#Notourleaders: Parties given until February to respond to sexual harassment questions

Political parties were given a deadline of 1 February 2018 to respond to questions regarding internal sexual harassment policies and the number and outcomes of sexual misconduct complaints they have received. This followed the #NotourLeaders Campaign that recently put the spotlight on political parties’ handling of sexual misconduct complaints against members and government officials. It was found parties’ responses are often “insipid, sluggish and inconsistent”. The drivers of the campaign – the Dullah Omar Institute’s Women and Democracy Initiative, gender activist Lisa Vetten and Lawyers for Human Rights – are now calling for more decisive leadership and for policy gaps to be addressed.

In a statement, the campaign drivers said greater transparency and public accountability is needed. They have since written to the various political parties and leadership on all levels of government for more information to better understand “the scale of the situation regarding sexual misconduct and offences committed by elected representatives, staff and members within political parties and to gain a better understanding of the institutional responses to this”. In the letters, party leaders are asked to indicate if parties have an internal sexual harassment policy and if not what law and policy they rely on when faced with such complaints. Parties are also asked to indicate the number of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct or gender-based violence complaints that have been dealt with through internal disciplinary processes since January 2013.

The campaign as part of the 16 Days of Activism focussed on 20 cases across the political spectrum and spheres of government and the sexual misconduct allegations ranged from the rape of children to demanding sex for jobs or promotions and physical harassment. According to a statement of the #NotourLeaders Campaign, political parties have been slow to act and the people accused have escaped sanctions and enjoyed the protection of their political parties. These cases together show the systemic nature of the problem – that they are not isolated events, but part of political systems that maintain rape culture. Analysis of the cases also showed poor political leadership on this issue. Vivienne Mentor-Lalu of the Women and Democracy Initiative said in a statement little priority is given to the costs to women who report these cases whilst the chosen response seems to be driven by the political favour enjoyed by the accused.

An informal online poll of 50 responses on the issue showed 76% of respondents stated the accused membership should be suspended. Not a single respondent was in favour of having to wait until the criminal case has been concluded before parties act yet some parties often chose to wait. The poll further shows 96% of respondents feel that no politician found guilty of sexual misconduct should remain in office or their government positions.

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