It’s Not A Favour. Your Employer Owes You A Duty Of Care #Oxfam #MeToo #AidToo #ShePaysThePrice #TimesUp

 

13716249_980884165361607_8025600674350808537_nIt was difficult reading the IDC report on SEA in the Aid Sector. It took me three attempts to finally finish it. I cried twice.

Despite the many reassurances that the proposed Safe Guarding Summit in October 2018  would be victim focused the IDC’s discussions and recommendations seemed to focus on beneficiaries not staff, domestic or foreign, on reporting instead of victims and survivors care and well being and on programs retaining access in beneficiary countries. 

A lot of questions arose from my reading – 

What is the strategy for being victim focused? What does that mean? Will the summit treat staff and beneficiaries as a single category? Is the duty of care to beneficiaries greater than or less than the duty of care owed to staff? What duty of care do IAO’s owe national staff? If national staff conditions of employment are subject to national laws does that make IAO’s required to find out what laws are applicable and inform the national staff? What if national laws do not protect from SEA specifically? What should IAO’s do? What of international staff who are being told that their only protection may be in the jurisdiction of the country where the offence happened?

When IDC and the IAO’s say they want to involve and focus on victims and survivors, how will  they do this? And what? As objects? As subjects? What would be the questions and expectations? How will the victims and survivors be informed about their rights? Will they have legal representation? Because every IAO will have at least ten lawyers on speed dial. Is there tortious liability? Was there negligence? Will  they discuss and make commitments to victims legal rights and IAO’s legal obligations? 

Who represents the rights of African female workers? What sorts of protection do African female workers want? What sorts of protections and safeguards do international workers want? Whether the women are pink or brown what protection do they want? What does protection mean to them collectively and as diverse groups? At Oxfam national staff had unions? What is their role and relationship of national unions to the U.K. unions?

As I said the IDC report emphasised reporting and not immediate and urgent intervention to victims, both medical and legal. Sexual assault is a traumatic  experience. If a worker came in with a mangled hand no one would say ‘Go and tell HR before I treat your hand’ but the first response is usually questioning the complainants story. Sexual exploitation & abuse are the only traumatic events that are addressed with aspersions against the victim. There seems to be less concern for the victim than the abuser.

Its not enough to ask us to report sexual abuse and exploitation, past, present or future. Abusers past, present and future need to be held accountable. Its not enough to write you are doing everything to prevent SEA. Prevention can’t help us now. We want justice. We’re not crying out for sympathy. Telling our stories is not enough. We’re crying out for justice. Telling our stories has to mean something because the telling and retelling of it is also traumatic. You cannot  gawk at our humiliation, say ‘sorry’ then walk away with promises it won’t happen again, you must do something.

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By Favianna Rodriguez, contemporary US political poster designer of Afro-Peruvian heritage

Because I’m also a lawyer I decided to explore the legal aspects of SEA of staff. During my research I came across two possible grounds for liability – breach of duty of care and vicarious liability for sexual abuse. According to Kemp & Merkelbach in a 2011 policy paper  International Aid Organisations (IAO’s) are subject to the same legal rules as other large organisations and owe a duty of care to their employees, breach of which can be actionable and lead to liability. 

Excerpts From: Can you get sued? – November 2011 © SMI, Kemp & Merkelbach 

The ‘humanitarian enterprise’ is no longer a matter of well-intended philanthropy or charity but must be considered a global multi-billion dollar ‘business’.  9

The corollary is that IAOs are subject to the same basic ground rules as other enterprises – be they commercial, public or associative in nature – and thus subject to scrutiny irrespective of declarations of community-wide principles, standards and guidelines. 9

The premise of the research – developed and confirmed in the legal review – is that: 

Non-profit international humanitarian aid agencies are legally responsible for the safety and well-being of their staff, and can be held liable and are thus exposed to litigation on the basis of (national) law. 24

Generally speaking, employees are owed the highest level of responsibility as they have a reduced capacity to act voluntarily 28

IAOs can also be liable for the faults of their employees during the performance of their duties. This is known as vicarious liability. As a point of best practice, IAOs are advised to provide adequate training, instruction and supervision of its staff to minimise the risk of injury. 

Further, IAOs may be held liable for negligence at common law if it can be shown that:

      • a duty of care is owed to the claimant

      • breach of the duty of care

      • the organisation’s negligent conduct (including the conduct of its employees or agents under its control) caused actionable damage to the claimant

      • the damage suffered is not too remote  50

This principle was tested in a legal case heard in Norway in 2012. The claim was for compensation for economic and non-economic loss after a kidnapping and injury, by Steven Patrick Dennis against the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). The Court ruled in favour of Dennis, awarded damages, and found gross negligence on the part of the NRC. (There was, as appears from the judgment, no issue that the Norwegian courts had jurisdiction to hear the claim: Canadian Dennis’s contract of employment was with a Norwegian employer headquartered in Oslo. The parties proceeded on the basis that Norwegian law applied.) 

