The classic definition for sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which happens at a place of employment or in the exercise of work. Sexual harassment can manifest itself physically, psychologically, and various mediums can be manipulated to create a hostile and uncomfortable work environment, for example via use of technology and social media.
If the form of harassment is physical, leading to rape, indecent assault, and aggravated indecent assault in accordance with the Criminal Code, access to medical assistance is critical. It is encouraged that survivors of all forms of sexual violence seek medical attention as there is a lifespan within which the medication is effective.
If a person seeks medical attention within 72 hours, they are highly likely to prevent the spread of HIV and other forms of sexually transmitted infections through the post exposure prophylaxis. Additionally, women are administered the emergency contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy.
At the dusk of the year 2019 the world was hard hit and by the end of March 2020 it had been declared a global pandemic.
The rate at which this virus has been hard hitting globally led to lockdowns hence the government of Zimbabwe also declared it a public emergency and a Formidable Epidemic Disease in terms of S3 of S1 77 of 2020 which calls for measures to prevent, contain and treat the incidence of COVID 19.
A public emergency comes with some limitations to some of the rights enshrined in the constitution such as freedom of movement.
As a result of measures taken to contain the virus there are also certain areas of life which may suffer including access to health care services which currently require that for somebody to be admitted or to receive comprehensive medical services, they must produce results which prove their COVID-19 status – PCR results.
It is vital to make sure that sexual reproductive health rights are maintained by keeping the health system functional.
However, some hospitals and health care centers are not taking in people with sexual and reproductive health related matters which may result in failure to access post exposure prophylaxis and contraceptives.
This has serious repercussions including unwanted pregnancy and contraction of a sexually transmitted infection or virus.
It is crucial to note that the increase in the numbers of reports of gender-based violence during the initial stages of the lockdown to date, also includes sexual gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
There were reports from domestic workers and workers working in shifts to ensure social distancing, who suffered sexual harassment but could not access any remedies through the formal justice system.
The earlier stages included an additional hurdle in the form of a letter allowing a person to travel outside of their residential area leaving many women stranded particularly those living in remote areas, where major hospitals are located at the growth points.
Access to health care services should be prioritized even in a pandemic as it is an integral part of the formal justice system.
For feedback, questions and comments please feel free to email – [email protected]. Look out for the next article in this column next week and the Kwayedza every Thursday.
For a 24-hour response to Gender Based Violence issues, call our toll free number 08080131: Hotline 0782900900
Remember to wear masks every time you are in contact with others, practice social distancing and washing your hands with soap.