In this special report, Funmi Ogundare examines how the government and other relevant authorities can implement policies to protect female mechanics from sexual harassment in workplaces and how survivors can set clear boundaries in their relationships so as to avoid being violated.
Ifeanyi Maduakor is one of the few young women who had the confidence to join a vocation regarded as ‘for men only’ at the Ogba Mechanics Village.
She embraced the job with a burning passion in her heart but soon got scorched by several experiences at the workplace.These experiences, she stated, will never be forgotten in a hurry.
According to her, for three years, she was ridiculed and bullied by her male colleagues, who she said tried to frustrate her in the male-dominated workplace.
She had to contend with lewd comments, inappropriate touching, and predatory situations at work. Speaking with this reporter, Ifeanyi said it began with lewd comments and then some of the men became brazen.
She said: “They would come up behind and just ‘rub’up against me. They were so confident in themselves. No one was ever going to say anything or do anything to them.”
Ifeanyi, 26, who now works at the Honda Mechanic Workshop in Adeniyi Jones Avenue, said that the auto sector is a good industry for anyone who is trying to start his or her own business, including women.
Ifeanyi’s experience is what most young ladies who work in an environment dominated by men, go through and sometimes some women voluntarily quit on their own, partly because their organisations are not ready to do anything about their plight especially when they are harassed.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) describes sexual harassment as a clear form of sexual discrimination based on sex, a manifestation of unequal power relations between men and women.
The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, 2015 (VAPP Act) section 46 describes sexual harassment as an unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or other conduct based on sex or gender which is persistent, serious and demeans, humiliates or creates a hostile or intimidating environment which may be physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct.
Ifeanyi’s case is not in isolation as other women also face the same issue. Mrs. Joy Obi, who runs Ladybenz Auto Mechanic on Lekki-Ajah Expressway, Lagos State, said she was bullied and harassed by her male colleagues.
Obi, who specialised in the repairs of Mercedes Benz cars in Nigeria and has been working as a mechanic for over 20 years, said:“I had to behave like the men and adapted, but sometimes, they bullied me, and I retaliated. I never gave them the space to harass or ridicule me.”
Interestingly, she is a member of the Council of Registered Engineers in Nigeria (COREN) and the National Association of Technologists in Engineering (NATE). She has 20 staff.
Obi said the treatment of women in the male-dominated trade appeared to be “a signal that women are unwelcome in this workspace. One of the things many women talked about was the bystander culture in many of the workplaces that allowed this to fester and flourish;even if some colleagues may not have agreed with it, there was pressure not to complain.”
The President of Motomech and Technicians Association of Nigeria (MOMTAN), Alhaji Moroof Arowolo said though he had never had instance where their female mechanics had been sexually harassed by male colleagues, but if such matter arises, the association will set up a disciplinary panel to look into it.
“We have workplace rules and guidelines on discipline, he said,”adding that when a member is reported to have engaged in sexually harassing a female colleague, the association will carry out an investigation into the matter and when someone is found culpable, the panel will handover its report.
“We can expel or report him to the police, as we don’t tolerate indiscipline.”
In some instances, women face physical harassment in the workplace. Mrs. Joyce Daser-Adams, Founder of Auto-ladyInspireFoundationandAuto-lady Synergy Coy Limited, popularly known as Auto-lady, was a victim. She said she was physically assaulted. She believed she was targeted because she works in a male-dominated industry.
According to her: “I was assaulted, along side my employees and my workshop was demolished when I was getting ready to leave for Female Entrepreneurship and Employment Network Int’l (FEENI), an Int’l Women’s Day 2020 event. I saw three Hilux vans parked in front of my workshop with men from Development Control and FCDA to survey a building opposite us not knowing it was our workshop they were targeting, and then they left.”
She recalled that some minutes after the men left, they returned with other security forces, including three bulldozers. She said the security operatives were more than 100. She narrated that she was slapped and beaten, along with her staff. The officials also destroyed a large part of her auto-workshop.
Choking on emotions as she recollected the incident, Daser-Adams said:” Everything I have worked for years, was brought down in less than 30 minutes. My seven-year-old daughter, who just returned from school with her sisters, started crying and was asking me,‘ Mummy, are they going to kill us?’ I was crying and said no. Other mechanic garages around were left untouched. It was then I realised they did what they did to me because I’m a woman.”
She reported her matter to the Minister for Women Affairs, Mrs. Pauline Tallen for intervention and it also attracted the attention of the presidency with the Special Assistant to the President on Ease of doing Buisness, Dr.Jumoke Oduwole paying a fact-finding mission to the demolished workshop.
