Our Gender Programme work addresses inequality, labour rights issues and violence and harassment at the workplace. The objective is to link the lived experiences and working conditions of women and ensure they are equal and pleasurable. At the community level, we support activists and stakeholders to come together and find the best solutions for dealing with their issues.
We create unique spaces for our target groups to collectively deal with GBV and other issues affecting working women, men and non-gender conforming persons. People in these spaces feel respected, valued and safe to experiment with the different approaches for building ownership. They realise that the answers to their problems are within them. And when the space is safe, people feel free to share. As a result, painful and troubling stories emerge.
The women who attend our meetings have linked sexual harassment to their rights to safety, promotion and decent work. Many women feel they still need to do certain things to access decent working conditions, jobs or a promotion. The women working in the retail and domestic sectors were the first to voice the issue of sexual harassment to us. Thereafter women in other sectors felt encouraged to speak out, and we realised the problem is pervasive.
For domestic and migrant workers, sexual harassment is the most peculiar.
The workplace for domestic workers is also the private home and space of their employers. A domestic worker who works alone in someone’s home then becomes her own shop steward. It’s difficult for her to report abuses because she would be accusing a perpetrator who is in his or her own home and therefore in a more powerful position. And often the perpetrator of sexual harassment is the madam’s husband or a family relative. The domestic worker who complains to the madam may not be automatically believed because she is the outsider. If this worker manages to lodge the case with the union or at a police station, she’ll then likely experience secondary victimisation. Also, care work in itself isn’t valued by everyone, meaning you’re likely dealing with a boss who thinks the domestic worker should feel lucky to have the job.
Migrant workers are reluctant to approach authorities and report the harassment because they might not have the legally required permits. When they experience harassment or unfair conditions, the migrant workers will often change jobs to avoid the radar of authorities and to escape callous employers. It’s a relentless cycle.
One story narrated by a participant in our program speaks to the horrific working conditions for many migrant workers. She is a rape survivor. She feels the nurses at the hospital denied her critical services after the ordeal due to xenophobia. She says the nurses asked what she did to the perpetrators to attract such brutality. At that stage, she was victimised by the people she thought would protect her. How then can such a survivor believe it when we tell her that our Constitution protects everyone? Still, we encourage survivors to report any violence so that we can have the information on record and also connect them with relevant support organisations. But, it’s not easy to find pro bono legal representation or organisations that can walk the long walk with survivors of abuse, let alone undocumented migrants. So I remain entangled in the process of providing support, yet there are many organisations that have the required expertise to do so.