The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor says violence and harassment in the workplace deprives employees of their dignity and that it is a gross violation of human rights. Pandor said this remains a widespread phenomenon in the public as well as in the private sector. She was speaking during a virtual meeting on “Violence and harassment in the world of work”, which was held recently.
According to the minister, one of the key high-level actions that President Ramaphosa identified in his AU Chairship Gender Agenda was the need to combat GBV as a barrier to development and gender equality. She said this year, South Africa observes the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign under the theme: “Economic Justice for a Non-Violent and Non-Sexist South Africa”.
Pandor said the theme signals the belief that women’s economic empowerment is integral to the achievement of gender equality and the eradication of Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBV&F).
“This year, 16 Days of activism for no Violence against Women and Children takes place alongside the global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19 has ushered in an unprecedented health, social and economic crisis, that continues to have a profound impact on the lives of all in Africa, and very specific impacts on women. It has simultaneously ushered in new challenges in the world of work. In the context of lockdowns, it has reshaped where work happens expanding where violence can take place in both the formal and informal economies,” said the minister.
She added that the pandemic has intensified harmful gender stereotypes which, coupled with financial challenges and unemployment, have been contributing factors to increased levels of gender-based violence. Pandor said because many work from home and they use ICT, cyberbullying has increased.
The minister said the workplace is not immune to gender-based violence and harassment. She said the Report on the Status of Women in South Africa released by the International Women’s Forum – South Africa (2011) noted that women leave their jobs as a result of violence and harassment in the workplace or as a result of being abused by their partners. She said the report states that women are sometimes are forced to leave certain environments to escape abuse or run away from an abusive relationship or an abusive working environment.
Pandor said this year, the global community celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which is a blueprint for achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.
She said the Declaration states that: “The experience of sexual harassment is an affront to a worker’s dignity and prevents women from making a contribution commensurate with their abilities”, and that to address this, the Declaration calls on “Governments, employers, trade unions, community and youth organizations and non-governmental organizations to take action, as appropriate, to develop programmes and procedures to eliminate sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women in all educational institutions, workplaces and elsewhere.”
According to the minister, the burden of preventing violence and harassment in the workplace rests with the employer, who has an obligation of creating a safe and conducive working environment for all. She said in order to achieve this and effectively deal with violence and harassment in the workplace, her department has a Policy on Sexual Harassment. Pandor said the policy is aimed at maintaining a working environment in which the dignity of employees is respected and ensuring that a conducive environment is created wherein victims of sexual harassment do not feel that their grievances are ignored or trivialized.
“Our efforts towards creating an enabling working environment are supported by the Employment equity Act, 1998 (act 55 of 1998) with amendments to the Code of Good Practice on the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases in the Workplace. The code encourages and promotes the development and implementation of policies and procedures that will lead to the creation of workplaces that are free of sexual harassment, where employers and employees respect one another’s integrity and dignity, their privacy, and their right to equity in the workplace,” said the minister.
She added that the department has also adopted a T-Shirt methodology in the fight against gender based violence. Pandor said the T-Shirt methodology is not about wearing T-Shirts but embracing a new approach of breaking silence, taking action and being counted-in against GBV. She said employees are encouraged to:
“ T: Talk – about ways to fight GBVF (we must break the silence and stop stigmatising GBVF)
S: Share – experiences about GBVF (Learn from each other’s experiences on how to fight GBVF)
H: Help – those who are affected by GBVF (Do not look away, offer help)
I: Inform – others not to fall victims of GBVF (Be an agent of change, assist others with information)
R: Raise – awareness about GBVF (Initiate awareness programmes)
T: Take – action against GBVF (Be the change you want to see, act and be counted in).”
“Together, let us take action to support the fight against GBVF 365 Days a year and make everyday a Day of Activism for no Violence against Women and Children. During this 16 Days let us consolidate our efforts to fight violence and harassment in the world of work. Let us make DIRCO safe for everyone to grow and showcase their talent without any fear of being violated or harassed. Stand up and be counted, let us embrace our T-SHIRT methodology and make sure that we talk, share information, offer help, inform, raise awareness and take action now. Together we can build a non-violent South Africa!” the minister said.