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STER Initiative’s report reveals SGBV prevalence in Nigerian workplaces

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Sexual harassment in Nigeria continues to be a prevalent public health issue and a violation of human rights, as workplace sexual harassment remains a major challenge in formal and informal employment contexts.

From a global perspective, sexual harassment at the workplace is associated with negative consequences, including reduced job satisfaction, poor job performance, and low morale, loss of earnings, increased turnover intentions, absenteeism, and health outcomes like nausea, high blood pressure, trauma, and stress-related disorders.

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In Nigeria, studies have reported an alarming prevalence of sexual harassment. One study, examining the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment in the legal sector reported a prevalence rate of 63.5 percent, while another study investigating the prevalence of sexual harassment across various employment sectors in Lagos reported a prevalence rate of 73.7%.

To shine a light on this prevalent problem, Stand To End Rape Initiative, a non-profit organisation working to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), conducted a study based on the responses of
493 individuals who had maintained some form of employment within the last 12 months.

Data was collected through an online self-report survey that included questions regarding the respondent’s demographics like age, gender identity, sexuality, marital status and primary state of residence, work context (job position, organisation size, and harassment policies), experiences of workplace sexual harassment (i.e., verbal, nonverbal and physical), individual and organisational response to sexual harassment and impact of sexual harassment (mental health and job-related outcomes).

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Most participants were between18 and 30 years old (74%, n = 338). 80% (n = 392) self-identified as female while 20% (n =100) self-identified as male. Most participants were heterosexual (75%, n = 370) and single (74%, n = 361). Additionally, most participants were primarily located in the South-West (72%, n = 344) and employed full-time (83%, n = 407).

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56 percent of workers who responded affirmed that they are worried about being harassed at work while 64 percent had incidents of sexual harassment at work at one point, with women experiencing higher rates of harassment compared to men.

To expand on the understanding of sexual harassment, respondents confirmed that different types of harassment take place in the workplace, including being looked at in a sexual way (45%), receiving unwanted sexual comments/remarks about their clothing/accessories (44%), having conversations with uncomfortable sexual jokes/stories told (43%), receiving sexual statements/comments about their bodies (35%), told crude/gross sexual things and asked to talk about sexual matters when they didn’t want to (33%), receiving nonstop invitations to go out, get dinner, have drinks or have sex even after declining (27%). 77 percent of participants stated that the abuse happened in the office/primary place of work with 91 percent of perpetrators being male.

Only 38 percent of respondents attested to the existing sexual harassment policies at their workplace, while 83 percent of employees knew how to initiate the procedure of filing a complaint. However, 44 percent of employees signified that they would not report a case of sexual harassment due to fear, victimisation, and other factors. 59 percent of employees who flagged their harassment through the reporting channels confirmed that their employers did nothing to the offender.

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On how they responded to workplace sexual harassment, 26 percent said they asked the perpetrator to stop, 20 percent tried to pretend it never happened, 14 percent took no action, and 10 percent told a colleague. Only nine percent reported the assault through formal channels.

Like most forms of abuse, 69 percent of employees who faced workplace sexual harassment experienced anxiety, 60 percent experienced depression and 34 percent experienced post-traumatic stress. 81 percent of employees who reported the incident formally at work did not get any help from their employer.

The study shows that workplace sexual harassment is persistent in
Nigeria and not much is done to protect victims. Women are more likely to experience workplace sexual harassment while men are more likely to be harassers. The study concludes by pointing out that government needs to do more including ratifying international standards for workplace violence prevention and response, which acknowledges the right of every person to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including SGBV and harassment. Organisations need to create and enforce anti-sexual harassment policies and response procedures, outline sexual harassment response procedures, build awareness and a culture of responsibility, institute regular meetings and training on sexual harassment and provide employee support services.

Employees are also essential in ensuring a harassment-free workplace environment including being familiar with organisation’s sexual harassment policies and procedures, building awareness by seeking out accurate information on how to identify and prevent sexual harassment, treat all co-workers, clients, and vendors with respect and professionality, keeping records of all harassment incidents if you are being harassed. Be specific about times, dates, locations, and the names of any witnesses to the incident, report through the appropriate channels if you are experiencing harassment, are aware that an employee is being taken advantage of, or aware an employee is a sexual harasser and refrain from engaging in any intimidation attempts towards individuals who report incidents of sexual harassment.

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