Working Women face Challenges in Zimbabwe
Sexual harassment, being taken for granted and maintaining a healthy work/life balance are some of the difficult issues women face at the workplace. This is according to a survey done by Industrial Psychology Consultants titled Challenges Women Face at Work - Report August 2010, which shows what women experience in Zimbabwe at workplaces and when looking for jobs.
The survey, which was conducted with the aim of understanding Zimbabwean working women’s perceptions, challenges and experiences of their role in the workplace, saw sexual harassment topping the problems.
According to the report this is a common challenge that women in Zimbabwe face in the workplace.
Various forms of sexual abuse are aimed at women that include:
- Verbal abuse, where male colleagues or superiors make “dirty jokes”
- Sexual favours expected from female employees - denial usually results in some form of victimisation
- Colleagues or bosses making sexual advances
Of particular interest was the way personal assistants and secretaries were treated at work by their bosses. Many reported that they were viewed as “unintelligent sexual objects”.
Effects of Sexual Harassment
- Emotional and psychological consequences
- Humiliation and anger (in extreme cases, it has led to victims committing suicide).
- Creates employees with low levels of concentration and motivation, sometimes leading to increased accidents and ultimately costs related to absenteeism
- Women are discouraged from applying for certain jobs, particularly in male-dominated environments
Finally, service industries such as the hospitality industry, where employees must interact with various types of clients, are likely to reflect high reports of sexual harassment.
Being taken for granted
In the research, most women spoke of their views not being taken seriously in meetings, and being given stereotypically female tasks, despite their qualifications. For instance, they said that they would often be allocated the role of recording minutes during meetings, making tea or ushering guests or visitors around the workplace.
Overall, women’s opinions were not being valued. Many women said that most of their input was viewed with scepticism or was simply not acknowledged during meetings.
Difficulty balancing work and motherhood
Women noted that employers would often show no sympathy when their children were ill and they had to request leave time to attend to them.
Besides children being ill, women faced difficulties in attending children’s school functions and thus their relationships with their children were at times compromised.
The balance dilemma also applied to women who struggled to fully contribute to their work due to expectations from their spouse or family that they should also perform household tasks such as cooking and cleaning. Many women mentioned they would often be tired and were deprived of sleep due to such situations.
Failure to balance work with family life impacts heavily on the personal development of most Zimbabwean women. Some women mentioned not having enough time to pursue additional degrees and qualifications as their free time was taken up by their family.
In some countries the work-life conflict is reduced by providing individuals with alternative opportunities. For instance “flexitime” or flexible working arrangements include rearranging working hours, incorporating part-time shifts, job sharing and tele-working. These strategies aim to create a family-friendly working environment where women can work from home or can be relieved when not present.
However, this is easily not possible where organisations may not be financially equipped to fully implement such activities, such as in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean women are currently at a disadvantage in comparison to women in many other countries.
Single, widowed, pregnant? Unreliable!
Women who are single, widowed or pregnant face a tough challenge in the recruitment market.
Single women reported that interviewers made the assumption that married women were more mature than unmarried women.
Those who mentioned that they were widowed had the perception that the interviewers often showed mistrust at their widowed status.
Women who were pregnant or planning to get pregnant were often disadvantaged right at the beginning of the interview stage Most women said that merely walking into an interview room as a pregnant woman immediately resulted in them losing the job opportunity.
Find out more about your rights in the workplace with our Decent Work section.