Sexual Harassment in the Social Justice Sector
The Women’s Legal Centre is an African feminist legal centre that advances women’s rights and equality. Like so many other institutions in the social justice sector we have been deeply affected by the recent media reports, statements and admissions from individuals and organisations who we have considered partners and friends.
Unlike many, and perhaps because of where we are placed within the social sector, the presence of sexual harassment has not surprised us. We in the sector are merely a snapshot of our society, communities and homes where patriarchy continues to wield a mighty sword in its oppression of women. The workplace and the social justice sector are therefore no different to the rest of society.
However difficult, the current climate provides us all with a unique opportunity for introspection, not only of our organisational roles, but our individual roles and responsibilities in the struggle against patriarchy. Our call is that we in the sector place victims of sexual harassment at the centre of our endeavours. Because of the work that we do we are aware of the many challenges that victims face when they are brave enough to speak their truth. We are equally aware of the challenge that is posed by the power of collective collusion to silence women’s voices.
It is clear that we as a sector have not made significant progress in transforming the workplace to be a safe and inclusive space for women. We must all acknowledge the role of power and authority within our work environments, which places women in a place of vulnerability. We must be cognisant of the intersectional manner in which women experience discrimination, and be in a position to respond to the intersectional ways that discrimination impacts on the lives of women. We must do more to ensure that women are provided with spaces and environments which are safe to facilitate their voices being heard. In order for us to do this we must be willing and open to be held accountable for our role in upholding and protecting an environment where abuse take place. We need to ensure that when we put in place mechanisms to address sexual violence in the workplace we do not do so without taking into account the very women that such processes would seek to provide justice to.
The Women’s Legal Centre is providing legal support to women who have experienced sexual violence in their workplace. We call on all other service organisations to provide support to the victims of sexual harassment during this time.