Can this principle apply to cases of sexual assault?

Terrence Donovan of Kingsley Napley thinks so and had this to say in answer to a question – 

Q. Can the Oxfam employees who claim they were assaulted by their managers in the UK bring cases for compensation? 

A: Yes, and they will be conventional personal injury claims.”

So from a legal perspective employees including volunteers who have been sexually assaulted while at Oxfam GB in the past 3 years may have actionable cause against Oxfam and should definitely and immediately see a personal injury lawyer in the U.K. In addition they may be able to apply for compensation under The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Because I am not a U.K. citizen or resident I could not take advantage of these laws but there is legal remedy for sexual harassment in the workplace for Nigerian workers under human rights protections and for personal injury under the Employees Compensation Act 2013. Both actions would originate in the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. 

Another question is what effect a suit will have on a claimant? Will she still get to keep her job after filing such a claim for instance? Or could the employer threaten to withhold her reference if she file’s a claim? How will it affect future career prospects at another organisation? So obviously it is not a cut and dried proposition. I spoke to Steve Dennis about his experience. 

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Why is legal action important? It will make organisations more careful or force them to make speedy restitution/settlement. Nothing impacts organisational behaviour quite like liabilities – whether as settlements or higher insurance premiums. As a matter of fact I’m pretty sure the insurance companies will be the ones that will draft acceptable industry standards for preventing sexual assault eventually. A judgement will set powerful precedent and case law. It would reinforce statutory rights and extend legal rights.

It is not enough to ask victims and survivors to report. Something must happen. Once a formal report is made there must be priority protection and care for the complainant. There also need to be clear guidelines and standards for burden of proof. It should be mandatory for safeguarding staff to give standard legal advice to a complainant and discuss legal options in addition to in-house administrative procedures with the complainant as soon as the complainant is comfortable to do so.

IAO’s probably spend more on legal fees than they invest in safeguarding. 

Disturbingly I read several comments in the report saying sexual abuse and exploitation being common within the communities where the IAOs worked as if this somehow excuses the behaviour or the lukewarm attitude towards stopping it. It should not have been mentioned at all. Or if mentioned at all it should have been framed with the same paternalism that drives programming. IAO programs claim the moral high ground except when it involves sexual behaviour towards staff and of staff? What’s that?

Too often, INGOs have adopted a paternalist white saviour posture to VAWG/GBV and SRHR in developing countries, treating them as principally a problem of social norms and attitudes peculiar to the black and brown peoples of the Global South, with “their” harmful traditional practices, backward patriarchal cultures and failed states. By posing sexual violence and abuse in the South as a problem of the racialised other, and by contrast, presenting NGOs as white saviours, the sector has allowed itself to drift down a treacherously slow river of denial and obfuscation about its own sexual abuse problem until it has hit the fierce rapids of reality

– Nancy Kachingwe

Nancy makes a compelling case for intersectional feminist activism against SEA in her think piece for the GADN Network.   In her piece she lays out the ways in which feminist activism made VAWG/GBV a fundamental violation of women’s rights and the way feminists have been sidelined from decision making around VWAG/GBV. Feminist knowledge has been appropriated and made a cash cow for the industry that actually does little for women’s rights/empowerment. When I spoke to her she told me about women’s dissatisfaction with the response on the ground. She said no one is feeling safe and the power dynamics between NGO’s, donors, staff and consultants is preventing honest conversations.  The entire industry is propped up by money from IAOs like Oxfam. No body wants to rock the boat. No body can afford to rock the boat. The aid industry is just that and like I said in a previous post, the aid sector pays really well. You can do good and live well. 

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Nancy Kachingwe, Zimbabwe
If the aid sector has a safeguarding problem, it is firstly because it has a
misogyny problem — and a race problem, and a class problem, and an imperialism
problem.
– Nancy Kachingwe, Policy & Advocacy Advisor, South Feminist Alternatives

When I left my country shortly after burying my father in 2011 and travelled to the U.K. in the middle of those London riots to document the assault I experienced with the police I hoped it might corroborate any future allegations against Samuel Musa. Instead its one of hundreds of cases that happened at Oxfam and corroborates evidence of rampant sexism in the aid sector. The sector has a problem and not just individual employees that work there. Is it safe for women? According to Nancy, its not. More than 100 cases of assault were reported at Oxfam’s shops and offices in the U.K., some incidents involving minors and we are not witnessing a stampede of claims orchestrated by regulators, lawyers and the public? Imagine if …

The ‘Secret Aid Worker’ wrote  in the Guardian

If the humanitarian space is to practise what it preaches in terms of gender equality it needs to go further than investigating serious abuse and consider the sexism at the heart of many NGO work cultures.