They tried to intervene, however, there was no headway and she was forced to move to Dutse Alhaji, a location that was far from where most of her customers are based. Now, she has moved back to Utako and very close to her customers,
This reporter inquired about the efforts Daser-Adams made to get justice since her workshop was demolished and how life has been for her since then.
She promised to get back to the reporter, but she did not. A source close to the incident who craved anonymity, said she has moved on from the nasty experience.
However, she is now a part of the Nigerian government gas vehicles conversion project. Her organisation is pioneering the federal government’s effort at converting vehicles from running on petrol to compressed natural gas which is cheaper, cleaner and readily available in the country.
According to the source,“her new project has the federal government’s backing and she might not want to rock the boat. She might not want to talk about her humiliation again, God has compensated her and she seems to have moved on from that nasty experience.
“She just came back from Kigali, Rwanda, where she went as part of federal government delegation to the climate conference. If she starts talking, people might start asking what else she wants!’’
Laws against workplace harassment
Section 351 of the Criminal Code Act punishes assault. It provides that any person who unlawfully assaults another is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to if no greater punishment is provided, imprisonment for one year.
Section 352 of the same Act provides for assaulting another with intent to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for 14years.
Section 360 of the Criminal Codes provides that any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults a woman is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to two years imprisonment.
Section 46 of the Violence Against Persons Act 2015 prohibits all forms of violence against persons in private and public life, and provides maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding N100,000 or both.
The Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended in 2010) contains specific provisions granting the National Industrial Court of Nigeria exclusive jurisdiction over any dispute arising from workplace discrimination or sexual harassment. The National Industrial Court (NIC) also amended its civil procedure rules to include workplace sexual harassment provisions.
Section 34 of the 1999 constitution provides that,“every Nigerian individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly (a)No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment, (b) No person shall be held in slavery or servitude, and(c) No person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”
Order14(1) of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria Civil Procedure Rules 2017 states that if a claimant alleges sexual harassment in the workplace, it must specify whether the sexual harassment is physical contact ranging from touching to sexual advances, comments, a verbal form of sexual harassment, a non verbal form of sexual harassment including unwelcome gestures, indecent exposures, and unwelcome display of sexuality with sexual overtones, sex-related jokes and insults.
Despite these laws, women continue to face one form of sexual violence or another in their various workplaces.
STER’s Information, statistics on workplace harassment
The survey shows that workplace sexual harassment is quite prevalent in Nigeria, and little is done to safeguard survivors.Women are more likely to be victims of workplace sexual harassment, while men are more likely to be the harassers.
Lawyers, psychologists speak
A lawyer, who doubles as the Chairperson, of the International Federation of Women Lawyer (FIDA) Badagry Chapter, Mrs. Adaku Mbama, said the first thing a victim of harassment in the workplace should do, is to bluntly tell the abuser to stop.
She added: “The victim should also have a detailed descriptive record of the name of the abuser, the dates, timings, and the exact mode of harassment, especially if it is sexual. She should be bold to address the issue by speaking out to a more senior colleague whom the abuser respects. Apart from that, the victim should seek knowledge and get informed on how to deal with an abuser and contact any organisation that advocates for the rights of women.”
Another Lagos-based lawyer, Emmanuel Nwaghodoh, explained that it was impossible to know the number of workplace sexual harassment casesthathadbeentakentocourtbecausemostvictimsdonottakelegalactionsagainstperpetrators.
He added: “Sexual harassment itself is a crime in Nigeria. Anybody can sue to rely on the provisions by the National Industrial Court (NIC) which handles anything about work and employment and labour.”
A Psychologist and Head of Department, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria, Dr.Adekeye Shika, listed some of the issues faced by a woman, who has been assaulted at her workplace to include depression, anxiety, distress, low self-esteem, insecurity, as well as reduced productivity.
She affirmed the need for victims to be given cognitive restructuring to help them to change the way they think, and the way they evaluate words spoken and activity in their environment. Shika explained that sexual harassment, especially in the workplace, may affect its victims in many other ways, such as verbal, non-verbal, physical, or powerplay.
“This can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.The victims may end up quitting their jobs because they believe that they can do nothing about being harassed in the workplace. Even after quitting their jobs, some don’t recover fully. The therapeutic method used to help victims recover is by giving them the necessary support they need, helping them to think and adaptively see the problem,”she added.
