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Sexual abuse rife at African Union, probe reveals

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By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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Sexual harassment is rife at the African Union aided by the lack of a sexual exploitation policy, an internal probe has revealed.

The investigation on gender bias, whose findings were made public Friday, showed that short-term staff, interns and youth volunteers were the most vulnerable and exposed to the abuse.

Senior departmental staff, who position themselves as “gate-keepers” and “king-makers”, were identified as the main perpetrators seeking sexual favours with promises of long-term lucrative contracts for the young women.

In a memo seen by The EastAfrican dated January 25 and titled “Me too up for her; She matters for all of us” addressed to African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat and his deputy Kwesi Quartey, a group of at least 37 female employees alleged gross discrimination and flouting of recruitment procedures. Mr Mahamat promised to take action.

In May, Mr Mahamat formed a High-Level Committee to investigate the allegations of discriminations at the Addis Ababa-headquartered organisation.

“It is the finding of the Committee that incidents of sexual harassment exist in the Commission. This is established by the almost unanimous confirmation of the prevalence of this occurrence by interviewees appearing before the Committee,” a statement Friday by the AU read.

“Evidence presented suggests that this form of harassment perpetuated by supervisors over female employees in their charge, especially, but not exclusively, during official missions outside the work station.”

The committee said the cases went unreported for fear of victimisation “because there is no sexual harassment policy in the Commission, and therefore no dedicated, effective redress and protection mechanism available to victims or whistle-blowers.”

On top of sexual harassment incidents, the investigation found cases of bullying, nepotism, conflict of interest, intimidation, gender discrimination, abuse of power, corruption and impunity.

“From the evidence presented to the Committee, both male and female superiors are reported to harass and bully their subordinates,” the report notes.

While the report did not name officials implicated in the malpractices, it called for the establishment of a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that protects the victims and takes the strongest punitive measures against any perpetrator.

Other recommendations include lifestyle, skills and gender audits as well as strengthening of oversight and dispute resolution mechanisms.

The committee urged that review of the human resource policy, organisation structure and culture be undertaken within the current AU reform process.



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