For as long as women have been in the workforce, tolerating sexual harassment has been their cost of earning a living alongside men. Today, it’s a silent epidemic affecting half of the population in a society that has been conditioned to assume ‘that’s just how the world works’. For decades, this misogynist pathology has allowed powerful men to use women as sexual cannon fodder. But the world can no longer ignore this issue; women can no longer remain silent.
The allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein sparked a global conversation about the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the culture of silence when it comes to reporting it. Weinstein covered up 30 years of crimes such as demands for sex in return for roles, indecent exposure and rape, with settlements, non-disclosure agreements and blacklisting anyone who tried to report him. As it stands, over 60 women, including A-list actresses Lupita Nyong’o and Angelina Jolie have come forward to add their names to the list of Weinstein’s victims.
The presence of sexual harassment in the film industry is not surprising. It’s part of an age-old custom known as the ‘casting couch’, where Hollywood powerbrokers demand sexual favors from aspiring actresses in return for roles.
Aliki Saragas from the South African advocacy group SWIFT (Sisters Working In Film and Television) says sexual harassment and abuse of women remain one of the biggest struggles in the industry, and the Weinstein scandal only works to highlight what has been an ongoing struggle for women in film and entertainment worldwide. One can be forgiven for thinking the industry has evolved over the years and the casting couch is just a relic from Hollywood’s golden age, but its tactics appear to have lived on in the system created by men like Weinstein.
Courtnae Paul, a dancer and choreographer in the South African entertainment industry, said she had her first casting couch experience at the age of 12 in a studio, where an older, unnamed producer tried to kiss her.
Johannesburg-based scriptwriter Lisa Mncube said that after she reported her sexual abuse, instead of receiving comfort she was treated as “dirty and mischievous”.
The casting couch may be exclusive to this industry, but the idea that women have to endure unwanted sexual advances for career success exists in every field. Sexual harassment is endemic in all workplaces. It’s in the White House and the army, in the media and tech industry, in academia, corporate boardrooms and every institution where there is a power imbalance. A case in point is the financial sector, where men hold the majority of leadership roles.
Anusha Naidoo, who has a senior position in South Africa’s corporate finance sector, says this abuse of power limits women’s opportunities for growth.
“If I’m in an uncomfortable situation, I’m told to get over it or ‘toughen up’ if I want to progress in this field,” she says.
Naidoo recalls an encounter she raised with her superior, which he dismissed as her being too sensitive.
“This is why women in male-dominated industries don’t report their issues, because we fear the stigma might hurt our careers in the long run.”
Johannesburg-based financial planner Samiksha Budhram says men in the financial industry treat the workplace as a ‘boys club’, passing crude and callous remarks about women among themselves, sometimes in the presence of other women.
“The fact that men have the freedom to harass a woman even when she isn’t in the same room is a cruel privilege,” Budhram says. “It’s as if we are invisible.”
The Weinstein scandal has emboldened over 300,000 women worldwide to share their stories of sexual harassment and gender-based violence on social media using the hashtag #MeToo.
What’s important about this thread is that it gives a voice to acts that are public, but silenced by convention.
“Why were you dressed like that? Why did you go there? Why were you there alone? You could have avoided it.”
Because most women have already heard this before, they stay silent fearing no one will believe them.
Sadly, women’s rights are largely marginalized in South Africa. According to Crime Stats SA, there were 51,895 sexual offences reported in South Africa in 2016, just over 142 per day.
SWIFT ran a survey of its own in January this year, outlining gender disparity in the workplace. Of the women surveyed, 23.7% indicated that they had been unwillingly touched in the workplace and 65% have witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace. 71% said they did not have a support structure to report their cases and feel human resources departments don’t care about employees, but rather protect the companies’ interests. Moreover, the majority of these women said there would be no repercussions if the perpetrator was reported because men in the industry protect one another, confirming sexual harassment to be a larger, systemic problem.
This is why Lee-Anne Bac, a director at Grant Thornton Johannesburg, feels there is an urgent need to employ more women in positions of power in the workplace. A Women in Business report released by Grant Thornton early this year shows women in leadership roles have dropped from 27% in 2016 to 23% in 2017, and less than a quarter of businesses surveyed had no women in senior management positions.
