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Speaking up: Diplomats, policy makers and the African Development Bank share lessons on creating harassment-free workplaces

- More people willing to speak out about abuse means there is progress - panel

A conversation “shift” is occurring in workplaces resulting in more people, especially women, speaking up and reporting sexual harassment, attendees of a special panel session on the topic organized by the African Development Bank, heard.

The panel discussion entitled: Ensuring the Right of Everyone to a Harassment free Work Place: Lessons from the Front Lines, was held November 6 2019, as part of the Bank’s SVP’s Knowledge Series at the Babacar Ndiaye auditorium of the Bank’s headquarters. The event was also followed live by staff in regional and field offices on video.

Senior representatives of Côte d’Ivoire’s diplomatic community and the Bank shared experiences and insights about one of the most headlining issue of today: harassment in the workplace.

Bank Senior Vice President Charles Boamah led the panel made up of U.K. Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire Josephine Gauld; Richard K. Bell, U.S.  Ambassador; Euphrasie Kouassi Yao, Special Advisor to President Ouattara on Gender; and Mr. Peter Van Rooij, Deputy Director of the ILO Regional Office for Africa.

Boamah said the right environment - one free of sexual harassment and with zero tolerance to harassment of all kinds - was central to delivery of the Bank’s mandate,  and had played a role in deliberations on its recent capital increase.

“Every person deserves to be treated with dignity…our stand on this comes from the President all the way down,” Boamah stated.

The discussion, part of the SVP’s Knowledge series, was intended to “listen, hear views, share experiences and bring lessons from the field as part of an ongoing conversation, Boamah said.

“Having the conversation is such a key element,” Ambassador Gould agreed in her intervention in which she recounted examples of harassment within the U.K. Foreign Office and how it was dealt with.

The U.K Foreign office has produced an action plan to prevent sexual harassment.

“The conversation has shifted…more people are willing to share their experiences,” Gauld said.

The ILO has adopted a convention on the global mandate to end violence /harassment at work.

“Instruments help us to get clarity on what we are talking about workers and all persons in the world of work everywhere,” Van Rooij said.

Necessary measures include prevention and protection, defining and prohibiting violence/harassment and requires employers to take steps to prevent and inhibit harassment. Safe, fair effective dispute resolution mechanisms are also necessary, Van Rooij, added.

 Cote d’Ivoire, which has ratified the ILO convention as well as introduced modifications to the constitution and penal code, touching on violence against women, is still a battle against patriarchy, Kouassi Yao said.

“In Cote d’Ivoire perpetrators want to work in the shadows…we need to give support to women who are victims,” Yao said

For Ambassador Bell, communication and aiding the vulnerable to speak up is key alongside mandatory reporting on instances - especially by supervisors.

Commenting from the front row, lan Bacarese, Director of the Bank’s Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption, said the institution’s serious stand on mitigating and combatting harassment, abuse of power, and harassment policy since 2006, was a concrete step in the right direction. But more needed to be done to encourage people to report without fear of retribution

“We are now entering a new era where people are open to speak,” Bacarese said.

Other front row guests included the Bank’s Director for Gender, Vanessa Moungar, Babatunde Adenibi, Chairman of Staff Council and Ismael-Frederic Fouad, Chief Ethics Compliance Officer / Acting Head of the Unit (Ethics).

At the end of the session, there was consensus that the dialogue needed to continue.

“Such discussions are important, ILO will be glad to host the next event,” Van Rooij said.



Amba Mpoke-Bigg, Communication and External Relations Department, African Development Bank