Sexual harassment in SA – even the president is accused

26/09: Two new books which have been released in South Africa accuse President Jacob Zuma of sexual harassment. Former National Assembly Public Enterprises Portfolio Committee chairperson Vytjie Mentor describes two sexual harassment incidents involving Jacob Zuma in her book No Holy Cows. And broadcaster and author Redi Thlabi’s new book Khwezi relates the story of a senior journalist was allegedly sexually harassed by the president.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited under the labour laws of South Africa. It can be defined as unwelcome and unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature that creates a hostile or offensive environment. It can also be seen as a form of violence against women (and men, who can also be sexually harassed) and as discriminatory treatment. A key part of the definition is the word “unwelcome”.

Some of the action which qualify include:

  • Telling sexual or dirty jokes
  • Displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings or pictures
  • Letters, notes, emails, telephone calls, or material of a sexual nature
  • “Rating” people on their physical attributes
  • Sexual comments about a person's clothing, anatomy, or looks
  • Whistling or cat-calling
  • Sexually suggestive sounds or gestures such as sucking noises, winks, or pelvic thrusts
  • Direct or indirect threats or bribes for unwanted sexual activity

Sexual harassment at workplace

Every employer (regardless of size) should maintain a workplace that is free of gender harassment. In some countries it is a legal obligation, but in all cases it makes good business sense. If it is allowed to flourish in a workplace, there will be a high price to pay in poor employee morale, low productivity, and lawsuits. Additionally, in some countries an employer can be held liable if harassment occurs and it is found that the employer did not take all reasonable steps to prevent such harassment in the workplace.

Be prepared

It is obviously not possible for a person to know when or where female harassment may take place at work – all situations are different. One can try and be alert and take precautions. However, there is no foolproof way to prevent female harassment – one can only try and be careful. If you find yourself in a situation where someone is pressuring you, remember that it’s not your fault. These tips may help you exit the situation safely.

Find out more about Harassment in the Workplace


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