Regardless of the outlawing in legal jurisdictions around the globe, workplace sexual harassment continues to take place, it is experienced by many woman and a small percentage of men have also reported cases of workplace sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has also been recognised as one of the common barriers to a woman’s career. Statistics show that one out of two women will be harassed at some point in their careers, or as academics. South Africa faces tremendous challenges of unemployment with women still holding positions in lower levels of the economy and thus earning less than men.
South Africa clearly has a long way to go. The country has seen many people in high positions of authority and governance who have had sexual misconduct allegations made against them with no real consequences including our former President, Jacob Zuma. These kind of perpetrators usually deny their behaviour and the victim has to prove that it really did happen. What is sexual harassment and how do you know when it is happening to you? The Amended Code of Good Practice on handling Sexual Harassment Cases in the Workplace, notice 1357 of 2995, defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. The unwanted nature of sexual harassment distinguishes behaviour that is unwelcome as sexual attention that becomes persistent, although a single incident can constitute harassment, if the recipient has made it clear that that the behaviour of the perpetrator is offensive.
What needs to be taken note of is the crucial part of unwanted and unwelcome behaviours that may cause one to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or even intimidated, whether the intention was there or not by the perpetrator. Sexual harassment may take place in a physical, verbal and non-verbal manner. It may also be subtle and unnoticeable to the other person who is not harassed. The penning down of this article also lays in the fact that one may not be aware that they are being sexually harassed. Taking a look back at the 2018 example of ex-employee, Steve Pietersen of the Rustenburg Platinum Mines, who was found guilty of misconduct against complainant Jane Kgole. Kgole had been employed since 2002 and her ordeal started in 2007 when Pietersen, who was an acting foreman laid charges against Kgole of misconduct. On the date that she was subjected to a disciplinary hearing, at a braai event, Pietersen approached her and asked her how she survives on her low salary. She responded by saying she budgets, he then proceeded to suggest that she could stay with him as he would assist her with paying her expenses. The suggestion was that they could meet up and have sexual intercourse. She rejected these suggestions. Since then, Pietersen continued for many years to make such advances. Pietersen was found guilty by the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for sexual harassment even though the case was reported much later. There are many such cases in the South African workforce.
The Employment Equity Act prohibits sexual harassment of employers by employees and holds the employer liable in such cases even if the employer is unaware of the misconduct, employers should take steps in dealing with the matter once they are aware.
Although statistics report women to be the most victims, they also show that women are also catching up with unlawful sexual misconduct. According to research done by the Research Agency Columinate, 30% of women and 18% of men have reported unwanted sexual advances in the workplace. The research also showed that most men do not report such cases, thus their cases go unresolved leaving much work to be done in removing stigma or the mentality that a man cannot be sexual harassed and thus need not be afraid or ashamed to report sexual misconduct perpetuated by women.