Unbothered, Unresponsive: Where is your sexual harassment policy?

08 August 2018 - The provincial legislatures oversee and make the law. But when it comes to sexual harassment they seem to think they do not need the law. The #NotOurLeaders campaign has written repeatedly to all nine provincial legislatures and our four largest political parties requesting copies of their sexual harassment policies. To date, we have only received copies of two sexual harassment policies.

During the 16 Days of Activism in 2017, the Women and Democracy Initiative (WDI) of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), and gender violence specialist, Lisa Vetten, turned the spotlight on political representatives accused of sexual violence and the political systems that protect and enable their sexual misconduct and abuse. In addition to highlighting the range of incidents reported, the #NotOurLeaders campaign aimed to highlight inaction or inconsistent action of political parties to demonstrate the chasm between political-speak and political actions on sexual violence.

The campaign continued its efforts beyond 16 Days of Activism and sent numerous written requests during 2018 for information to all nine provincial legislatures, and all major political parties. Vivienne Mentor-Lalu, of the WDI, explains, “We essentially asked for very basic information in relation to these critical leadership structures’ approach to sexual harassment and violence. We asked for copies of internal sexual harassment policies, what law and policy they rely on when faced with complaints of sexual misconduct or gender-based violence, and what mechanisms they have in place to address sexual misconduct.”

Lisa Vetten was not surprised by the poor response. “Of our nine provincial legislatures, and four political parties, only the Western Cape and Eastern Cape legislatures offered any constructive response. This is not surprising in a country where Mduduzi Manana admits to assaulting two women, possibly a third, and is then allowed to resign as MP almost full year to the day later. A known abuser was permitted to continue to represent people of SA in parliament, for a full year. This, in a nutshell, is the state of political leadership on violence against women.”

Sanja Bornman, of the LHR Gender Equality Programme added, “Luthuli House summarily dismisses an employee for even being implicated in a cash in transit heist. But as our campaign shows, when it’s sexual violence and harassment, it’s ‘innocent until proven guilty’, golden handshakes, and blame the victim. No wonder our most important leadership structures are unwilling or unable to respond to basic requests for information, that should in fact be publicly available, about sexual violence and harassment and violence in their midst. The message could not be more clear: sexual violence against women is not serious, or important.”

During Women’s Month 2018, the #NotOurLeaders campaign will send formal legal requests, in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, for the outstanding information to those political parties and structures who remain silent. The recipients will have 30 days to respond.

For queries:

Lisa Vetten, gender violence specialist, 082 822 6725

Vivienne Mentor-Lalu, Women and Democracy Initiative, Dullah Omar Institute, 082 494 0788

Sanja Bornman, Lawyers for Human Rights, 083 522 2933

https://dullahomarinstitute.org.za/women-and-democracy/notourleaders

ENDS.

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