Secretaries cry out to government over sexual harassment by bosses

By Jessica Sabano

Kampala. Secretaries under their umbrella body, Association of Secretaries and Administrative Professionals (ASAPU) in Uganda have said they are experiencing sexual harassment at work and appealed to government to prevail over their bosses to end the vice.
The secretaries, who pointed out that they are subjected to verbal advances, suggestive annotations, inappropriate touches and direct sexual demands, said their jobs are at a risk because their bosses threaten to sack them if they do not heed to their demands and this has affected their career prospects.

Some of more than 300 secretaries, both from the public and private sector, drawn from all regions across the country during a training of secretaries on skills development that took place in Kampala on Saturday reported to the Minister of Public Service, Mr Muruuli Mukasa, that their bosses make advances and others force them into sex against their will.
The meeting was meant to equip them with skills development, economic empowerment and to discuss salary enhancements.

“I am not comfortable at my place of work because my boss touches me and demands for sex when I turn up for duty,’’ said one of the secretaries, who identified herself as Juliet, working in one of the key ministries.
She reported how her boss has continuously harassed her, promising promotions and fat allowances.
“Whenever I turn down my boss’ demands, he acts rude towards me and downplays my effort,” she said.
Being a sensitive matter, most secretaries did not want to disclose their identities for fear of victimisation and reprisal.

Big challenge
Another secretary, who introduced herself as working with Ministry of Works and Transport, said sexual harassment at their workplace remains a big challenge since their bosses order them to have sex even when they are aware of their family statuses.
“We are the people responsible for their private files but they can’t draw a line between work and social life. They want to take advantage of the private working environment to exploit us sexually,” she said.
The other only identified as Sarah, a secretary from a private organisation in Western Uganda, said her boss threatened to sack her if she rejected his sexual advances.

Others said they are invited to meet their bosses in awkward places such as lodges and expensive hotels, unaware of their intentions.
Speaker after speaker appealed to their association president, Ms Norah Kiwumulo, and to the Minister of Public Service to prevail over the situation they said was getting out of hand.
Ms Kiwumulo in her response appealed for strict ground rules to guard against sexual exploitation while in office.

“People must have a limit to everything and women must always speak out against the vice so that they don’t suffer in silence,” she said.
Mr Mukasa encouraged the secretaries to report such cases to human resource or any other responsible offices for disciplinary action.
Public Service guidelines prohibit sexual harassment at places of work.
Ms Kiwumulo had earlier called on the government to review titles of secretaries in the mainstream public service to match with those in the private sector and government institutions such as administrative assistants, personal assistants, and senior personal assistants for the purposes of uniformity citing examples in hybrid government bodies like UNRA, URA, KCCA and others.

The vice president of ASAPU, Ms Grace Kesande, appealed for a pay rise for secretaries.
“Our silence by not demonstrating on the streets like others institutions does not mean we are financially stable but just a sense of patriotism and professionalism,” Ms Kesande said.
She said some earn as low as Shs250,000 as their colleagues in other sectors walk home with more than Shs4 million.

Ministry guidelines

Sexual harassment: Under Public Service guidelines, sexual harassments is defined as Physical conduct of a sexual nature, which includes all unwanted physical contact, ranging from touching to sexual assault and rape, and includes a strip search by or in the presence of the opposite sex.

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