'The workplace is not pro-woman' - panelists discuss sexual harassment

Many South African organisations have become complicit in normalising rape culture and misogyny.

The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace has once again come under the spotlight, after a former director at Grant Thornton SA broke her silence.

Nerisha Singh recounted her trauma after her employment was terminated when she laid a complaint of sexual harassment.

LISTEN: How Grant Thornton SA allegedly covered up sexual harassment

A panel of women discuss the various ways patriarchy and misogyny manifest in the workplace, in a lecture hall, court room and other corners of society.

What is sexual harassment?

Labor specialist Natasha Moni defines sexual harassment as unwanted, unwarranted, unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.

According to Moni, forms of sexual harassment include physical, verbal, non-verbal, quid pro quo, sexual favouritism and grooming.

Read: How Grant Thornton SA allegedly covered up sexual harassment

Moni says Human Resources (HR) departments see sexual harassment complaints as threats to the company, which must be "neutralised".

She argues that many HR teams have become complicit in the perpetuation of rape culture in the workplace.

Seasoned radio and TV journalist, Faith Daniels has commended Singh for speaking out about her experience, which she says is all too common for many women in SA.

Daniels says many victims of sexual harassment remain silent because they raise doubts about their own discomfort, put their own behaviuor on trial and worry about shaming.

Also read: 'Why I won't reveal name of deputy minister who raped me'

She says survivors of sexual harassment should never have to doubt or question their experience.

Gender violence researcher Lisa Vetten adds that legislation fails to protect women against gender-based violence at a structural level.

Vetten says that the South African public is regularly outraged by individual stories of sexual violence, yet nothing is done to address the systemic issues that create barriers to gender equity and justice.

Social activist Lebo Ramafoko says the workplace and many other social spaces give power to patriarchy and are not pro-woman.

Ramafoko emphasises the importance of continuing to share individual stories, in a fight against silencing.

Sadly, Nerisha Singh's experience is not an isolated one at all. Her story is the experience of South African women everyday.

Faith Daniels, Head of Journalism at Kagiso Media

The perpetrator thrives on his position of power because of his level at work, his gender and the fact that what will happen [sic].

Lebo Ramafoko, CEO of Soul City Institute, social activist and feminist

These spaces are not pro women. The culture that thrives is the jokes we say to each other, the parts of women we pat and how we belittle them.

Lebo Ramafoko, CEO of Soul City Institute, social activist and feminist

Every so often it seems our attention is captured by a particular case, but we don't look at the broader systemic and structural problems. And our attention doesn't stay focused long enough for us to achieve change.

Lisa Vetten, Senior Researcher specilaising in gender violence

The law says sexual harassment is not permitted or condoned, and the duty to ensure this is the management's.

Natasha Moni, labor specialist Director at Moni Attorneys Incorporated, Acting judge and part-time commissioner at CCMA

The attention that the recipient is getting becomes harassment when it persists. The recipient must set their boundaries and the law seems to be a little archaic in that respect.

Natasha Moni, labor specialist Director at Moni Attorneys Incorporated, Acting judge and part time commissioner at CCMA

I have seen HR departments become complicit in sexual harassment complaints. They are no longer a valuable tool to complain.

Natasha Moni, labor specialist Director at Moni Attorneys Incorporated, Acting judge and part time commissioner at CCMA

Grant Thornton South Africa says it will respond to Singh’s claims on Wednesday.

Take a listen to the engaging panel discussion:


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