Ombudsman’s Message for the occasion of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign 2023

Ombudsman’s Message for the occasion of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign 2023

Violence and harassment of women is well known to us in Seychelles. It takes all forms, from unacceptable words and gestures to harmful practices and behaviour that cause physical, psychological, sexual and economic harm to its victims. It thrives in the secrecy and intimacy of our homes, and even permeates our work place.

As we start this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, let us reflect on how the lack of respect for others lies at the heart of all violence and aggression. Let us identify what we can do, individually and collectively, to show and earn respect in our lives and help end gender-based violence at home, at school, at work and in our daily lives.

Respect involves everyone. It begins with each and every one of us. It provides the space in which our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, all women, can live and work in conditions where they are safe, secure and, most importantly, respected.

Making that space is not always about passing anti-discrimination laws, regulations and policies. In Seychelles, we already have strong employment laws that ‘protect’ women at work. Article 16 of the Seychellois Charter of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, guarantees every person, man or woman, the right to be treated with “dignity worthy of being human and not to be subjected to ……. degrading treatment …”

Article 30 secures a specific and fundamental human right for working mothers to “special protection with regard to paid leave and her conditions at work…”

Section 46A(1) of the Employment Act specifically prohibits employers from making discriminating decisions against workers “on the grounds of … gender” and enables a female worker to file a complaint for “redress” against such a decision.

More interestingly, the Public Officers’ Ethics Act 2008 (Cap 304) continues to guide and govern the conduct of public officers. Under Section 5(b), a public officer must treat the public and co-workers with “courtesy and respect”. Section 16 directly addresses sexual harassment in the office, specifying that “a public officer shall not sexually harass a fellow public officer or any other member of the public”.

Anyone aggrieved by any misconduct in the workplace can take the grievance to the appropriate authorities. These include the Employment Bureau, Gender Department of the Ministry of Family Affairs, Human Rights Commission, Office of the Ombudsman. A criminal complaint can also be filed with the Police.

Why, therefore, despite all these laws, are there still many instances where women and girls, especially in the work place, fall victim to sexual harassment and violence? All too often, these cases are left unresolved because it is a taboo. The Office of the Ombudsman continues to receive complaints accusing public authorities of failing to protect women and letting perpetrators of sexual harassment get away unpunished because those who saw chose to turn a blind eye and those who knew chose not to get involved. Worse still, our society all too often adds insult to injury by blaming the victim, if only partly, for the perpetrator’s actions. Truth be said, criminal prosecutions rarely start and convictions remain the exception. The victim is often left with the hard choice of moving on.

In June 2019, the International Labour Organisation officially adopted the Violence and Harassment Convention 2019 (C190) and the Violence and Harassment Recommendation 2019 (R206). The instruments recognise gender-based violence as a world-wide concern negatively impacting women and girls and offer a blueprint for how states should address it. Seychelles has yet to ratify the convention and adopt the recommendations.

Over the next 16-days of Activism, let us break the silence surrounding sexual violence and harassment. Let us force a conversation on how to revise our power structures and eradicate those ‘norms’ that directly or indirectly encourage gender-based violence in our society. 

As we do so, let us measure the cost of inaction and keep in mind how the absence of accountability inevitably normalises such actions and behaviour in the work place and the community. Pass the word around and make it a point to educate yourselves, our peers and colleagues and workmates of our constitutional undertaking. Build an inclusive society on pillars of respect, fairness, justice and tolerance that will positively impact the behaviour and attitudes of our future generations of women and men. Eradicating gender-based violence may be a battle lost in advance but it is one we are condemned to fight.

Nichole Tirant-Gherardi


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