A document obtained from the website of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, on National Gender Policy, prescribed that the gender policy should address the systematic inequalities between women and men in society without ignoring the fundamental differences between them.
It prioritises the empowerment of women as a way of achieving gender equality and is based on the premise that gender inequality is about power relations between men and women, and that any policy, plan or practice that seeks gender equality must balance these power relations for the optimum benefit of both parties.
Associations such as the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and Association of Professional Women in Engineering (APWEN) said they were poised to limit some of the challenges against women.
They watch over, promote and protect the mutual interest of their members, as well as support women in capacity development through advocacy and advisory.
The President of APWEN, Dr. Elizabeth Jumoke Eterigho, said that though the association do not have an anti-sexual harassment policy or response procedure, it seeks support in different categories for vulnerable lady technicians and mechanics from companies and agencies through training, giving start-upkits, and empowering them academically.
Eterigho said:“For those that need training, we get them engaged with some companies and at the end of the training, they are employed. Examples of such collaborations are with Tranos and Nenis Automobile in Ikorodu, Lagos. In other cases, we send them to school for basic education despite their skills and pay for their school fees through the chapters they are located in.”
She added that there was need for a policy to encourage and protect ladies that go into such fields.
The Project Coordinator, Forging Africa’s Future Mechanical Engineers (FAFME), implementation board of the Nigerian Institute of Mechanical Engineers (NIMechE), and founder of Nenis AutoCare, Mrs. Osazoduwa Agboneni, told THISDAY that she has had her fair share of harassment in a male-dominated field.
She stated that affirmative action for women in various places has helped her to get recognition and improved patronage for her business.
Agboneni noted that experience has shown her the importance that policies play in driving growth for women in society. “I have also taken a leaf from my experience by advocating for policy for women and at the same time, training girls and women to become automobile experts. That’s my way of giving back to society.”
Acting Director, Centre for Response and Prevention of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (CRPSGBV), Lagos State University (LASU), Dr.Igot Ofem describes workplace sexual harassment as a serious menace that affects the mental health, physical safety and productivity of the staff.
She told THISDAY that no workplace is immune to issues relating to sexual abuse, both the male and the female can be harassed sexually, yet most incidences go unreported making it are occurring decimal.
Ofem said: “Every employer or management of the organisation should take proactive measures to ensure a safe and comfortable work environment for all staff particularly, the female staff. These measures can range from having an effective anti-sexual harassment policy to frequent training programmes and workshops for the staff.”
For women who have been sexually harassed at workplaces, she stressed that there was a need for them to set clear boundaries in their relationships and let the offender know what is acceptable, and what is not, as this amounts to violating one’s consent.
“Most organisations have staff handbooks or conditions of service in place.They should speak out by way of reporting sexual harassment incidences formally or informally to the appropriate persons or authority based on laid down procedures,”Ofem said, adding that by reporting the incidences, this will pave way for thorough investigations and appropriate sanctions. It will also ensure they get support from either government or non-government and anti-sexual harassment agencies.
She further said: “victims can seek redress for their grievances in the court of law. Women should always watch out for redflags of sexual harassment in their relationships with their male counterparts.They should clearly understand their rights and responsibilities in the workplace and ensure that there is a detailed documentation of perpetrator’s behaviour and incidences. They should also strive for continuous self and career development in the workplace.”
Lagos State intervention initiative
This reporter inquired from the Executive Secretary of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency, Barrister Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi about the support system available for women who had been harassed at their workplaces in the state.
She told THISDAY that the agency has the responsibility of providing coordinated and holistic support response to victims of sexual harassment, adding that it was engaging and leveraging its partnership with corporate organisations to ensure full implementation of the sexual harassment policy.
“It is not enough for an organisation to say they have a sexual harassment policy; we assist them in implementing such policy so that people can report cases if they arise,” she stated, adding that the agency has been doing this since 2019.
She further noted: “We have been engaging the private sector and encouraging them to adopt a sexual harassment policy and put a system in place to assist victims to build their cases once they complain.”
She described sexual harassment as a criminal and civil assault. She stated: “The Criminal Law of Lagos State Section 253 provides that it is an offence punishable with three years’ imprisonment. It is not limited to employer or employee; it also extends to institutions.”
Vivour-Adeniyi expressed concern that evidence from issues of sexual harassment is not readily available as most times, victims do not expect such assaults
“For the very few cases that were brought to us, we informed the victims. According to her, the agency also counsels victims on different options available, which are to go to the police and then seek redress in court by asking for damages and compensations. However, not much cases have been reported at the agency.”