The National Human Rights Commission: The Gambia Faces Inadequate Laws on Sexual Harassment
Gambia: Tuesday 28 July | Yero S. Bah
Following the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission of the Gambia in 2017 through an Act of parliament to promote and protect human rights in The Gambia, for the first time in the country, a comprehensive national human rights situation report was published and submitted to the government of the Gambia with series of recommendations for actions by government, which covered the period 2019 - 2020.
Among the recommendations contained in the report is for the state to enact a comprehensive and all-inclusive sexual harassment Act or law to protect women, girls and children in workplaces and educational centers/schools. Sexual harassment is a violation of human rights and a prohibited form of sexual violence said the report.
According to the report, sexual harassment is defined as unwanted, non-consensual sexual behavior, where one party imposes sexual attention on another unwilling party, adding that it includes verbal, physical, and non-verbal harassment.
In the report, the commission has deplores the grossly inadequate sexual harassment laws in The Gambia as well as the non-enforcement or implementation of the few laws available to protect and promote the welfare of women and girls in the country.
The human rights document, highlighted some of the consequences of sexual harassment as it compromises the dignity, liberty, security of person and freedom from discrimination of the victim, noting that studies have shown that sexual harassment is a major problem particularly for women all over the world and it affects women’s mental and physical health as well as their social and economic statuses.
“All sexual advances of any kind that take place without consent, including cases of bribe, coerced in to engaging in sexual behavior, is deemed as sexual harassment.” the commission said.
Besides, the report cited numerous international, regional and domestic national laws that are meant to safeguard the safety of women, girls and children at all levels and situations such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW) adopted in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly, the Maputo Protocols on the Rights of Women in Africa, as well as the Gambia Women’s Act 2010, which serves as the primary legislative framework for the protection of women’s rights in the Gambia.
The commission notified the state that, despite the existence of the Sexual Offences Act 2013, which provides protection to series of vulnerable persons, there is no expres provision prohibiting sexual harassment under the sexual Offences Act in the country.
It further says that, people suffering from sexual violence are not adequately catered when it comes to psychosocial support in the Gambia adding that the country faces inadequate laws on sexual harassment but also enforcement or implementation of the available legislation on sexual violence remains a major challenge due to various factors like ‘culture of silence’, ‘toxic masculinity’, lack of accountability’, absence of data, ‘codes of conduct, ‘guidelines on how to report incidences of sexual harassment and inadequate psychosocial support to victims.
Despite these challenges in the report, the commission promised to implement numerous strategies to improve the human rights situation of the Gambia as well as continue to monitor all human rights issues but equally called on the government of Gambia to enact and enforce sexual harassment laws and others that would meet international standards.
The commission also called on civil society organizations, NGOs and individual citizens to push for such laws in the country so as to provide protection for all vulnerable groups such as women, children and girls adding that men also do face sexual harassment at times.