“Women are fighting from a position of lack of power, and until the balance is tilted, it will remain a difficult influence change,” Bac says, adding that Africa’s strong patriarchal culture contributes to these difficulties.
But to change a patriarchal culture that has existed for centuries isn’t up to women alone. Sexual harassment is not just a women’s issue, it’s a human issue.
“If there is to be an end to this epidemic, men have to become allies with women and not bystanders,” says Melvin Pather, a lecturer at the University of Cape Town who offers his perspective on how men can help. “If you as a man are in a position to do something, your silence makes you complicit,” he says.
The events that have occurred over the past few months form a watershed moment in how society deals with sexual harassment and assault. All men have a responsibility to lead by example and aim for a culture of zero tolerance and accountability. Once women feel they have a safe platform to voice their issues, more of them will blow the whistle on sexual harassment when and where it happens, and it won’t take decades for powerful men like Weinstein to be held accountable for their crimes. – Written by Cadine Pillay
Kenyan Hospital Opens Human Milk Bank – A Rarity In Sub-Saharan Africa
Kenya’s first human milk bank has opened at Pumwani Maternity Hospital. Moina Spooner, from The Conversation Africa, spoke to the team spearheading APHRC’s research efforts in the establishment of Kenya’s first milk bank.
How long has it taken to open? What were the biggest obstacles?
The process of establishment of human milk banking in Kenya started in 2016. It was spearheaded by the NGO PATH, in partnership with APHRC and Kenya’s Ministry of Health, among other partners. It was rolled out in two phases.
During phase one we assessed people’s perceptions and acceptability of using donated human milk. We also looked at how feasible it would be to set a bank up. The results were encouraging. About 90% of participants were positive about it, 80% would donate their breast milk, and about 60% indicated that they would allow their children to be fed with donated human milk.
A committee was also set-up to provide oversight and guidance on human milk bank work in Kenya. They were sent to South Africa to learn more about the human milk banking process. Finally, local strategies were developed.
We are now in phase two of the project: the establishment of a pilot human milk bank in Pumwani Maternity Hospital. This includes the launch of a research project which examines its feasibility, effectiveness, acceptability and aims to estimate the cost of establishing an actual human milk bank in Kenya.
There have been challenges. Being a new concept, there have been some logistical challenges, for instance some of the equipment wasn’t locally available so it took longer to get it all done and installed.
There have also been concerns by some community members and health workers over the safety and quality of the donor human milk.
However, we’ve had support from the government which has been critical in addressing the logistical challenges. Advocacy and communication activities are also being rolled out to create awareness on human milk banking and address any concerns.
What is a milk bank and how does it work?
Human milk banks are facilities that systematically collect, pasteurise, test, store, and distribute donated breast milk.
An effective system has many operational processes to ensure it provides safe, high quality donor milk. They start with screening and recruiting donors who must be healthy mothers with surplus milk beyond the needs of their own child’s. Donors must undergo health checks including tests that screen for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B and C. Diseases could be passed to children through breastmilk.
Donors must then express milk in hygienic conditions, after which the milk is pasteurised. This involves heating the milk in a water bath at 62.5°c for 30 minutes followed by rapid cooling.
At the bank, the milk is frozen and stored at -20c. When needed, it’s thawed to room temperature and issued to children who don’t have access to their own mothers’ milk. A prescription by a qualified health professional is needed for this.
Why are they needed?
Although breastfeeding is the most natural and best way to feed infants, many babies may lack access to their mother’s milk. This could’ve happened for many reasons – maybe the mother is sick, hasn’t got enough breast milk or is dead.
From our formative research, 44% of newborns in urban health facilities were separated from their mothers for varying periods of time. This ranged from less than an hour to more than 6 hours and even days after birth. Of these infants, only 14% were fed on mother’s own milk during separation. 36% of the newborns weren’t fed on anything during this period and an additional 23% were fed on formula or cow’s milk.
When breastfeeding is not an option, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends donated human milk as a lifesaving alternative. Particularly for babies that were born early, have low birth weight, are orphaned, malnourished or are severely ill.
Evidence paints a very strong picture in favour of donated human milk over infant formula. It’s more effective in reducing the risk of disease and infections – like inflammatory bowel disease, leukemia and respiratory tract infections – in newborn babies and is better tolerated by babies that are born prematurely.