Megan Rowling also writes the aid sector has a sexism problem . And Shaista Aziz agrees. Sexism and misogyny is preventing the legal resolution of SEA. While I may appreciate that the British public and the British government might not prioritise the just resolution of my case in particular since I am neither a British citizen nor resident, I would have thought they would more concerned about the fate of their own people. Or did someone set up a legal helpline already and I just don’t know about it? In the U.K. that is the response I would have expected. Almost 200 known victims.  Nancy’s analysis helped me understand the muted response.

Sexual violence and abuse have been treated as a low-priority issue, something swept under the carpet, almost taboo, because it threatens the imperialist and patriarchal interests of men at the top across the value chain. 

The charity sector according to the latest accounts and returns filed with the Charity Commission  had a total income of £76.7bn in the year to June 2018. An increase of £2.8Billion from last year. How much of this money is distributed by women? How much goes to women and women led organisations? Less than 1% of OECD assistance according to Nancy. Less than 1% of Canadian assistance according to a 2017 report by Canadian women’s funds.  Less than 1% of assistance aid the participants decided at the 2018 Feminist Republik that included donors. No matter how may inroads we make it still feels like A Boy’s Club. Boy’s Club was how everyone keeps on describing it. (I’m beginning to miss The Man’s World! Even though I grew up in a Woman’s World. I really look forward to a People’s World.)
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While some SEA cases may present jurisdiction challenges apparently not enough to say, exclude an Eritrean working for Oxfam GB in South Sudan from making a legal claim in the U.K. where OGB is based. Again see what Kemp & Merklebach have to say on the matter –

Indeed, employees are presumed to have only limited capacity to negotiate with their employer, so an agreement between the employer and the employee about a choice of law regarding a non- contractual liability made in advance of a potential claim is unlikely to be found to be “freely negotiated” and thus invalid.

In respect of contracts of employment, an agreement on jurisdiction will only be valid if: (i) it is entered into after the dispute has arisen, or; (ii) allows the employee to bring a claim in a court other than that of the member state that would have jurisdiction if the rules described above for employment contracts applied. Therefore, an exclusive jurisdiction clause in a contract of employment that is negotiated prior to, for example, an accident giving rise to a claim is likely to be ineffective.

Although personal injury claims are being made against IAOs it appears that many are settled out of Court and do not go as far as a Court decision because across the countries surveyed, reported Court decisions of such claims against IAOs are rare. The case studies referred to in this section, in the main, involve personal injury claims in the private sector. However, it is unlikely that the basic reasoning that the Courts would apply to IAOs would be substantially different.

Meanwhile, ‘international staff receive priority attention over national staff’ according to Kemp & Merkelbach (2011) –

For a significant proportion of IAOs, the contracting of national staff was decentralized to the field level. As a result, no uniformity exists and headquarters has no overview of the contractual situation of national staff. National staff contracts and inclusion of social welfare benefits as well as insurance depend upon the IAO’s country director/head of mission. Where headquarters guidelines do exist, a country director is expected to implement them. However, it was noted that there is no reporting requirement and that there is no headquarters control system to ensure that contractual guidelines and minimum standards are respected.

The discrepancy between consideration and treatment of international as compared to national/local staff poses fundamental ethical – as well as legal – problems that have only started to be addressed in the past few years. The question of health, safety & security of national staff has thus far remained underdeveloped despite genuine concern within the sector as to staff well-being.

This has far-reaching implications for IAOs and their operations, governance and executive, staff and their dependents, as well as for the sector as a whole. Since safety and security are not only an ethical and moral concern but a legal obligation, due safety and security are not mere personal, subjective matters of choice or conscience but must also answer to objective laws, regulations, standards and norms that can be objectively evaluated and are open to scrutiny – and can be enforced.

The IDC report mentioned but did not firmly condemn unfair employment practices both in the U.K and in Oxfam’s overseas programs including the practice of short term contracts that often leaves workers vulnerable and did not make any SMART recommendations  on eliminating the practice. Instead they recommended gender parity in this unfair environment.  I’m uncertain how the two correlate or how gender parity will relieve the unfair practice.

As  Elizabeth Griffin wrote in “The Ethical Responsibilities of Human Rights NGOs” –

“I find it astonishing that some human rights organisations and academic institutions teaching human rights still manage to avoid providing their employees with basic employment rights.”

Are women safe working for the aid sector?  Nancy says they do not feel safe. And a recent poll of aid workers from the north showed that more than 70% do not have confidence in the system.

 

Do short term contracts protect employers from personal injury claims?

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Because As A Strong Woman Your Well Being Is Never Your Priority

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Shining teeth in Moscow 2006

Being queer is empowering me to step away from hyper sexualised gender narratives.  Narratives that normalise or problematise hyper sexual relationship between the men and women. When I am neither a man or woman I can look at myself like a Person demand to be treated like a Person.  After the feminist republik,  the accountability summit and naming myself queer I began to see my personal situation in a whole different light. 

Hitherto I’ve been focusing on my unfair dismissal from Oxfam. I neglected to pursue that Oxfam might be liable in tortious negligence or under personal injury law or even human rights law. Like a deer caught in headlights I stared straight ahead. The first time I learnt that I may have had a personal injury claim was in July 2013 and I was told at the time it was two weeks away from the statute of limitation. It still did not click.

