A distress househelp Photo:mail&gurdian

Any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offense or humiliation, especially when such conduct interferes with work, is made a condition of employment or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, is  Sexual Harassment.

Stella is a “Mama Fua”, colloquial for the laundry woman, living in Kibera, Nairobi. On Monday, 23 October 2023, her day started normally and left for her daily chores within the nearby Olympic Estate. It is not the first time that Stella is doing some cleaning for Mwangi. However, things turned south when after finishing her chores, Mwangi started making sexual advances towards her, acts that did not go down well with Stella. Unfortunately, Mwangi started physically abusing Stella for refuting his advances. Her efforts to scream for help bore no fruits as Mwangi ended up raping her.

This is not the only isolated case of sexual harassment. Mwihaki, a domestic worker in Githurai estate, Nairobi,  narrated how her employer, Mr. Wafula, refused to pay her monthly dues, but instead, in a cruel twist of events, demanded for sex, in return for her payment. Trapped as the employer had locked the door from the inside, Mwihaki unwillingly acceded to the demands out of fear, only to be paid KShs. 2,000, and forced out of the house with stern warning never to set foot on Wafula’s house.

According to Section 6 of the Employment Act 2007;

(1) An employee is sexually harassed if the employer of that employee or a representative of that employer or a co-worker; 

 (a) directly or indirectly requests that employee for sexual intercourse, sexual contact or any other form of sexual activity that contains an implied or express

 (i) promise of preferential treatment in employment; 

 (ii) threat of detrimental treatment in employment; or 

 (iii) threat about the present or future employment status of the employee; 

 (b) uses language whether written or spoken of a sexual nature; 

 (c) uses visual material of a sexual nature; or 

 (d) shows physical behavior of a sexual nature which directly or indirectly subjects the employee to behavior that is unwelcome or offensive to that employee and that by its nature has a detrimental effect on that employee’s employment, job performance, or job satisfaction.

The Sexual Offences Act, section 23.(1) Any person, who being in a position of authority, or holding a public office, who persistently makes any sexual advances or requests which he or she knows, or has reasonable grounds to know,  are unwelcome, is guilty of the offence of sexual harassment and shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than three years or to a fine of not less than one hundred thousand shillings or to both.

It is essential for both domestic workers and their employers to beware of these legal protections. All workers should know their rights and be unafraid to speak up if they face sexual harassment. On the other hand, employers must also recognize their responsibilities and treat their employees with respect, dignity and fairness.

Incase of sexual harassment, you should boldly address the perpetrator and let them know their behavior is unwelcome and inappropriate. Speaking to a supervisor or a higher authority is advisable not forgetting to document the events, keeping record of incidents, including date, time, location, verbal exchange and actions, as these will be helpful when filing a formal complaint at the police station as well as reporting to the nearest Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) desk, Kenya.

Victims are advised to seek further support from family,  trusted friends and or professionals through therapy or counseling. 

The fight against sexual harassment is a  collective effort that requires the support of the society, law enforcement, and the legal system at large. It is your responsibility to ensure that those who perpetrate such abuses are held accountable for their actions. This not only sends a powerful message, but also safeguards the rights  and wellbeing of all domestic workers.