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Study: Sexual Harassment Goes Unchecked in Many Sub-Saharan African Newsrooms

By City, University of London Staff

Sexual harassment often goes unchecked in sub-Saharan African newsrooms despite many employers having policies in place, according to a new study from the University of Maryland and City, University of London.

Dinfin Mulupi, a doctoral candidate in UMD’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, and Lindsey Blumell at City surveyed nearly 600 news professionals and analyzed 17 anti-sexual harassment policies in newsrooms across eight sub-Saharan African countries between July and October 2020. The study, which sampled data from Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, was published in Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal.

They found that 30% of victims reported harassment to bosses, and that 58% of these complaints led to no action, and frequently only a warning when it did. In addition, just 16.4% of respondents were aware of an anti-harassment policy in their newsrooms.

“It is not enough to have an anti-harassment policy,” said Mulupi, a former business journalist in Nairobi. “While employers can point at the fact that they have a policy to tackle sexual harassment, more than 85% of surveyed workers weren’t aware of it or trained on it.”

The researchers also found that societal and cultural norms lead to ineffective policies. Only when these policies are accompanied by workplace training on what is considered sexual harassment, the company policies that exist and how the organization would respond, does the research find an increase of newsrooms responding to these reports of abuse.

“News organizations are paying lip service to a serious problem, but are not preventing sexual harassment from occurring, nor are they creating an atmosphere where people feel comfortable to report when they are sexually harassed,” Blumell said.

The research was carried out as a joint project with the Women in News World Association of News Publishers, which is aims to eliminate sexual harassment in the news business.

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