blog / You Can’t Touch This

Tue, 07 February, 2017

You Can’t Touch This

First Published in issue 1, August 2012

Words Sharlene Gawi


2 eyes staring or leering

10 sec. inappropriate sexually explicit conversation

1 ½ pesterings for a date

2 hands making sexual gestures

1 voice of promises or threats for sexual favours

pinch of offensive visual sexual material

¼ hand touching intimate parts of the body

10 sec. massaging without invitation

2 arms or lips attempting to embrace or kiss

Sexual harassment in the workplace can be defined as unwelcome sexual advances made by a co-worker. The most controversial cases see superiors or employers promising continued employment or a promotion to their employees for compliance or reciprocation to these unwelcome advances. Sexual harassment can be in the form of physical contact, jokes, verbal comments, the display of offensive visual material, sexual propositions, or any such thing that is inappropriate in the working environment.

Sexuality is a private and personal thing with very little, if not no relevance at all in most working environments.

There are many more examples and scenarios, but overall, if the behavior is unwelcome and makes the recipient feel intimidated, threatened, or uncomfortable, it’s unacceptable.

Sexual harassment has become somewhat of a serious issue in our workplaces. Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from discrimination, intimidation, harassment, and bullying.

When I set out to research this topic, I was quite sure there were laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace in Papua New Guinea. However, what I found was no follow-through on the part of our government, only some positive measures taken by individual organisations and business houses that have taken the initiative to address the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Papua New Guinea Constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, origin, colour, or sex. However, on the other hand, there is no specific employment anti-discrimination law.

As a member of the United Nations, Papua New Guinea has ratified – or agreed to observe and embody in our laws – certain international laws and policies that the United Nations has proposed in order for us to raise the standards of our systems and internal social development. We should be moving in the same direction globally in addressing the pressing humanitarian issues of our time.

Papua New Guinea has ratified all eight core ILO (International Labor Organisation) conventions, in view of restrictions on the trade union rights or workers, discrimination, child labour, and forced labour. So far, PNG has not taken necessary measures to comply with what we have agreed to do in embodying as part of our system these international laws of sexual harassment, gender equality, and child labour. By embodying, I mean making these laws part of our State law. Making these laws locally enforceable and not just some vague clause that we like the idea of on an international scale.

Laws pertaining to prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace are a part of the internationally recognized core labour standards. PNG agreed to embody this law as far back as December 1996, at the first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation in Singapore. Since then, we have re-affirmed the commitment internationally; however, government has failed to make this law part of our municipal or state law.

What this means, ladies and gents, is that if you think you are a victim of sexual harassment at your workplace, there are no laws that define what sexual harassment is, there are no laws that stipulate the extent of punishment for the perpetrator, and there is no guarantee of justice being served, at least where our country’s legislation is concerned.

On a more positive note, there are organisations and business houses that have embodied as part of their workplace policies and employment contract clauses dealing with sexual harassment and how to seek relief in the workplace if you feel in any way that you have been taken advantage of.

It is fast becoming commonplace for sexual harassment laws to be embodied into workplace policies and enforced as part of being employed by an organization. I salute these organisations!

Knowledge empowers and I like to be practical about my research and analysis on issues addressed in my articles, as you will see over time.

This time around, working ladies and gents, I suggest you make it your business to find out (if you don’t already know) whether there are clauses in your company policy on sexual harassment and how it should be dealt with in the organization for which you work.

Those of you in the process of changing jobs or joining the workforce for the first time make it your business to ask your prospective employers about their opinions and policies on sexual harassment in the workplace. Be an active participant in the positive development of our country.

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