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MHRC starts sexual abuse inquest in public institutions

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The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has started investigating issues of alleged

Gift Trapence

sexual harassment of staff in some government departments and parastatals.

MHRC Commissioner Stella Twea confirmed to Malawi News of the development.

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“Yes we have started investigating the issues and we are at an advanced stage now. I would be hesitant to give an interview on the same because we don’t want to jeopardise what we have achieved so far,” Twea said.

But our independent findings show that Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Director General Aubrey Sumbuleta appeared before the Commission on Thursday.

For some months now, both former and current employees of the state broadcaster, especially women, have come out in the open, especially on social media, to document what they allege was sexual and rights abuse at the hands of their boss.

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However when contacted to personally validate that he did appear before MHRC, Sumbuleta refused to comment on the matter.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Chairperson, Gift Trapence, has commended MHRC for taking the step.

“Malawians, including women, want to know the truth on the matter. HRDC is looking forward to read the final report and recommendations on the case,” Trapence said.

A few months ago, HRDC wrote MHRC and the Office of the Ombudsman to urgently institute an investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment perpetuated by senior managers at MBC, as lamented by some female staff members who have since left the state broadcaster.

“We, women in the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition, have noted with concern the allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace in institutions of higher learning, government departments and parastatals. Over the years, there have been allegations of women that have been sexually harassed at the public broadcaster as well as in other parastatals and government departments.

“Most of these women have been unable to lodge complaints while some that have been able to lodge complaints have not been assisted in an effective manner. As such, this practice has remained unchecked and women have continued suffering. Although there are these cases that have been made public, we are sure that there are many more cases that are out there and women are suffering silently,” reads part of the petition.

The grouping also wanted MHRC to ensure that sexual harassment policy is instituted and operationalised at MBC as well as other parastatals and government departments.

They had further demanded that once the allegations are proven, the institutions and officers concerned should provide restoration to the women survivors of sexual harassment.

The country’s Constitution provides a broad framework for the protection of all Malawians, and specifically the Gender Equality Act (2013) provides remedies toward women and girls that have been harassed.

The Constitution stipulates that a person who sexually harasses another, he or she commits an offence and is liable to a fine of K 1,000,000 and to a term of imprisonment of five (5) years.

However, despite the existence of these provisions, there has been a lack of enforcement due prevailing environment which limit survivors from reporting incidences, which ultimately has an effect on the well-being of the concerned women.

The Gender Equality Act spells out as ‘an act of sexual harassment’ if anyone engages in any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

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