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
Caster Semenya Releases List Of Experts For Battle With IAAF At CAS
Caster Semenya has released a list of experts she will call in her appeal hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) this week in her fight against regulations aimed at lowering the testosterone levels of hyperandrogenic athletes like her.
The South African 800-metres double Olympic champion on Monday expressed her disappointment after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) revealed the names of their five witnesses for the proceedings in Lausserne.
She called it a breach of confidentiality rules ahead of a five-day appeal that could have far reaching consequences for sport. The IAAF deny any wrong-doing.
She will call on a range of experts from various fields, and used the announcement of their names, through her lawyers, to reiterate her stance on the IAAF’s proposed regulations.
“The IAAF regulations do not empower anyone,” the statement said. “Rather, they represent yet another flawed and hurtful attempt to police the sex of female athletes.
“Ms Semenya’s courage and perseverance in her fight to run free is an inspiration to young athletes in her home country of South Africa and around the globe.”
The IAAF regulations stipulate that women with elevated testosterone take medication to reduce their level before being allowed to compete, but only in the middle-distance events of between 400- and 1500-metres where it is claimed the advantage is most felt.
IAAF President Sebastian Coe told reporters on Monday that the regulations are aimed at leveling the field between hyperandrogenic athletes and those with normal levels of testosterone.
The IAAF’s previous attempts to regulate testosterone in female athletes fell foul of a CAS ruling in 2015 following an appeal on behalf of Indian Dutee Chand, who had been banned from competing because of her high levels.
CAS claimed in their judgment that the IAAF had not provided sufficient evidence that hyperandrogenic athletes gained a significant advantage due to their testosterone count.
A verdict could take up to a month, according to CAS.
The experts who will testify in support of Semenya are listed as:
- Prof Veronica Gomez-Lobo, Obstetrics and Gynecology at Georgetown University and the Director of the DSD (Differences of Sexual Development) Clinic at the Children’s National Health System in Washington‚ DC.
- Dr Alun Williams, Director of the Sports Genomics Laboratory at Manchester Metropolitan University.
- Professor Eric Vilain, specialist in gender-based and endocrine genetics‚ including DSD, who has consulted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
- Professor Roger Pielke Jr, director of the Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado.
- Professor Dankmar Böhning, Chair in Medical Statistics at the University of Southampton.
- Professor Richard Holt, expert in Diabetes and Endocrinology at the University of Southampton.
- Professor Anthony C Hackney, University of North Carolina‚ with joint appointments in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science and the Department of Nutrition School of Public Health.
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- Dr Lih-Mei Liao, clinical and health psychologist in the United Kingdom who has worked extensively with women diagnosed with a range of DSD conditions.
- Dr Payoshni Mitra, teaches Sport Sociology at Birkbeck College‚ University of London and works closely with athletes with hyperandrogenism and DSD from the Southern Hemisphere.
- Ashley LaBrie‚ Executive Director of AthletesCAN‚ an independent organization that represents the interests of all national team athletes in Canada. –Reuters
‘Time For Business To Roll Up Its Sleeves’
Busi Mabuza has just been appointed Chair of the South African chapter of the BRICS Business Council. Also the chairperson of the Industrial Development Corporation, she speaks to FORBES AFRICA about her plans for trade and investment.
What is your first point of focus as the chair of the South African chapter of the BRICS Business Council?
It is still early days. I am just lucky I was appointed to the BRICS Council last year… In my few months, my sense was that the sister countries in BRICS were much more organized in terms of what it is they are looking for and in bringing a coordinated voice of business. We were still trying to get there in terms of coordinating our efforts and channeling our objectives and making sure we agree on the priorities.
I look forward to, first of all, picking up from where others left off. This is a council that has been around not long after 2010, and it has a long-enough track-record.
I think where things have been done well, we just need to make sure they are done better. Where there are gaps, I’d like for us to close those gaps. On the administrative side, I have noticed our sister countries, the business councils of the other countries, are much more coercively organized, more streamlined, business has a very strong voice and business facilitates all of it.
I would like to see that engagement with all corners of business, big and small. I think there is room for everybody there. If one looks at the African continent, the majority of the population is young people. If we sit in those meetings without understanding the voice of the youth, without talking to and addressing the issues of the youth, we will be left behind.
I think it is an opportunity to make sure business rolls up its sleeves and we actually benefit from the linkages our political principles have cemented.
As a woman in leadership, how will you navigate this space?
It is one that also challenges me ideologically. I never wanted to be labeled ‘the first black woman [in anything]’, and yet I have worked most of my life in environments where it has been lonely just by the mere fact that when the guys are talking rugby, I want to talk about something else.
Rugby is great, I also enjoy that, but it is also good to talk about other things. One success factor when one is thrown into such environments is to [bring] others in deliberately. I’d love to demonstrate to the women out there that there are opportunities such as these and we need to be there and we need to show up at our best in terms of our game.
We need to work diligently because when it comes to the results and output, the assessment won’t be based on whether you are a man or woman, it will be based on what you deliver tangibly. South Africa has an opportunity to make the other BRICS countries aware that women have to be at the table and we do it through our actions rather than just talk.
What is on the 2019 agenda for business in South Africa?
With this being new days, I believe in consultation. I believe in making sure I understand the mandate I have been given. I understand what the Department of Trade and Industry is about, and their focus on creating export opportunities because that will grow our trade.
I understand their focus on empowerment, because as a country we do need to see a better profile and reflection of society in the economic space. The focus will continue to be on trade and investment, as we move along, I would like for us to do this in an inclusive manner.
Which sector will South Africa prioritize?
I would definitely take a cue from the president’s [Cyril Ramaphosa] focus on agriculture. Agriculture is fantastic for this continent because we have land, we have the people and if you look outside South Africa, there is water. The resources are there.
The other side of the coin is that agriculture can be a great employment opportunity. Agriculture is getting more technical and technology-intensive and that excites me. If we had a trading bloc arrangement, we will be talking much bigger opportunities within the country.
Danai Gurira: ‘Fully Feminine And Fully Fierce’
The film Black Panther received critical acclaim worldwide. Zimbabwean actor Danai Gurira from the film chats about the impact it has had on her life.
January 29 marked the first anniversary since the release of the Black Panther movie.
Worldwide, it grossed more than $1.2 billion ranking as the tenth top-grossing film of all time.
At the 2019 Golden Globes, which took place on January 6, the movie was nominated for three awards and was rumoured to be nominated for an Oscar, which will be hosted on February 25.
Danai Gurira, who plays the part of General Okoye, represented a fierce and strong woman.
One of the most notable scenes in the movie was when she took off her wig and used it as a weapon.
She chats to FORBES AFRICA about the impact the movie has had on her life.
What did being part of a movie like Black Panther mean to you?
It was a really amazing experience to be a part of and, of course, in my own work as a playwright and an actor, I’ve always been seeking to give the voice of the African more of a global resonance and response because I always wondered why we didn’t have that.
So, the beauty of being a part of a project that did do that and being able to play a character who was fully feminine and fully fierce and unapologetic about it allowed me to really be a part of something I wanted to see growing up.
I had always yearned to see stories like that, with such amazing characters I got to work with in that world, in an Africa un-colonized and excellent and thriving. And it was really an amazing feeling to be a part of that.
Did you expect such a huge response from the global audience?
The response, I mean, we couldn’t have predicted that, but I think we were all excited. Peter, Chadwick [Boseman] and the people I got to work with were excited to see this pass; even if we weren’t part of it, we would have supported it.
It has been a great experience to have and to know that people have had the response they had and we are just thankful.
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