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Sexual Harassment Goes Unchecked in Many Sub-Saharan African Newsrooms, New City, University of London/Merrill College Study Finds

Sexual harassment often goes unchecked in sub-Saharan African newsrooms despite many employers having policies in place, according to a study conducted by researchers at City, University of London and the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

Researchers Dr. Lindsey Blumell, City, University of London and Dinfin Mulupi, University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, surveyed nearly 600 news professionals and analysed 17 anti-sexual harassment policies in newsrooms across eight sub-Saharan African countries between July and October 2020. The study sampled data from Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

Key findings from the study include:

  • 30% of victims report harassment to bosses
  • 58% of these complaints lead to no action, and frequently only a warning when it did
  • Just 16.4% of respondents were aware of the policy
  • Women 2.5 times more likely to be targeted. 

The study finds that societal and cultural norms lead to ineffective policies. Only when these policies are accompanied by workplace training on what is considered sexual harassment, the company policies that exist, and how the organisation would respond, does the research find an increase of newsrooms responding to these reports of abuse.  

The research was carried out as a joint project with the Women in News World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRAN), which is aims to eliminate sexual harassment in the news business.

The analysis compares policies with best practice guidelines, which researchers define as a clear definition of sexual harassment, reliable reporting mechanisms, due process for disciplinary action, training, and a monitoring system.

Dr Lindsey Blumell said: 

“Our study shows that sexual harassment is common in the newsroom, across many sub-Saharan African countries and it disproportionately affects women. We found that people don't report, and when they do report, organisations fail to act.

“News organisations are paying lip service to a serious problem, but are not preventing sexual harassment from occurring, nor are they creating an atmosphere where people feel comfortable to report when they are sexually harassed.”

Dinfin Mulupi said:

“There is a disconnect between employers and employees.

“It is not enough to have an anti-harassment policy. While employers can point at the fact that they have a policy to tackle sexual harassment, more than 85 per cent of surveyed workers weren’t aware of it or trained on it.

“To strengthen their policies, news organisations must not include language that deters victim-survivors from coming forward. They should include a timeline on when a complaint must be addressed, the disciplinary actions that will follow, clarity on what the victim-survivors can expect, and access to counselling.

“Most of all, employers should be working to ensure that these abuses do not occur in the first place.”

‘The Impact of Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies on Sexual Harassment Prevention in the Workplace’ by Dr Lindsey Blumell and Dinfin Mulupi is published in Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal.

For media inquiries, please contact Dinfin Mulupi at

Mulupi is a Journalism Studies Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland. Mulupi’s research interests focus on the intersection between media, race and gender equity, particularly news coverage of sexual violence, the representation of women and ethnic minorities in newsrooms and news content, and use of social networking platforms for feminist activism.

Mulupi previously worked as a business journalist in Nairobi, Kenya, covering the East Africa region. 

About City, University of London 

City, University of London is the University of business, practice and the professions.  

City attracts around 20,000 students (over 40 per cent at postgraduate level) from more than 150 countries and staff from over 75 countries. In recent years City has made significant investments in its academic staff, its infrastructure, and its estate. 

City’s academic range is broadly-based with world-leading strengths in business; law; health sciences; mathematics; computer science; engineering; social sciences; and the arts including journalism, dance and music. 

Our research is impactful, engaged and at the frontier of practice. In the last REF (2021) 86 per cent of City research was rated as world leading 4* (40%) and internationally excellent 3* (46%).  

We are committed to our students and to supporting them to get good jobs. City was one of the biggest improvers in the top half of the table in the Complete University Guide (CUG) 2023 and is 15th in UK for ‘graduate prospects on track’. 

Over 150,000 former students in 170 countries are members of the City Alumni Network.  

Under the leadership of our new President, Professor Sir Anthony Finkelstein, we have developed an ambitious new strategy that will direct the next phase of our development.  

About the University of Maryland

The University of Maryland (UMD) is the state's flagship university and a leading public research institution, propelled by a $1.3 billion joint research enterprise. Located four miles from Washington, D.C., the university is dedicated to addressing the grand challenges of our time and is the nation's first Do Good campus. It is driven by a diverse and proudly inclusive community of more than 50,000 fearless Terrapins.

UMD is a top producer of Fulbright scholars and offers an unparalleled student experience with more than 300 academic programs, 25 living-learning programs and 400 study abroad programs. Spurred by a culture of innovation and creativity, UMD faculty are global leaders in their field and include Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and members of the national academies.

For more information about the University of Maryland, visit 


WAN-IFRAN is a global nonprofit whose mission is to protect the rights of journalists and publishers around the world to operate independent media.

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