The legal issue between me and Oxfam should have been for personal injury and breach of duty of care. Not unfair dismissal. I didn’t want the job back anyway and I didn’t want another job in the sector. I admit I was seduced by the comfort of a generous salary. In low wage nations employment is not attractive to people like me. We innovate and entrepreneur. IAO’s changed all that. They compete for the best and brightest. And in the local context pay outrageous salaries. Its easy to be seduced. (But what they pay us is nothing compared to what they pay Old White Men that come to Africa claiming to be experts. I met one who received EUR10,000 per month. Late sixties. Asian wife in mid 20s. Or African wife late teens. They ARE a catch. But I digress. More later.)

It was fortuitous I attended the accountability meeting. I don’t go out much anymore. I’ve become reclusive. I almost didn’t notice how much I’ve changed. I’ve been struggling with insomnia, flashbacks, depression, self doubt, anxiety, loss of confidence, guilt and shame.  Atrocities are being committed across Nigeria and no one is being held accountable. Because there are no consequences for bad behaviour. People do not learn from words they learn from experience. Killings are not the only atrocities. Sexual assault and rape are atrocities too.  

As the revelations against Oxfam and the Aid sector piled up, culminating in the IDC Report released on 31 July 2018,  the scale, the audacity and the sheer disregard for women’s well being including my own overwhelmed me. IAOs were scrambling to cover their ass, regulators were scrambling to show that they are alive, state departments were scrambling to show they were taking care of tax payers money.  Winnie grovelled. Goldring obfuscated. Dame Stocking dithered.  The media scrambled to eke out the news cycle. Reporters and producers called me from all over the world. 

Even the Daily Mail got in touch and offered to ghost write my story. Back in October after The Times article came out and Oxfam reacted so blandly I joked they would react more vigorously when The Sun or The Daily Mail carried their story of misdeeds. Little did I know.  I turned the Daily Mail down. I read The Daily Mail about once a month to catch up on the social life of the rich and famous. I call it My Guilty Pleasure. I could immediately imagine what the headlines might be. 

The Times headline was difficult enough. “Lesley Agams: Oxfam official pushed me on to hotel bed and grabbed my belt.” I was mortified when I read that. This is after all a global publication. I know its what happened and what I said but it still came as a shock. In my wildest dreams I did not expect that the first time my name appears in global headlines it would be like that.  The thought that I could go down in history as Lesley Agams the woman who an Oxfam official tried to rape was distressing. And it would’ve been on the front-page if not for Catalonia. Thank goddess for Catalonia!

I pushed my feelings aside and focused on my desire for justice and accountability. This was an opportunity for justice, I told myself. This was an opportunity to hold Oxfam GB accountable. This was an opportunity for me and for the other women I was sure were silently and passively experiencing the same thing to get justice. This was an opportunity to change how the entire sector treats its female employees.  

Before I agreed to work with The Times on the October story I did my research. I studied their audience.  When the media requests came pouring in after the Haiti scandal broke I adopted a similar strategy. What audience did I want to reach? I settled for BBC’s Newsnight but was rather disappointed to be asked at the end of my interview whether people should still give aid. Its not about Aid. Its about People. Like me. See us. 

A couple people noticed the strain I was obviously under during the interview and reached out to support and sympathise with me. (Thank you for caring. You know who you are. I love you.) The Newsnight story ended with a statement from Samuel Musa insisting my dismissal was for ‘other reasons’. Does that mean I deserve to get raped?Does it even matter why I was dismissed?    

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You can see the full Newsnight segment here. Trigger warning. It triggers me watching it.

Meanwhile I was being asked to retell my story again and again. Being more self aware of my well being I decided to tell it one time last time and gave a 30 min interview to Mercy Abang a Nigerian journalist.  You may have seen it or not. It got 172 views on YouTube. Ask me. What was my target audience? I met Mercy when Amy Costello at Tiny Sparks interviewed me for a podcast on sexual harassment on the sector in October 2017. The interview with Mercy was for the record.  I wanted to tell my own story, my own way. She was the only one that promised not to cut it for soundbites. 

After the October 2017 Times publication Mark Goldring, Winnie Byanyima and Penny Lawrence continued to defend Oxfam’s 2010 decision to dismiss me and insisted that due care had been taken in the investigation of the sexual assault after they were made aware of it. Their own records did not support this assertion and members of their own staff pointed this out to them. My personnel file which I obtained through a subject access request in December 2017 had vital records missing.

When in November 2017 Mark Goldring first wrote to me, I asked for an independent review of my case and to be allowed to exercise of my right to select an investigator. He  wrote back to me sometime after 6 December 2017 denying my request and claiming he had personally reviewed my case and stood by both the dismissal and the investigation of the sexual assault. His apology was buried somewhere at the end of the email. It was so nonchalant and dismissive I was deeply offended.