In the US and Brazil, the use of donated human milk was reported to reduce the length of hospital stay for sick infants and save on the cost of health care.
Given the benefits of using donated human milk over infant formula, the WHO has called for the global scale-up of human milk banks. These are expected to increase access to safe donor human milk.
Is this the first of many?
Although WHO recommends that the milk banks be set up, Kenya is just the second, after South Africa, to establish a human milk bank in sub-Saharan Africa – even though it is a pilot.
We hope that human milk banking will be scaled up in Kenya and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, using the evidence we generate from our research.
-Elizabeth Kimani-Murage; Research Scientist at the African Population and Health Research Center and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Brown University
-Milka Wanjohi, Taddese Zerfu, Esther Anono and Eva Kamande from the African Population and Health Research Center contributed to the writing of this article.
Simidele Adeagbo: What I Learned From The Most Terrifying Winter Olympics Sport
At the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, I became the first African and black woman to compete in the daring sport of Skeleton.
Skeleton, in which athletes hurl themselves on a sled, head first, down a frozen ice track at 80 miles per hour, is considered by some to be the most terrifying Winter Olympics sport. I never imagined I would find myself hurtling down an icy hill on a metal, carbon fiber tray of sorts with no brakes, safety belt or steering mechanism.
But when I discovered the sport about 100 days before the Olympics, I was motivated to take it up in hopes to inspire others, break barriers and shift the narrative around Africa on the world’s biggest stage. I ultimately changed the course of Olympic history and learned about the power of having a vision and pushing the limits to break into unknown spaces.
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At the beginning of my journey, I asked myself two very simple questions. ‘Why Not Me? And Why Not Now?’ I knew that someone had to make history as the first African woman to compete in the sport of Skeleton at the Winter Olympics and I didn’t see any reason why it couldn’t be me and it couldn’t be right then. Despite coming from Nigeria, a place with no ice or snow and having no prior knowledge of Skeleton, I had a vision to become the first African woman to compete in Olympic Skeleton.
We often hesitate to establish a vision for the things we want to do thinking that someone else will do it, while also waiting for a perfect time for it to be done. As best-selling author Mel Robbins notes in The 5 Second Rule, “If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it.” Through my unconventional path, I learned how to keep my vision alive by taking action instantly.
As I pushed to break barriers, I also learned the value of embracing chaos and how to keep moving forward. In the sport of Skeleton, you’re on the edge of danger and control at any given time. This taught me to expect and appreciate the chaos that comes with life.
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Before every run, I take down the track, I have a game plan. But when navigating down massive twists and turns going at speeds faster than cars travel on the freeway, things don’t always go as planned.
Through my experiences on the Skeleton track, I’ve learned to embrace life’s chaotic, unplanned moments and adapt as needed along the way. In the same way, as I was beginning the sport, I would painfully bump into the walls on my way down the track. These are called “hits”. Hits slow you down and are to be avoided as much as possible. But in Skeleton, just as in life, hits are inevitable.
On this journey, I learned to take the hits, no matter how big or small and keep pushing forward.
Finally, in Skeleton, flying down the track at crazy speeds, you have to make decisions in split seconds and the natural reaction is to panic. However, panicking is counterproductive as it causes the body to tense up and actually slows the sled down. Remaining cool, calm and collected is the best thing a Skeleton athlete can do.
With more time in the sport, I ultimately learned to trust my instincts, relax and enjoy the ride. Perhaps this is the most important lesson of all as this has become my personal ethos for achieving success in life.
By taking action instantly, embracing chaos and relentlessly pushing forward and relaxing and trusting our instincts, we can all apply these winning strategies for high performance in business and life. Who knew you could learn so much from the most terrifying Winter Olympics sport?
Naomi Campbell Has Big Plans For Africa
The globally-popular Naomi Campbell was in Durban, in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal, for the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA 2019 Leading Women Summit, to talk about her abiding interest and investment in the African continent.
As a supermodel who has scaled stratospheric heights in fashion, Naomi Campbell has graced global runways and magazine covers, so when she came calling in Durban for a FORBES WOMAN AFRICA event, the anticipation was bigger than any cover shoot we have ever done.
