In school, we visualise the perfect job; we think about future colleagues and bosses and achieving career goals.
We know even before we join the workforce that it won’t be a bed of roses. We know that there will be challenges and we tell ourselves to be strong enough to overcome them when the time comes.
This brings me to my own experience. Towards the end of 2017, I did internship at a fairly-known hotel in Kigali. I was 21 years old. The excitement of practical learning in an industry I am passionate about was, as you can imagine, high.
We (the interns) were taken through what was expected of us—from catering to room service. We did it all. It was a rocky experience, to say the least. I learned a lot, yes, but my supervisor was anything but professional.
At first, I thought I was the only one suffering at the hands of this man, but I was too scared to even ask. Turns out I wasn’t. It started with sending female interns to the storage room alone and following them there to pass on an inappropriate comment or two.
Then it turned to full blown harassment. I suffered for about two weeks, afraid to say anything because a) I didn’t know if anyone would believe me as there was no solid proof and b) he was my supervisor, his recommendation after the internship was required. I didn’t know what to do, I told myself I’d be out of there soon.Ndihangana.
Then one day, I realised that he was not about to stop—it was only getting worse. My silence wasn’t helping. That day, he followed me as usual to the storage room and was one second away from forcing himself on me. I was saved by a co-worker who walked in just in the nick of time.
He was startled, and my supervisor quickly pretended he was expressing work-related concerns. Then he left. But my colleague saw how shaken I was and advised me to speak up. I then decided to tell my guardians what was going on as I feared what he’d do next.
They, naturally, expressed deep concern and were disappointed that I hadn’t told them sooner. They went to the hotel the next day and spoke to the manager. My supervisor wasn’t in at the time.
My identity was protected, and after a lengthy discussion, they were told that two other girls had also come forward with the same complaint. Management said they were looking into it and that the supervisor would be dealt with accordingly.
I don’t know what management did, but after the discussion with my guardians, the man changed. He was professional. He stopped following us to the storage room and even physical contact was down to zero.
The hospitality industry is a great field, but sometimes, it is not easy, especially for young girls. Some male workers look at you like ‘a dish that needs to be served’. And if you are not strong enough, you can find yourself giving up, or worse, giving in because you want to secure your place, or are simply too afraid to speak out.
The workplace should be a safe space for all workers, not just females. Though people tend to ignore it, males get harassed too by women in more powerful positions. They may not report it for the same reason—who will believe it?
I am glad I reported it eventually, because had I not, who knows—maybe he would have done the same or worse to someone else.
Let us join hands and put an end to sexual harassment. It doesn’t matter if the person is your superior—it needs to stop. The idea that if we report it, no one will believe us should also be dealt away with. Do not fear. Tell the truth. Silence is not the answer.