I managed to get through the holidays. I experienced depression and anxiety attacks. I lost appetite. I lost weight. I had difficulty sleeping. I had difficulty with focus and concentration. Then in February 2018 the story about Oxfam in Haiti broke. Sean O’Neill sent me a message to alert me.  Oxfam responded robustly this time. It was like watching your bully get bullied.  But there were more insinuations about my performance and further justification of my dismissal in 2010. They made no more mention of the attempted rape. Then Dame Barbara came on television and tried to excuse her terrible handling of the Haiti scandal. Her sanctimonious chirping about respect for women and women’s rights after her handling of my 2012 appeal made me livid. I was angry. I had a meltdown on Twitter.

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Then I fell really sick. I had to contact my therapist in the U.K. Soon after that l emailed the wonderful supportive people that I met since October 2017 telling them I had to step back for my health. It was taking its toll. I don’t know if they understood. I heard some disappointment here and there but I had to prioritise my self care. At that point nothing else mattered. I just knew I needed to step away and soothe myself back to health. 

Well I feel stronger now. Clearer. More focused. Angrier. But my anger is white hot and like Leslie Jamison’s and Audre Lordes’ a tool now. Things are different. I’m not alone. We are many, staff and beneficiaries. Oxfam knew what was going on and deliberately, cynically and opportunistically chose to ignore our safety and well being.

We spoke about it at the feminist republik; the dangers of this epithet of strong woman we so readily accept and use to dismiss and let others use to dismiss our pain and need for attention and healing. Till it becomes a epitaph. Because you know. We’re women. We’re African women. We can’t afford to have a breakdown. Life as we know it will collapse. The very fibre of community and society will disintegrate. Families will unravel. And all hell will break loose. Look around. All hell is breaking loose already. And not just in Africa. Look at what’s happening in America and Europe. We are witnessing the systematic dismantling of a liberal democracy and a rise in fascism.

The strong woman trope is a scam.  Once you accept it you let people off the hook. You absorb their abuse, their thoughtlessness, their patronising rhetoric and melodramatic promises of reform instead  holding them accountable. 

I’m not doing strong woman anymore. My well being and health are too precious. I manage my stress levels very carefully now. I could relate with the experience described in Hope’s Letter. It made me ask how did it happen? Oxfam sent me for a mandatory  health test before making me a job offer. All was well. Less than two months later I was diagnosed with a stress related auto-immune condition. That’s how toxic the working environment was. First of all there was way too much sexism. The few women there were support staff. Not program staff and not decision makers.  I wanted to quit after just two weeks. But you know what they say – winners don’t quit. Don’t believe cliches. 

 

I was deeply resented at the Nigeria office and I wrote to Samuel Musa on numerous occasions about the gendered problems I was having with staff. We held several mediation meetings. It was a war. On so many levels. One day I found a huge mangled rat on the threshold of my office. It meant nothing to me till I mentioned it to a religious Nigerian colleague. I remember thinking to myself – seriously? Could it be that bad? By the time I was dismissed I decided to resolve the problem myself or leave and informed the regional management team. I didn’t expect to be dismissed. I thought there were rules. The Oxfam rules which I had been introduced to as soon as I signed the doted line on my employment contract. Anyway, I did achieve something I’m really proud of before I was dismissed. I cleaned up  the accounts department. The acting CD before me had systematically dismantled it. The new accounts staff  were proud to work with me and still came to me for advice on handling ethical situations long after I left Oxfam.

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My dismissal does not matter as much as my well being. I feel better already acknowledging it. Its a big step for me to acknowledge my need for self care. It feels revolutionary to be prioritising my well being. It’s my right. Its my responsibility. It is my duty.  It can be hard for a ‘strong African woman’ to admit to injury and a need for support. In a dog eat dog world, physical or mental injury can make one feel very vulnerable. As an social rights activist it can also make one feel very guilty.

“Honour your anger,” Martin Knops said to me. He could have helped me deal with my injury first. When I went to him in August 2010 after the assault I was looking for help to recover from the trauma of my experience not a push to go to Human Resources.

Like John Oliver the host of ‘last Week Tonight’ said on his segment on sexual harassment in the workplace.

“HR exists to protect the Organisation  from liability not necessarily to seek justice on an employees behalf.”

I wrote to Martin Knops again in July 2013 literally begging him for help – 

“I have been struggling since the incident physically and emotionally. I am confused, I am still angry and I need help.  I would like appeal to you as a doctor, I appeal to your humanity, I appeal to your conscience and to your compassion. Please help me.”

He did not respond.  There was no human in the humanitarian.

Honour your loss, Tony Robbins would say. And then tell yourself a different story.  

So I did you know. 

Nigerian Industrial Court: Rules for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Claims

Who said Nigeria doesn’t have sexual harassment in the workplace laws?

The National Industrial Court was set up by constitutional amendment on 14 December 2010 and ratified by the state houses of assembly in February 2010. 