For the 2019 Leading Women Summit held in the coastal South African city for the first time on International Women’s Day, the British-born supermodel, activist, philanthropist and cultural innovator exuded her signature grace and glamor in a sea-blue Marianne Fassler dress.
In 2017, Campbell was named contributing editor of British Vogue by its Editor-in-Chief, Edward Enninful.
When I complimented her March 2019 cover for British Vogue, she said, considerately: “I wish I could have brought you one, I could have grabbed a copy for you from the airport [in London] yesterday.”
Campbell caught her break as a fashion model when she was just 15 years old, and has featured in advertising campaigns for luxury houses including Burberry, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino.
Beyond her work in fashion, she has used her celebrity for fundraising and non-profit initiatives across the globe. In 1997, South African President Nelson Mandela named Campbell an “honorary granddaughter” for her activism. She also now has a YouTube channel, Being Naomi.
Campbell aims to integrate African and international luxury markets “bringing storied retailers to countries such as Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco, as well as introducing African artists to global audiences”.
“The strongest woman I have met come from Africa,” she told an audience of 500 during an on-stage interview at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit.
“There’s many great women. I was very blessed and lucky to meet Miriam Makeba when I came to South Africa. I didn’t know her story but it was just her presence. Then Winnie Mandela… I met many powerful and strong women with inner strength and I am very much attracted to women with strength. You learn from them, you take from them, you observe them and how they speak. I have always considered myself a work-in-progress.”
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She added: “For me, modeling has been a blessing in my life. I am very grateful. It led me to meet the most amazing people. Where I am at in my life today, is to use the almost 33 years that I have been in this business to help make awareness, to open the minds to the brands that I work with and have worked with all these years.
“They need to come to this continent, not just come in and out and take, but [invest] in the infrastructure and make a commitment to the communities in Africa.”
A day before the event, when FORBES AFRICA caught up with Campbell, and before settling down for our brief interview, she began with a disarming: “What do you think is a good restaurant to go to in Durban?”
“I am tired but excited,” she had laughed. More from the exclusive interview:
You have said that you are investing in communities and infrastructure in Africa. Can you tell us more about your Africa plans?
My plans are to start serving my industry, brands and the continent. And seeing that we are such big consumers [of brands] in the rest of the world, yet we don’t have it ourselves on the continent… And it’s what works in all businesses, like fashion, architecture and technology. We are big influencers so why don’t we have these things? It’s mind-blowing, so now is the time.
You are working a lot with African designers?
I want to take them out into the western world and bring the western world in… so vice versa.
Are African designers in demand in the West?
Yes, because of the textiles. I don’t want to see that their textiles are copied and they don’t get credit for what they have done.
For me, the workmanship, the textiles, this is what we need to keep on the continent. We cannot allow other brands and designers from the West to come in and take your textiles.
What are some of your best memories of Nelson Mandela since your first meeting in 1993?
I have many great memories here in South Africa, and undoubtedly always with ‘grandad’, when he would send me out to the people, to different townships and villages and just put things in perspective for me.
Yes, I was coming from a fashion background, but I am a human being too and coming from a middleclass family, it’s something you feel to do, it’s not something anyone can push you to do. I am not sure what he saw in me and thought that I could do it, but I really love him and miss him.
Lending your celebrity to important causes, you have worked for global health, women’s rights etc… is there any passion project that you are working on right now?
My passion project is Africa. It is such a beautiful rich culture, with minerals and so many natural resources.
The narrative and perception also have to change. It is understood in the wrong way.
All through your career, how have you managed to be so versatile across diverse industries?
There’s no plan to me, I just do what I feel. I [go with] gut instinct really of each thing I commit myself to doing, and I always follow through.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully, in the continent of Africa.
What’s it like being a contributing editor on British Vogue?
It’s great working with Edward Enniful and fun to be an editor. I travel anyway but I get to travel and interview people from all walks of life.
It’s interesting to hear other people’s lives, their experiences, strengths and their hopes to get them on their journey. It’s not really like interviews but more conversational.
What is the best part of being an African woman in the 21st century?
African women have always been extremely strong. On the African continent, people are really smart… I have always had high respect for them.
They are so smart and educated, and yet what do they do with it once they have got it, and this is where it needs to change.
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