We opened the discussion with some very candid stories about hostile work environments in Kampala. While most participants worked in companies with more than 25 people, very few of them knew about the Ugandan law (§19 of the Employment (Sexual Harassment) Regulations 2012) that required their companies to have a sexual harassment policy. Other entrepreneurs shared that they had instituted certain rules such as dress code and non-fraternization policies in their companies to pre-empt sexual harassment.
As much as we advocate for the explicit, sometimes you are shocked into silence.
Throughout the workshop, there was a theme of being more assertive and vocal with exactly what makes us feel uncomfortable. However, we are reminded, in the heat of the moment, we may have such a "flight or fight" response that we are unable to response. It is important that we are kind ourselves (and our friends if we're being allies) to give enough time and space to processing our emotions fully, before needing to articulate what has happened.
Here's the Catch 22-- sometimes we're doing want to say anything because we want to seem like a strong woman, but by not saying anything you're making yourself weak.
One participant shared a story where she felt at a loss to say anything about how a man made her feel because she thought it would make her look weak. We are most empowered when we are able to express fully how we feel and in the ways we want to react. Being vulnerable and feeling uncomfortable does not make us weak. On the contrary, it makes us stronger to know ourselves in such situations so that we can avoid or mitigate it in the future.
My body is a dictatorship. I'm not here to accommodate you.
Towards the end of the conversation, it got very heated, as we began to discuss the difference between "sexual provocation" and "sexual harassment." One participant believed that the way that some women sexually harass men is by wearing provocative clothing. This is a very serious allegation, as in East Africa, in particular, women are often stripped naked to punish them for wearing clothing that is too provocative. In the end, we have to remember, while we should be respectful of cultural norms, our decision to dress in a certain way is a right of expression and liberties should not be taken in interruption.
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