Jurisdiction: The National Industrial Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters –

(a)

relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety, wcl fare of labour, employee, worker and matters incidental thereto or connected therewith; 

(b)

relating to, connected with or arising from Factories Act,Trade Disputes Act, Trade Unions Act, Labour Act, Employees’ Compensation Act or any other Act or Law relating to labour, employment, industrial relations, workplace or any other enactment replacing the Acts or Laws; 

In 2017 the NICN amended its civil procedure rules to include provisions on workplace sexual harassment. Order 14(1) of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria Civil Procedure Rules 2017 provides that where a claimant alleges sexual harassment in the workplace, it should be indicated if the sexual harassment is;

 

“a. Physical conduct of a sexual nature: such as unwanted physical contact, ranging from touching to sexual assault and rape, strip search by or in the presence of the opposite sex, gesture that constitutes the alleged sexual harassment ; and/or 

  1. A verbal form of sexual harassment: such as unwelcome innuendoes, suggestions and hints, sexual advances, comments with sexual overtones, sex related jokes or insults, or unwelcome graphic comments about a person’s body, unwelcome and inappropriate enquiries about a person’s sex life and unwelcome whistling at a person or group of persons, any document, material or exhibit in further support of the claim; and/or 
  1. A non-verbal form of sexual harassment which includes unwelcome gestures, indecent exposures, and unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects ; and/or 
  2. Quid pro quo harassment where an owner, employer, supervisor, member of management or co-employee undertakes or attempts to influence or influences the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, dismissal, salary increments or other benefits of an employee or job applicant in exchange for sexual favours.” 

 

In 2013 the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) had awarded damages in Pastor (Mrs.) Abimbola Patricia Yakubu V Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria& Anor (Suit No NICN/LA/673/2013; judgement delivered on the 24th November, 2016.) The claimant said she was at various times subjected to sexual and seductive gestures, promiscuous and obscene talk, demand for sexual favours and indecent marriage proposal from the 2nd defendant while she was in the employment of the 1st defendant. The NICN held that the claimant’s right to human dignity and self-worth was violated and awarded the sum of NGN5Million as damages in her favour.

 

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I’m Coming Out! I Want The World To Know

 

I am a feminist. I break the rules and I cross the line. Because I can. Because I believe I can do anything a man can do. Because I get satisfaction and pleasure from being subversive. Because I know all those rules are just Man-Made Rules. Made to keep man and woman in line and in bondage by an elite that NEVER KEEPS THE RULES. The Rules do not apply to them. The Rules were made to keep the plebs (and ALL women) in line and protect elite property interests.

Naming myself a feminist is subversive. Because it makes people uncomfortable. I was named a feminist long before I named myself a feminist. Because I refused to be a doormat. Or cook more than once a day or for 200 people. Or even 10 people. (Check out my Facebook status in case you missed that story.) What happened to caterers, cooks and employment opportunities? Some of the best cooks I know are men. Some of them are even my friends right here on Facebook. Some get paid a lot of money to cook. Some cook for their own pleasure. Cooking is so stereotypically woman’s work some of my friends refuse to cook.

I don’t know what feminism means anymore. And I don’t care. Its up to each of us to find out. I will continue to call myself one for as long as the label makes people – especially men and the elite – uncomfortable because it signifies to them that I will claim my space and take up space. I will not go quietly into the sunset or whatever. I will not follow Their rules.

My non conformity has had huge consequences on me and my life no less severe than the impact on any other type of sexual/gender non conformists. In more than half a century of experience on this blue marble we call Earth I have been regularly targeted directly and indirectly. The instruments of the patriarchy and elitism have tried to break me, rape me and kill me. They’re wondering why I’m still standing. I wonder myself sometimes. A few times I almost broke – They took me to the edge of the abyss more than once. But I’m still standing. And still subversive. I may be scarred in ways that you can not see, I may not be the woman I was 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago but I’m still standing. I’m still standing in Their face and challenging every stereotype and insult They throw at me. I will not bend.

I will admit to weakness in the past when giving in seemed like the path of least resistance. I bent my knee and jumped up again in renunciation when I saw the naked smug triumph in Their eyes. For a while after that I wandered in the wilderness lost in guilt and shame for my own betrayal. When I found my way home again I found my fans waiting to meet and greet me. And remind me, strengthen me, inspire me and cheer me on despite my moment of treachery.

Thank you.

I am a feminist. And I am Queer. Be uncomfortable. I will occupy my space. No if’s, but’s or maybe’s.

 

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What’s New on MzAgams’ Blog?

Its been a crazy few months that started this year. The story is coming up. Stay tuned. But just a few tit bits about what I’ll be bringing your way for the rest of the year.

I’d like to thank all of you that have read and commented on the ‘How To Get A Divorce in Nigeria’ Series that I wrote in 2012. It’s been great fun reading and answering your questions. And its really satisfying to see blogs inspired by that series popping up all over the place in the past couple of years. I need to update and I’ll be doing so over the next few weeks bringing you the latest decisions in family law, child custody, and related family law matters. And maybe even a something from a guest blogger.

