concerns itself with what she was wearing instead of what happened. This prevalent patriarchal system can only be countered by strict policies.

Development should not come on the shoulders of the marginalised groups, though this has been the norm for far too long. We must all hold ourselves responsible for creating a more just world.

Imagine when women no longer have to weigh sexual harassment and abuse as part of their “con” list when deciding to take a job, go on an adventure or speak one-on-one to a professor.

Imagine a world where women feel safe to work and attend schools.

All of us must think of what we can do to make this happen.


By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month.

Published on Dec 01,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 970]



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