We are in the middle of the month, yet a glance at the local news headlines from the beginning of the month to date, reveals no less than seven newly reported cases of violence, harassment and killing of women and children. This highlights the high prevalence of Gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa, which is a complex problem affecting not only the individuals involved but also their children and families and may even spill over to school and work environments. GBV and harassment, family violence, which includes intimate partner violence (IPV) and violence against children, are intersecting problems.
Family violence affects women and children’s mental and physical health, and ability to function and participate in society. For working women, it also affects their occupational functioning and is directly linked to increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, job losses, and lost opportunities for career progression.
Domestic abuse affects not only the individuals involved, but their families and communities. Violence in the family has long-term negative repercussions for children who witness it, or who are direct victims themselves. The impact on the future labour force is felt through reduced learning opportunities, increased risks of trauma, poor mental health and a higher risk of experiencing abuse or perpetrating abuse later on.
Women and minorities are also vulnerable to physical and sexual violence in their workplace. This often stems from harassment or bullying, especially for those women working in low-skilled or menial positions in male-dominated sectors. Such women may be reluctant to report incidents of violence at work due to fear of further victimization, especially when the perpetrator is someone in a position of authority. And, as many women work long hours for little pay, taking time off work to access community resources for support is not an option as it may leave them unable to make ends meet.
However, those who are harassed or are victims of GBV may conversely find respite within the workplace. Research has shown that working women who experience IPV are most likely to confide in their co-workers. This makes the workplace a place where employees can access support and other resources, provided the working conditions are safe and the support is provided in a sensitive, evidence-based manner. Creating and cultivating a supportive environment for employees, who experience IPV, may improve workplace safety, functionality, and productivity.
However, this does not happen automatically, employers/management need to put in place the necessary strategies and implement these towards an inclusive and safe and supportive working environment. This entails amongst others:
This can be of assistance to all employees, but more especially to those who are in low skilled positions and/or who work long hours and may be unable to take time off work to attend community-based programmes in this regard.
This shows that the workplace need not only have a negative reputation when it comes to violence and harassment, but rather with the right strategies in place, it may also be an environment where empowerment of women and minority groups can be promoted, information disseminated, and employees trained in basic life skills that are known to prevent and reduce violence both at work and at home.
The workplace is thus well positioned to shape and influence change around domestic violence and workplace violence and harassment. By raising awareness, tackling attitudes and norms and transforming business practices, they can influence other businesses, customers, community leaders and government partners to take a stand against family violence in South Africa.
This article contains information from The Institute of Security Studies: https://issafrica.org/