The Employment Equity Act gives you certain rights in the field of unfair discrimination, and when it comes to gender Discrimination The Code of Good Practice, as provided by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) gives you a fair idea of what warrants a case against unacceptable behaviour. Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted conduct of a sexual natureand includes all unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct.Examples can range from unsolicited touching, to seedy jokes, comments with sexual overtones or about a person’s body or sex life, indecent exposure, wolf whistling, displays of explicit pictures, and sexual favouritism where a person in authority rewards only those who respond to his or her advances.
According to local labour law specialist Gail Blacher, the law is actually very strong in favour of people being harassed, people just do not know about it.And, as of April 2013, the Protection from Harassment Act came into operation affording victims an effective remedy.
When it comes to sexual harassment cases, the CCMA now allows you to represent yourself, whereas beforehand you’d have to go to the Labour Court and seek legal representation, which is an expensive and somewhat onerous process. Of course, the key to a strong case is evidence, and with that comes the responsibility not to ignore the harassment but to empower yourself to take action. Because the definition of sexual harassment is unwelcomeconduct, it is vital to make it clear to the perpetrator, in writing so as to document proof, that the behaviour is not invited. Blacher recommends keeping a log from the start; with emails, memos, gifts, and notes on any incident or relevant information. And, although it may seem intimidating, you must report the matter directly to your HR or employer, as many companies will have a sexual harassment policy in place to protect you.
The sad reality is, however, that many sexual harassment cases are often complicated and still clouded by a male dominated climate. One cannot forget the infamous case of axed Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, whose staffmemberJacqueline Phooko accused him of rape after he hired her to work for his party without proper procedure when he took a fancy to the then 26-year-old at an SAA check-in counter. While there may or may not have been a consensual affair as Vavi claimed, the issue here was not adultery but that Vavi grossly abused his position of power and privilege to take full advantage of a young woman who was a low-level employee not adequately equipped for the position she had been appointed. The charge was subsequently withdrawn and settled with monetary compensation, an act that was soon followed by Vavi publishing a statement on the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) site saying that we will be looking out for signs that these anti-revolutionary working class forces that are hell bent on destroying the federation, and thus irreparably fragmenting and weakening the power of the revolutionary working class in this country, try to migrate a private and personal matter into an organisational matter, in Cosatu.In doing so, Vavi and Cosatu, who purport to act for equality and dignity for and between the sexes, guilty or not guilty, came off as agents of patriarchy with Vavi positioning himself as the victim and dubbing Phooko a loose woman seeking extortion.
The disturbing truth is that we do not get to hear about half, if not more, of the day-to-day cases because too many women do not speak up. Despite several conversations with work colleagues, and the women I travBlogd with abroad, about the sexually crude and offensive behaviour of that man, not one of us took action. I know I was hesitant because I was worried about the ramifications it could have. What about his poor wife and children if he lost his job? But, in hindsight, I wish I had filed a complaint with the company at the very least, because as women we have to be the change we want to see, and by letting men get away with it there will never be gender equality in the work place. Ultimately you have to ask yourself, do I feel uncomfortable with this? Is this demeaning the person that I am? Does this jeopardise my integrity and my dignity as a woman? If you can answer yes to any of the above it is time to speak up.
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