The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) has called on leaders at every level within religious institutions to promote a harassment-free environment.
It further asked such institutions to initiate changes and to establish and maintain a culture that abhors sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
“In order to make this work, we call on members of religious institutions, students, faculty, staff and administrators to assume responsibility for promoting a harassment-free environment,” the women oriented group added.
In a statement, the group applauded the Anglican Church of Ghana for taking serious the issue of one of their priests, Reverend Father Balthazar Obeng Larbi, who was shown in video kissing some students and relieving him of his duties.
The group also commended the church for providing counselling for the girls and investigating the unfortunate incident.
Since the beginning of this week, the attention of the country has been drawn to a video published by some media houses and circulating on some social media platforms of Rev. Father Larbi, kissing girls during a church service in a school.
Also circulating are screenshots of chats allegedly posted by students of the same school claiming the incident as the modus operandi of the said reverend father.
FIDA-Ghana, which is made of a group of women lawyers who provide legal services and advice to women and girls, said “it is now time for women and girls who have been sexually harassed in churches to come out with their experiences in order to raise awareness of these despicable acts”.
It said, “quite disturbing to watch was the jeering and excitement on the faces of onlookers, which in no doubt emboldened the perpetrator to continue kissing the girls,” adding, “sexual harassment and sexual abuse is not a laughing matter”.
According to the group, “for far too long, the issue of sexual harassment has been at best side-lined and at worst silenced in the church. It is now time to challenge cultures of entitlement and abuse of power by clerics, which plague women and girls in religious settings.
“The reality though is that sexual harassment and abuse by clerics has been in the news for quite a while due to undue influence, duress and fear of religious authority,” it said.
The statement said though religious authority was regarded highly in the country, it should not be used as a cloak to oppress and abuse women and girls who most often need the protection of these clerics.
“Needless to say, sexual harassment is gender based violence and a violation of the human rights of girls and women and is prohibited in the 1992 Constitution, the Domestic Violence Act and the Labour Act,” it added.
Report to FIDA-Ghana
The Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651) defines sexual harassment “as any unwelcome, offensive or importunate sexual advances or request made by an employer or superior officer or a co-worker, whether the worker is a man or woman.
According to FIDA-Ghana, the effect of sexual harassment in the academic and professional lives of women had in most situations, denied women their rightful places of merit and contributed to the huge gender gaps in education and the workplace, thus the need for the Affirmative Action Law.
FIDA-Ghana in the statement appealed to media houses and persons to be circumspect in sharing the video to protect the identity of the girls as they were victims.