Saturday, October 28, 2017

Breaking the silence on workplace harassment

A Dar es Salaam City tricycle vendor Ailanga

A Dar es Salaam City tricycle vendor Ailanga Elipokea transporting luggage.  PHOTO/Emmanuel Mtengwa  

By Emmanuel Mtengwa

It’s 14:20 noon and Ailanga Elipokea, a resident at Tabata Kisiwani in Dar es Salaam City, is stuck as she attempts to climb a hill heading to Tabata Twiga in Ilala District. She’s sweating in the intense heat, having waited more than half an hour to regain momentum to continue her journey on a tricycle, famously known as Guta. On board the tricycle are two heavily loaded sacks; one containing potatoes another containing charcoal and a bamboo basket filled with tomatoes on top, all these lay beside her as she fumbles for a way through.

She looks exhausted, clothes clearly in need of cleaning; on her face is a look of dejection. She starts complaining about an earlier incident that had occurred at her workplace in Mabibo Market near National Institute of Transport (NIT).

“I am resting for a moment to re-gain composure in order to climb this hill with my luggage, if I totally fail I’ll ask for some assistance from passersby,” she says as she prepares to have another go at the hill.

“I’m exhausted and angry; someone irritated me with his insults at our workstation. Regardless, I still have to reach my customers at my next destination,” Elipokea says.

The hardworking woman is a tricycle vendor who has dedicated her lifework in transporting luggage in Dar es Salaam city since 2005. The transportation means she uses, locally known as ‘Guta’ is a common choice for men, but not popular among women traders. This has set her aside from her colleagues, who often harass her for the choice she has made.

Why guta vendor?

Elipokea is one among a few women in Dar es Salaam who are seen to engage in odd jobs neglected by fellow women. This is partly due to the tough economic situation that is felt throughout the country.

“When I came to Dar es Salaam in 2005, I didn’t know that Guta service will be my destiny, my neighbour invited me to join her in training as a tailor. Initially I was excited for I knew my dream to work in Dar was coming to fruition. But when I arrived here, the reality was further from what I had expected and what was promised to me. I ended up working as a housemaid, contrary to what my neighbor had promised me,” recounts the Arusha native.

 Elipokea, says that she worked as a housemaid for about six months at Mabibo Mwisho in the city. She was promised to be paid Sh20,000 per month, a payment which she didn’t receive. She eventually decided to escape from her employer and started engaging in the work which she has maintained to date.  

Like Elipokea, Maria Abdalla, 29, who has worked as a street food vendor, commonly known as mama lishe, for nearly 10 years, left her home village for Dar es Salaam promised to land a good job.

Both Elipokea and Maria are victims of harassment at the workplace.

Workplace harassment

Elipokea has experienced many challenges at her work as a Guta vendor, but the most critical one which tops her list is harassment. She admits that she faces hostility from men, who dominate the business.

Apart from verbal insults, which are common in her line of work, Elipokea notes that she experiences sexual harassment as well, which includes unwanted physical contact from men.

“As a woman I face a lot of harassment in my daily business, sometimes it’s verbal and other times it escalates to being physical as men try to touch me inappropriately,” she speaks.

Being the only female surrounded by male colleagues at her workstation in Mabibo, Elipokea, 33, assumes that she is harassed due to her gender.

‘It really hurts me that I have to go through such harassment at my workplace. I feel devalued as a woman,” she says.

Due to such unbecoming behavior toward her, Elipokea has once been remanded at a police post after she beat a man who had insulted her. Her choice of weapon was a beer bottle.

Maria, who works as a food vendor experiences harassment from her customers, a majority of whom are male. “Customers call me insulting names such as prostitute and other similar names while I serve them food,” says Maria, a resident of Yombo in Temeke District, Dar.

A female Kariakoo telephones vendor, 28, who chose anonymity, says she experiences a lot of harassment from men at her work. ‘I experience sexual harassment; some customers me inappropriately while I try to do my job. I can’t do anything to them becuase they are men and I’m a woman,’’ she said.

Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) executive director Lillian Liundi noted that gender harassment and gender-based corruption exist in many workplaces and particularly affect women.

Why Silence

When interviewed many women allege to have experienced some form of harassment in their day to day duties, but few talk of reporting the matter to responsible authorities. Elipokea noted that among the reasons holding her back from reporting sexual harassment incidents is a fear of losing her reputation as a family mother.

“I didn’t report my cases anywhere because I see it as a shame when other people become aware of what happened to me, it will dent my image,” says the mother of four, adding that; “I think often women don't talk about such issues or don't report them to the police because we consider them as a challenge in our day to day duties, but indeed it’s something which is devastating, considering I am a someone’s wife.’’

Like Elipokea and Maria, many women have over the years had to silently put up with sexual harassment in their workplace.

What's worse is that even when victims are questioned by concerned citizens, they become hesitant to reveal the exact harassment challenges they face, and who the perpetrators are.

‘’Sometimes I feel shy to express what exactly happened,” says a 38-year-old pharmacy nurse in Mwenge, Dar es Salaam, who also sought anonymity.  

Lillian Liundi from TGNP says that violence or harassment against women unfolds at all levels in the workplace, not only to small entrepreneurs, but even within formal jobs.

