Talking Blues: Sex for grades, sex for upkeep, sex for promotion? What a sick nation we are!

Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Director-General Aubrey Sumbuleta is on forced leave due to sexual harassment allegations which some female members of staff leveled against him.

Minister of Information Gospel Kazako confirmed this, saying: “He has been sent on forced leave to allow free and fair investigations on complaints lodged by some lady and MBC members of staff [on the allegations of sexual harassment].”

This comes after Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) petitioned Ombudsman Martha Chizuma in July this year to investigate sexual harassment allegations at MBC and other parastatals, government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs).

The point to note here is that while the petition is from July, the forced leave has only happened now. A whole three months had to elapse before action.

What were we waiting for? Anyway, I should not digress.

The HRDC Women’s Chapter petition also asked the Ombudsman to investigate similar cases in institutions of higher learning.

The petitioners lamented: “As such, this practice has remained unchecked and women have continued suffering.”

Correction esteemed Ladies, it is not only women who have been and are suffering; I will elaborate later.

The petition wound up by expressing concern that despite the Gender Equality Act’s provisions and penalties on sexual harassment perpetrators, there has been zero enforcement.

In other words, despite the rhetoric, there has been zero political will to protect our women and girls.

As if to prove the petitioners right, some dudes have been at it, at the Polytechnic, preying on needy female students, for sexual favours. To the extent that on Monday last week, the UNIMA constituent college summoned its Dean of Students a Mr Luciano Ndalama and lecturer a Mr Temwani Mgunda to a disciplinary hearing over similar allegations.

Ndalama has since pleaded guilty while Mgunda denied the allegations.

According to Yamikani Chilinde the college’s Registrar, conditions of service for Unima academic staff on sexual harassment of students clearly stipulate that those found guilty are fired from their jobs.

“We are waiting for the outcome of the disciplinary hearing. Unima conditions of service have clear procedures on how to handle such cases, and these have been followed. It is clearly indicated that for those found guilty, their employment should be terminated,” Chilinde said.

The Unima Students Union (UMSU) called for decisive action on the matter following the disciplinary hearing.

“Our plea, therefore, is to ask your office to act decisively on this matter just as you do when it is a student facing disciplinary action.

“Furthermore, we know that the dean is just the unlucky one; there are some who are abusing their offices and exploiting the girls in exchange for support and grades in Unima colleges. This needs to be checked and brought to a halt,” reads the UMSU letter addressed to the chairperson of Unima Disciplinary Committee.

The happenings at MBC and the Polytechnic are in fact characteristic of goings-on elsewhere in Malawi.

This behaviour is happening in many work-places, other universities, colleges, schools, in political parties and sad to say, even in Churches.

The common denominators in all these places are men abusing their position of relative power, enabled by:

  • officials who turn a blind eye or selectively apply rules and regulations,
  • a society that blames the victims, and
  • of course, other women, girls, men and boys cloaked in a false sense of security that deludes them that they are safe, it cannot happen to them, when in fact, they are the ultimate losers.

The indifferent women, girls, men and boys are the ultimate losers because when the victim has been bullied into submission, the abusers – in some cases – dish out:

  • Undeserved “grades”. Meaning other students lose out.
  • Undeserved “promotion or benefits”. Meaning: other workmates lose out.
  • Undeserved “political appointments”. Meaning: other party members lose out.

In all these cases, the playground is no longer level, morale and enthusiasm vanish, productivity drops, and everyone – not women only – suffers. We all suffer.

If the hitherto indifferent society needs a stronger reason to join the fight, how about this: what IF the victim was your sister, mother or daughter?

Would you care?

Let us say, for some reason, you still would not give even a gram of fuck: what IF the victim is your wife or girlfriend or fiancée and,

  • Because she is afraid to tell you or seek help for fear of being labelled a “prostitute”, she fights alone, is overwhelmed and then gives in?
  • As a result, if you are lucky, you end up raising another man’s child believing s/he is yours?
  • If unlucky, you get sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) because sexual predators, by definition, are promiscuous?

As you can see, even if empathy is not your forte, for self-preservation’s sake, everyone – especially men – must join the fight against sexual harassment. Men must fight this vice even harder because they are the ultimate losers!

Culprits must be punished with no perpetrator seen to have been rewarded along the line. Appointing offenders to high offices, to State House jobs for example, and giving them other such privileges send wrong signals to perpetrators and would-be wrongdoers.

They see no reason why they too should not embrace punishment as but ‘a minor setback’ while waiting for better times, more ‘rewards’ and of course yet more access to new victims, in more affluent settings!

Still feeling indifferent? No? Good. I now hear you asking, “Mapwiya Muulupale, what should we do?”

Prof. Frank Dobbin (Harvard University) and Associate Prof Alexandra Kalev (Tel Aviv University) offer some interesting suggestions.

They propose changing the culture to get more people involved in solving the problem.

Since culture is ultimately created by leaders, leaders must publicly take responsibility and try to stop sexual harassment to set examples for others.

Increasing numbers of female leaders can also help because women are less likely to tolerate nonsense and more likely to believe victims who come forward with complaints.

This can encourage victims to come forward and make it more likely that they get satisfaction from the complaint process. What are we waiting for?

Down with sexual harassment in Malawi!

 

 

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