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African Union’s internal inquiry reveals full extent of sexual harassment

Damning findings show that sexual harassment is rife within the African Union Commission.


Sexual harassment is rife within the African Union Commission (AU), an internal inquiry has concluded.

“Sexual harassment: It is the finding of the Committee that incidents of sexual harassment exists [sic] in the Commission. This is established by the almost unanimous confirmation of the prevalence of this occurrence by interviewees appearing before the Committee,” said the three-woman panel appointed to investigate.

The inquiry was established following the Mail & Guardian’s exposé, published in May, that revealed that 37 female staff had signed a petition complaining about pervasive sexual harassment and gender discrimination within the commission. It was chaired by Bineta Diop, the AU Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security.

EXCLUSIVE: The ‘professional apartheid’ sidelining women at the African Union

The full report of the inquiry has not been published. Only an excerpt was shared by AU chair Moussa Faki Mahamat in a statement. The M&G understands that the full report has not been released because it contains damning details of at least 44 cases of alleged unfair labour practises, sexual harassment, sexual assault, fraud and nepotism, some of which implicate senior officials.

But even the very limited details that have been released public ally are damning:

“Evidence presented suggests that this form of harassment perpetrated by supervisors over female employees in their charge, especially, but not exclusively, during official missions outside the workstation. The absence of a sexual exploitation and abuse policy compounds the adverse effects of this vice. The category of staff most vulnerable and exposed to this form of harassment are short-term staff, youth volunteers and interns. It would appear that the vulnerability of this category of staff is exploited on account of their insecurity of tenure. Senior departmental staff, who position themselves as “gate-keepers” and “king-makers”, are well-positioned to make believable promises to young women that they will be offered contracts, are the identified perpetrators of this vice. Interviewees claim that these cases are not reported as this would be counter-productive to the victim, because there is no sexual harassment policy in the Commission, and therefore no dedicated, effective redress and protection mechanism available to victims or whistle-blowers. According to interviewees, the young women are exploited for sex in exchange for jobs.”

Some female staffers who testified before the committee told the M&G that they are pleased with the headline findings of the inquiry, but that major question marks surround whether the AUC intends to take any action against the individuals implicated by their testimony. “There is a worry that it is once again all talk and no action,” said one.

In his statement, Faki said he intends to constitute an internal committee to “look into” the recommendations made by the inquiry and will take “immediate action on urgent issues, such as the acting appointments and other relevant policy issues within the mandate of the Commission”.

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Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Simon Allison is the Africa editor of the Mail & Guardian, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Continent. He is a 2021 Young Africa Leadership Initiative fellow.

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