SA: Speak up against sexual harassment in the workplace

SA: Speak up against sexual harassment in the workplace

Date: July 16, 2018
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by Sandiswa Manana

Johannesburg, 16 July: Sexual harassment is an undesirable sexual behaviour, which happens to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can be physical, verbal or written. It is not a consensual interaction, flirtation or friendship.

While recently attending a public conversation on the 10th of June hosted by Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), it was brought to light that sexual harassment is a behaviour that is not mutually agreed on. Sexual harassment can even occur with the person being offended being not aware that it is happening. For instance, silly remark about one’s body or whistling when a person is walking through is related to instances of sexual harassment.

At times, women find it difficult to report sexual harassment. For instance finding a job is hard, so there if that fear that if they report the offender they may lose their jobs. This happens mostly if the sexual offender is on senior position in the organisation. It also occurs that if an offender is a white man in an organisation or at work, it becomes hard to expel him after committing an offence. This is because an organisation might be afraid that the potential donors might pull out, especially if the offender is on top management within the company.

Power dynamics, race and class also determines whose case is believed more within the society. Naylor mentioned that white women are believed more than black women when reporting sexual harassment. A lot of women are afraid to report such cases because the police make them feel it was their fault. For example, they would ask what were they wearing or if they had done something to lure the offender.

People should not feel suppressed within their place of work. South Africa has been in democracy for 24 years now, yet some people’s rights are infringed by those in power. Men in senior positions in the organisations should shift away from the idea that they need to sleep with women first before hiring them. Such instances can bruise a woman’s ego and pride. Nobody wants to secure a job by first sleeping with the boss.

The Employment Act states that employees should not be discriminated in any way and also not be sexually harassed. Hence, it is up to all the employers to ensure that there are rules against sexual harassment in their organisations. This will help in that if cases of sexual harassment are reported, the superiors will not say their hands are tied, but rather be able to sort the issue.

Sexual harassment is not an issue that should be swept under the carpet if reported. In fact, the employers should not make a woman or any person who has reported the case feel like it was their fault that they found themselves harassed sexually. There is no need for a woman to stop wearing what she is comfortable in for a perpetrator to stop their ungovernable behaviour.

An employer should dismiss a perpetrator if they have been found guilty. If action was not taken, a victim may resort to civil action and criminal prosecution, which allow tougher punishments for harassers. Harassment of a worker is a form of unfair discrimination. A case of sexual harassment should not be taken lightly, even if the perpetrator is the owner of the company.

Sexual harassment is a gender-based issue. It can involve anyone, one way or the other. People who are being harassed at work or anywhere in the world should speak up. The phenomenon of sexual harassment would not just vanish if people hide and protect the perpetrators. Hiding the issue could make the offender to keep harassing more people because they know that they would not be reported.

South African constitution looks good on paper, yet not practical. Every year, campaigns would be promoted publicly against any form of discrimination against women. However, that has never stopped men from abusing and killing women. Will there be a better way to tackle this phenomenon? Imagine a woman being abused by her partner at home and get to work to also find a sexual predator. Sexual offenders should be put away for a long time.

The code of conducts against sexual harassment should be outlined to the employees. Every person within a place of work who has harassed another person sexually should be dealt with accordingly. Law is law, and it should not favour anyone because of their race, class and status in the workplace or anywhere in the society.

Photo: Courtesy to Marcel Schwantes

Sandiswa Manana in an Alliance intern at Gender Links. This article is part of GL News and Blogs.



One thought on “SA: Speak up against sexual harassment in the workplace”

Modikoa says:

Harassment is real. Most especially at institutions of higher learning, where Male lecturers sexually harass female students. & the students can’t speak up because they have been threatened that they’ll fail

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