I’m also starting a new series on Customary Marriage including Islamic Marriage. It will tell you everything you need to know about women’s rights under various customary from around the country and Islamic law and how they are evolving. I have a couple of guest writers  eager to share what they know with you.  Antony C. Diala who is writing his PhD on living customary law will be contributing.   So will Barrister Amina Abubakar who is with the Human Rights Commission.

I’m expanding and trying something new – I’ll be bringing you vlogs and podcasts of your favourite topics. Keep sending in your questions and comments. I’m here to ensure you know what your rights are as a woman within your family – the family you were born into and the family you married into.  Knowledge is power. There are a lot of lies and half truths circulating in popular media about women’s rights within marriage that are deliberately created to exploit, oppress and even cheat women. Don’t be one of those women.

Shine your eye. Know your rights. Women’s rights are human rights.

And read my blog post about protecting your assets after marriage here.

That’s not all.

Working with the theme “Women Activists; Women’s Activism” this year I’m going to interview some of the women that work hard to advance and expand women’s rights in Nigeria and anywhere else we find them. My first interview is going to be with Josephine Effah Chukwuma of Project Alert on Violence Against Women. Got any questions you want to ask her?  We’re at the cutting edge of change in Nigeria. What does it take to build and sustain an organisation like hers in an environment like ours? Find out.

I’ll probably be interviewing a lot of Ashoka fellows. I worked with them over the years and I think they’re great. They’re the best that the social enterprise sector has to offer any where in the world. You don’t want to miss anything they have to say.

Do you have any suggestions about some woman or women that are doing great work in advancing women’s rights that I should talk to? Let me know. Drop a comment. Tell me what they do and where I can find them and I will. I’m always looking for shero’s to promote. So much of women’s work is hidden and unsung its no wonder people end up  thinking we aren’t doing anything much.

Elections are around the corner. More women are expressing an interest in contest for public office. Some people say we should vote for them just because they’re women and get more women in the political space. Some people say we should hold them to the same standards we hold male contestants. Its a hard choice believe me. I’ve been on both sides of the fence. Maybe we should just listen to the women contesting and hear what they say. I’ll score some interviews with female contestants and ask them some questions too.

Its going to be fun filled and informative. I promise.

 

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Harry Weds Meghan 2018

 

I have been a student of royal history ever since I read ‘The Kings Grey Mare’ as a teenager. And I used to be so obsessed with Russian royalty I once claimed to be the descendant of Alexis, the murdered Czarevitch that rumour kept alive for decades. Its within the realm of possibility.

My grandmother and grandfather werewar orphans. They have no idea who their parents were or even what part Russia they were from. They grew up in orphanages in the Volga region. That’s all we know. It’s always been a mystery to solve for me. I’m going to do a genetic history as soon as possible. I only hesitate because I don’t want confirmation that they may have been landless serfs. Or something.

My fathers Nigerian lineage is more colourful and inspiring but no mystery. We’re Igbo.  We have to know our fathers fathers fathers fathers and mothers mothers mothers mothers children and descendants so we don’t go and marry our cousin 8 times removed by mistake. We take consanguinity seriously.

My fathers lineage were spiritual custodians of Ala. Lords of the Land, Ndi Nze Na Ozo from my great grand father 6 times removed in a continuous line of succession to the present. Noble stuff. They take this shit seriously. Up until a decades  ago other people in the village were so in awe of the family reputation they were willing to let our men impregnate their wives just so some of our blood would grace their bloodline. It was all kinda weird for an American girl. The African woman is less judgmental.

Harry and Meghan’s wedding this weekend will go down in history as the biggest show of all time. Bigger than Wrigley Brothers. And just as much of a circus. So I must write about it.

I’m kinda of conflicted about it. On the one hand I am completely outraged that the British Monarchy dares to flaunt its privilege and the proceeds of centuries of  global conquest, loot and brigandry. And I am outraged that the masses are so thoroughly hypnotised by the spectacle and refuse to see their bondage. On the other hand I am equally enthralled by this spectacle and performance – of POWER.

(But I don’t feel driven to participate or make the masses change or ‘see’ the error of their ways. Besides, how do I know they are in error?)

Ever wondered why the British monarchy has endured and grown richer and more powerful while other monarchies struggle? Elizabeth has you all fooled that she a little old lady? The British monarchy endures because they are incorporated. What does that mean? They’re a business. And Elizabeth’s role has been to ensure the monarchy survives and her family stays in power. Well how would you react if mobs chopped off your cousins heads in TWO different revolutions in two or was it four different countries? Staying in power is the only objective. All the men in her family even have military training.

I sometimes wonder the kind of conversation Elizabeth and Phillip might have over breakfast. Are they allowed to have breakfast together? And why has the Royal Family been so quick to accept Meghan into their warm loving fold?

