CHRO Community Conversation discusses how workplace leaders can fight gender-based violence

Gender-based violence poses one of the greatest risks to company reputations, according to Professor Corné Davis.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a profound and widespread problem in South Africa, so much so that president Cyril Ramaphosa launched a Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) Response Fund to fight it earlier this year.

In a CHRO Community Conversation sponsored by Workday, University of Johannesburg associate professor Corné Davis explained why she believes GBV poses a greater threat to a company’s reputation than misconduct such as fraud.

Corné said she became a GBV activist in 2013. “My entry into the topic was when my Strategic Communications third-year students had to develop a campaign for Matla A Bana, an NGO that campaigns against child rape and secondary abuse.”

She added that at the time, she had no idea what the scope of GBV was. “I was unaware that in my childhood and in my early adulthood, I had experienced GBV. it was unclear to me because there wasn't a clear name for all these different kinds of abuses, because we have physical, emotional and psychological and verbal abuse.”

As a result, she started researching and learning more about GBV and her purpose now, is to share it with all stakeholders so they can find ways to fight it.

Corné said the statistics of GBV are generally known. “One of them is that one out of three women globally have been subjected to either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. And we are not talking about women in impoverished countries or areas, but everywhere.”

Despite its prevalence, however, it is mostly invisible: “The reason gender-based violence is an uncomfortable topic for organisations to address is because it is stigmatised and sensitive, and the way it has been dealt with on some platforms has made it even more difficult.”

Corné highlighted the factors specifically associated with intimate partner violence:

  • Past history of exposure to violence;
  • Marital discord or dissatisfaction;
  • Difficulties in communicating between partners; and
  • Male controlling behaviours towards their partners.

Factors specifically associated with sexual violence perpetration include:

  • Beliefs in family honour and sexual purity;
  • Ideologies of male sexual entitlement; and
  • Weak legal sanctions for sexual violence.

She added that among their many negative effects, domestic violence and sexual harassment interfere with women’s full and equal participation in the workforce. “GBV also affects women's opportunities for advancement and career progression. Women usually bear the brunt of gender-based violence, even though others are also at risk.”

Costs of GBV to the South African economy
Corné said assuming that one in five women in South Africa experience violence within the year. “According to KPMG research, the minimum annual cost of the violence to the South African economy is R28.4 billion, which could be used to provide youth wage subsidies for 100 percent of the unemployed youth, build over half a million RDP houses and pay 900,000 engineering students’ fees.”

Organisations must step up
Corné pleaded with the leaders in organisations to step in and help to fight GBV. “We are looking at a very big problem and I am calling on leaders in organisations to be involved,” she said.

"What organisations need to say is, we oppose gender-based violence in any form and to show our support we can educate people about what it is and refer them to places where help can be received, if not for themselves; for their family members and friends that are experiencing the violence. There are solutions available and organisations must utilise them."

JSE HR director Donald Khumalo said men are inactive in a matter in which they should be playing an active role. “Our reactive approach will not help curb the scourge we are seeing. We need active forums, including corporates – to create a men’s forum in the organisation, to stop sexual harassment in the workplace and create a safe space for our colleagues.”

He added that men should play an active role not only when it is too late: “We need to go out there and adopt young men and be their role models. We need to denounce and exit male WhatsApp groups who take a dim view on this critical matter. We need men to play an active role, and let’s all stand up and be part of the solution.”

EOH HR director Malisha Awunor said from a community perspective, people have a responsibility to destigmatise gender-based violence.

“The more we share our stories, the more we make it okay to have conversations about it. We have normalised violence, male aggression and women ‘knowing their place’ in this world and we owe it to our girl children to challenge these social constructs. This also does not have to be done in an equally aggressive manner, it can be done through proper educational programmes.”

Neridha Moodley, people and culture leader at SNG Grant Thornton, explained that in their organisation they have a gender-parity team and it is a strategic initiative that they have created.

“The team's responsibility is to look at gender-based violence in the workplace and come up with ways leaders can be involved in the organisation. As leaders, we started sharing stories about our experiences with GBV and the employees had a sense of comfort because the directors were willing to talk about their stories.

“We have also run a few seminars with ICAS [Independent Counselling and Advisory Services] and they held a webinar around gender-based violence, educating our employees on how to spot the signs of GBV, how to help friends and family members who are going through GBV and also taught our employees how to open up and not be ashamed. What is critical in this process is to have support from your leaders and for them to be active, because it raises an elevated conversation at an exco level, and that is where it needs to start.”