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Woman narrates sexual harassment ordeal

By Admin

Added 20th May 2019 07:37 PM

He would also comment on my dressing. One time he told me that he wanted me to stop wearing trousers in the office.

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He would also comment on my dressing. One time he told me that he wanted me to stop wearing trousers in the office.

JUDICIARY    SEX    HARASSMENT 

I am a lawyer by profession, having studied at Makerere University before joining the Law Development Center (LDC).

As a requirement to pass LDC, you must do clerkship. I did this at the justice ministry in 2005.

This is when my troubles started. Christopher Gashirabake, commonly known as Gash among colleagues, was a commissioner at the time and my immediate supervisor.

Initially, he made comments on my looks, how he was interested in me and how he would love to take me out for lunch. These are things that women endure all the time, so I never took it seriously. This came about occasionally when he would be giving me assignments.

In 2007, I was recruited as state attorney in the ministry’s department of legal advisory services. At that time, I had other supervisors. However, along the way, Gash was appointed director of this department and would sometimes assign work to every one of us when need arose.

Why would I return to the same workplace (where Gash was) even after my earlier experience with him during clerkship? This is not unique. When you do clerkship, people in the department get to know your worth and it is easy to be absorbed if you have proven yourself.

At the time of my appointment, Gash also had a special assignment on the negotiations team during the Lord’s Resistance Army peace talks. He was the government legal representative. Which is why my sexual harassment narrative beginning in 2009, when he returned to office.

PATTERN
I remember an instance when he gave me an assignment. I did it and gave it to my direct supervisor. However, because she was attending another meeting, she did not give it the urgency it deserved. Gash was upset at the response time. He purported that I had delayed and summoned me to his office.

I explained and he realised that the fault was not mine. Then he changed the topic: “You know, Samantha, I have been interested in you for a while. I have been telling you this, and what is close to my heart, but you have ignored me. I want you to tell me now as a grown up woman, why you do you continue ignoring me.” He went on: “I can understand that maybe at LDC you were still too young to understand. But now you are grown up woman.”

I made it clear that there was absolutely no way I could have a relationship with him. He started quarreling, before chasing me out of office. That was the beginning of hostility. From then on, he started telling people that I was incompetent. There is an uncle of mine Gash had worked with before that he told all sorts of negative things about me.

My uncle got concerned and called me. He wanted to know what I had done to this man. I told him the whole story and he comforted me saying it would pass. However, the advances did not stop. He would still call. Send messages. It was not every day, because he is a busy man and travels a lot. At times, he would return and give me a reprieve. However, suddenly, he would start again from where he stopped.

DRESSING
He would also comment on my dressing. One time he told me that he wanted me to stop wearing trousers in the office. He did not say why. I told him, “Sir, with all due respect, you have crossed the boundaries.”

There are some women he has told the same thing; and comments on the way they dress. However, I particularly knew he was targeting me when, one time, we were ordering suits as required by the justice ministry.

They had a budget for professional dress code — just one set for special occasions. So as we were ordering and taking measurements, Gash called me and told me: “Samantha, I don’t expect you to order a trouser suit.”

Why was he singling me out? “I have told you several times. You cannot wear trousers,” he said. I obliged and ordered for a skirt, because his personality is such that his decision cannot be questions.

WHATSAPP MESSAGES
He was sending me messages saying he loved me. I also have screenshots of WhatsApp messages which he would send daily saying “Good morning, my friend.” Which employer does that? There was a time he even kept asking if he should come and visit me!

At work, he would give me assignments and then sign off as: “With Love, Gash!” Which boss does this? At some point, I was also receiving inappropriate messages from the bodyguard of the Attorney General and I had confided in a female colleague who thought it was important to expose the bodyguard for disrespecting me.

When Gash got to know, he told me: “You know Samantha, if you were mine, no one would disturb you.” I had had it. I shared this with a lawyer friend who advised that I write, email, and tell him I had had enough. This would be for record purposes. On June 12, last year, I wrote an email to him, chronicling everything he had put me through and telling him to leave me alone.

I also told him how I was feeling victimised over foreign trips. In 2017, I had a trip to London and Paris. I had already got a visa, but he replaced me with another state attorney who I am senior to. It happened again last year when I was replaced with another senior colleague. Gash responded on June 12, 2018 and said: “Noted. Was this missive required? Blessed day!”

He later called me to his office and apologised. However, on June 21, 2018, Gash, wrote a very long email. His fear was that I would share the earlier email with friends. He did not go into the merit of my email.

He instead accused me of, among other things, dressing inappropriately contrary to the Public Service Standing Orders. The email read: “I am not apologetic to this. The other time is when you painted your hair red and I told you not to return to office until you removed it.” I did not respond. I have copies of these emails. I confided in a colleague about what was going on. Little did I know she would tell him.

MY SPEAKING OUT
On September 20, 2018, Gash called a meeting attended by several members of staff including secretaries and messengers. He ridiculed and intimidated me for what he purported were false accusations I levelled against him. He denied sexually harassing me. That is when I decided to speak out.

I showed my evidence to the meeting and I could tell he was furious even though he denied it. I have since reported to the Solicitor General, deputy Attorney General, Attorney General, the Inspector General of Government, and most recently the Prime Minister and justice minister Kahinda Otafiire. I have resorted to the media nine months after I reported and nothing has been done.

I have seen press releases from the justice ministry saying they have constituted a committee to handle the complaints. However, no one has even called me to date. I shudder at the criticism that I am blocking Gash because he has been nominated to the Court of Appeal! Some have said I dated him and that he bought me property!

I have been running a retail business and I can hustle anywhere and make it. I never been in a private place with that man, not even travelling with him. We have never gone for coffee. I dare him to show where he has done so. I am comfortable in the knowledge that I have never been compromised. I am using my industrial right to withdraw my labour until I am heard.

WHAT NEXT?
People who want to employee me have approached me. But I can’t leave just yet. I want justice. I must be heard by an independent committee. Right now, I am scared for my life and I don’t go out much of the time. I have been threatened through my social media accounts. Thankfully, my family is supportive.

GASHIRABAKE RESPONDS

When contacted, Gashirabake declined to comment on the claims and said he would do so at a later date. “There is a committee of the justice ministry handling the  allegations. I have to respect that,” he said.

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