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An Overview of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: The Nigerian Experience

Updated on April 7, 2018

According to Sheffield (1987) sexual harassment is any deliberate, repeated or unwelcome verbal comment, gesture or physical contact that is of a sexual nature. It is a growing problem amongst the prominent issues bothering the human resource departments in the corporate world of developing countries in the 21st century and a violation of the fundermental human rights.

Female employees encounter several challenges in the workplace but sexual harassment which is one of the major issues according to Yusuf (2010) cut across physical, emotional, psychological and economic dimensions.

Reskin and Padavic (1994) pointed out that because sexual pressures are usually initiated by those in superior positions against the less powerful, women are more likely than men to be the objects of unwanted attention, especially in the workplace. In recent years, sexual related concerns have become a major dilemma of working life since women began to offer their labour in the market place (Fitzgerald, 1993), All employers must open their eyes to the possibility that sexual harassment could happen in their work place and must take all possible steps to prevent its occurrence.

The African culture is an organized patriarchal system which commemorates the dominance of males over females in all spheres of life and discourages the discussion of sexually related issues, women are stigmatized for identifying themselves as being sexually active and as a result many victims are uncomfortable to report their experiences for fear of humiliation and stigmatization within the society. Thio (1997), Fetzgerald et al (1990) and Zeidenstein et al (1996), the African culture can be said to see sexual harassment as an offshoot of patriarchal structure where inequality in gender relations is legitimized by socio-cultural beliefs.

There are various modes of sexual harassment in the work place, one, being "quid pro quo" a latin phrase which means "Something for something" this is essentially when the person in the superior position demands sexual acts from the worker as a condition for getting a job or promises of work related benefits. The other is, "offensive working environments" in which a pattern of unwelcome sexual advances, lewd language (Leering) and other verbal or physical conduct creates a hostile environment for the worker and prevents her from doing her job to the best of her ability.

Ginfe and Williams (1994) have provided some explanations on the reluctance of women to report their experience of sexual harassment in their workplace. According to them, these include that, many still do not recognize that sexual harassment is an actionable offence; victims may be reluctant to come forward with complaints fearing they will not be believed, that their charges will not be taken seriously or that they will be subjected to reprisal; it may be difficult to differentiate between harassment and joking on the job.

Poverty is one of the prevalent causes of sexual harassment because most victims crave for financial or material favour from their superior without the intent of being harassed however; the harassers do take advantage of them by asking them for sexual favours. Sexual harassment in the workplace can also be caused by dependency and reliance on co-workers for support and teamwork, reliance on superior officers for career advancement and job placement, abuse of authority by the supervisor, workplace bullying, poor management, job instability, job insecurity, low pay package, social problem such as divorce and low level of prosecution of culprit(Adkins, 1995).

The reality of sexual harassment is a brutal one but in the hopes of a reduction of this depravity, the following are recommended as a way of reducing incidence of sexual harassment in the Nigerian workplace,

• Female employees should be protected against by legislation against such acts by adequately sanctioning the offense as a direct violation of the fundamental human rights with jail time as a punishment for such offenses.

• Victims of such offenses should be encouraged to report incidents of sexual harassment and should not be stigmatized for their actions

• Public exposure plays a very vital role in combating sexual harassment, this can be done through, symposiums, publication of advertorials, seminars and workshops

• There is a need for the educational system to promote self respect, mutual respect and cooperation between women and men, especially at work

• Organizations should strictly adhere to rules regarding recruitment, promotion, discipline, reward, and training so that merit prevails against nepotism. This will also ensure that sexual harassment or sexual demands as a measure for bathe in these processes are avoided.

• There should be proper and stringent rules regarding the protection and institutionalizing ethics, norms, values and core principles of the organizations.

The African culture shuns and stigmatizes victims of harassment rather than punishing offenders which results in a double dilemma, as such the victim is left with no other option than to leave the organization and seek employment elsewhere or remain within the organizations and face whatever consequences may arise which causes stress and depression to the victim and hinders productivity.


Adkins (1995). Gendered Work: Sexuality, Family and the Labour Market. Open University Press: Milton H Keynes

Fitzgerald LF (1993). Sexual Harassment, Violence against women in the Workplace,

Sheffield G (1987) “Rank, Gender and House Sexuality: Manoassa as a key to Sexual Option” in P. Kaplan. The sociology of Sexuality , New York

Yusuf N (1998) “Gender Issues in Nigeria’s Industrial Relations” Journal of Arts and Social Science, Department of General Studies, Federal


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