‘‘Some women are demanded sexual favours when they are in the process of getting business licenses or searching for jobs. This is a big challenge when it comes to empowering women,” says the TGNP chief, adding that; “It is disturbing that there are many women experiencing harassment cases and gander-based corruption at their workplace but not all report to responsible authorities, but rather decide to suffer in silence.”

Emmanuel Sosthenes, an advocate working with a non-governmental organization based in Dar es Salaam, says that, ignorance of the law is a contributory factor affecting women from reporting harassment incidents.

“Despite of the presence of laws against gender based violence; women are still hesitant to report such cases. I think women hide such cases at times due to ignorance of the law,” says the advocate.  


What the police force says

Tanzania Police Force spokesperson, Barnabas Mwakalukwa says that women don’t report such cases of harassment because probably they don’t think that such acts qualify as illegal acts against the law.

Inspector of Police, Mohamed Mcheu, who is in charge of gender and children affairs at Tanzania Police Force Headquarters in Dar es Salaam, says that sometimes women fail to report harassment cases to protect their business and customer.

‘In my experience, many women do not report such incidents, however when you visit their place of work, you find them involved in heated exchange of insults with their customers,” he says, adding; “they think that once they report they will expel their customers.”


Lack of awareness

Although interviewed women raised their grievances against unwanted harassment, none of them filed a complaint with police or their local leader against the perpetuator(s).

Mcheu noted that sometimes women stay silent due to little understanding of their rights; “they probably refrain from reporting harassment incidents because they are not aware that harassment is a criminal offence. And this is not limited only to work place, but even within family setups where a wife faces abuse from the husband,” he states.  

The Constitution of the United Republic states that: ‘every person has the right to work’, therefore the harassment challenges women face can be defined as a violation of the Constitution and violation of human rights.

 “Sometimes we turn a blind eye to retain our customers, knowing that negative response to such incidents might result in losing the customer altogether,” says Maria, a mother of two.


Situation on gender-based violence

Violence is a daily reality for large numbers of women and children in Tanzania. According to the Global 2015 Human Development Report as cited in the Five-year National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children in Tanzania (NPAVAWC 2017/18-2021/22), 35 percent of women globally have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence, which impacts on women’s empowerment.

In Tanzania, almost four in ten women have experienced physical violence, and one in five women report experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime (from the age of 15), says the Global 2015 Human Development Report.


Mr. Mcheu says that the police’s effort is to ensure violence against women comes to a complete end. “We have established special desks in police offices which cases of gender-based violence and this has paved the way for police to know how to handle such cases when reports,’’ says the Police inspector, adding that; ‘’through gender desks every region has their plan and arrange campaigns aimed at ending or reducing violence against women and children. Through these gender desks there has been an increase of reporting on violence cases.”

Challenges in addressing violence against women

The National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children in Tanzania (NPAVAWC 2017/18-2021/22), indicates that among the challenges in addressing common forms of violence against women and children is poor cooperation among the police and victims.

Inspector of Police Mcheu admits that there are a lot of challenges in combatting gender based violence. But the most critical one is lack of cooperation from victims. He says police officers find difficulty dealing with perpetrators because many victims do not report the incidents. Furthermore, those who report fear to testify.

‘’The number of those who report incidents is lower in comparison to incidents that occur. Even some reported cases do not reach court as victims who report their complaints disappear due to lack of confidence to give witness testimonies,” says Mcheu.

Another challenge identified by the police in handling cases of gender violence is budget constraint that adversely affects tackling the issue.

“Our desire is to reach many women through our workshop and seminars but inadequate budget is still a challenge affecting our strategies to end violence against women,’’ explains Mr Mcheu.

How to curb women violence

The 2016/2017 UN Women’s Annual Report points that realizing the 2030 Agenda of achieving peaceful societies and safe, sustainable cities as well as eradicating poverty depends on ending violence against women. “Ending violence requires laws and services geared towards protection and the provision of support to survivors. Prevention of violence by addressing its root causes is equally important. And people from all walks of life, men and women, must mobilize to say no to violence,” says the UN Women Report.

Liundi acknowledges that TGNP has made impressive progress both in the fight against women violence and sexual corruption in the promotion of women.

“Through TGNP we have been praised on our commitment in sensitise women to realize their rights and promoting gender equality through seminars and our gender festival,” says Liundi from TGNP.

Advocate Sosthenes states that seminars and campaigns will enable women to understand the laws that protect them and use such laws as a shield. ‘‘Campaigns and seminars are inevitable in a bid to promote women rights and laws, this will encourage them to take action against the perpetuators,” he said, adding; “I encourage women to report these incidents to their local leaders or the police.”

Through police patrols around places congested by small scale entrepreneurs, there will be a reduction of cases of sexual harassment.  

“We conduct different seminars and workshops in which people concerned participate. This helps victims to identifiy their rights but also for perpetrators, this is an opportunity for them to understand how serious their crime is, and hopefully opt not to do it,” says Police Force spokesperson Mwakalukwa. 


Reporting sexual harassment case

Victims are supposed to report the matter to the local authorities or directly to the police post where they will meet gender desks. They can start from local government offices, social welfare office, ward executive’s office, or police posts.

Victims can also visit the Police Force website ( and report violence by selecting the type of crime she wants to report.