‘Great for the family. He’s finally settling down and this marriage will put to rest those ridiculous rumours that we killed Diana because we are racists.”

“You almost can’t tell that she’s a darkie anyway. I watched her in Suits. Pass me the crumpets girl.”

“Yes dear.”

You know how Harry fell in love with Meghan? On their first date Meghan gushed “Imagine how much good one can do in the world as a prince or princess.”  And Harry was hooked. She understands its a role, she’s an actress. Less strategic women might only see an opportunity to showcase their amazing taste, style and connections. But this girl Meghan was raised by a down to earth black woman! She was raised well! She already reminds me of Michel Obama.

The privilege of being royalty shouldn’t be just about a privileged lifestyle it should be a privilege to serve people, do good and uplift humanity. I totally feel her. Thats why she is marring Harry and Harry is marrying her. Thats why they are in love.

Kate on the other hand is so middle class it hurts. Her marriage elevated her family’s social class in a very real way. And now she is royalty she is behaving like a brood mare. Fulfilling her role which is to produce and nurture heirs and secure the line of succession. That she displays sensible middle class values and even shops in Waitrose once in a while is pure theatre.

Kate does not perform Princess to change or impact the world or provide extraordinary leadership. Her husband is the next king after all. Different strokes. Harry and Meghan are going to be a power couple. They’re going to impact the world and they’re going to make the British monarchy more popular than ever.

They will use the Family Firm just as much as the Family Firm uses them.

People keep saying Meghan will break and want to break out. These two have more than just chemistry or delusions of romantic love holding them together. They’ll last. Meghan is lucky not because she is marrying into royalty, she is lucky because she can perform and impact globally. And she’s in love with a really cute guy that loves her.

Whats not to to be happy about? Elizabeth is pleased and consolidates her power with the public once again. And manages to make some more money for herself and her subjects. Other royal houses especially Nigerian royal houses should learn from her. Not the House of Saud who are still chopping off heads so they might keep their own.

 

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Good Manners

Sometimes I am too brusque. I regularly forget the social courtesies knocked into me me by my Igbo brethren in the village. Thank Mother God I returned before I became a complete barbarian in the US.

Americans are such barbarians. Always looking at their watches and hurrying you along. They do not understand Time.

Mark: ‘Hi. How you doing?’ (Do not anwser! This is merely salutatory. They do not want do know how your doing.)

Before you can answer Mark continues;

‘Could you go over these figures and get back to me?’

“Is next week okay?”

“Can I have it later today?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Okay. You should come over for dinner soon.” And Mark walks away.

ALL POC know you need to approach the main subject AFTER some sort of personal exchange to establish trust, rapport and bonding. They’re paranoid. Cant blame them.

Black Man1: Hey brother. What you been up to?
Black man 2: Bro I spent the night down at Benni’s with a fine piece of ass.

JayZ and the black Amercian billionaire brigade would tell us this is why black people are still poor. Maybe that’s true in America and of teenage boys.

And it depends on how you measure wealth and value don’t it?

Igbo Man1: Odogwu! We do not see you again in the village square. (Meaning: You must be too broke to perform in social and civic life.)
Igbo Man2: Ogbu Agu. You know the big masquerades don’t need to come out often. (Meaning: I’m powerful enough not to need frequent displays of power. They are establishing status which is very important to Igbo men and women too.)

Then –

IgboMan1: You are looking very fine. Tell me how you do it?
IgboMan2: (His response will depend on the level of intimacy and trust between the speakers.) We are trying. Or ‘My brother you need to come to Abuja. That is where it is happening.’

Igbo Woman1: Wife of Okorie. (Or Mama Ngozi. Or Teacher. Or even Mummy.) You don wake? How are Ngozi, Emeka, Jide, Amara and Chidundu? (Each new inquiry comes after a report has been given of the preceding one by African woman 2. Unless of course they are the new breed of Igbo woman – the politicians.)

Igbo Woman2: (Ditto)

After 5 or 30 minutes depending they’ll come around to discuss the business. Because time belongs to us and relationships are more important than productivity.

Harvard and Wharton who charge big big money call it breaking the ice. We call it good manners. Just like taking a bottle of liquor and and gifts to a leader before asking a favor is good manners. And breaking the ice. Not much different from flowers or tickets to a Yankees game or Hamilton.

Let’s cut to the chase and not pretend to care. The Illuminati, (which I shall henceforth call the global elite of any nationality because its easier and more fun to do so) – that the super exclusive league of global masquerades – just smash the ice with cash, expensive toys and baubles anyway.

BTW: While new money struts around and shows off, old money consolidates power.

Our ways made us care because it made us have to look at each other and actually ‘see’ each other. Each relationship had specific obligations that maintained it.

I digress.

White people are such barbarians. Always in a hurry. Where are they hurrying to? The grave? They don’t care about anyone but their wife and children. So selfish.

Thank Mother God I returned before I became a complete barbarian!