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The Advancement and Alumni Relations Office at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) hosted a Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and Gender Based Violence webinar on Tuesday, 7 September.

The guest speaker at the webinar was Mandisa Mthembu, a Representative from the Jes Foord Foundation Rape Crisis Centre. She is a private practice social worker that serves as a Trauma Counsellor at the Jes Foord Foundation.

The Jes Foord Foundation is a non-profit organisation empowering rape survivors through educating awareness and support. It is also an organisation which relies solely on individual and corporate donations to keep its counselling and care initiatives running.

Welcoming the guests to the monthly session which forms part of the Alumni Mentorship Programme Series was Zwakele Ngubane, DirectorAdvancement and Alumni Relations.

“Our Alumni Mentorship Programme is geared towards ensuring that we contribute towards adequately preparing our students for the world of work/business/entrepreneurship. So, I would like to begin by extending a hearty welcome to Ms Mandisa Mthembu who is our guest speaker. She will be addressing a very critical and important topic, especially on the back of Women’s Month,” said Ngubane.

In addition, “I think the topic of sexual harassment, Gender based Violence and rape is one that, as much as it saddens us to have to address these issues on an ongoing basis, it is something I believe we have to continue to address until we begin to see some major improvements in this area. We all know that South Africa is a very violent country, the statics bear this out, even in comparison to other countries. There are many social ills and among them are sexual harassment, Gender Based Violence and rape, especially perpetrated against women in our society. So having just gone through Women’s Month, we felt it necessary to have this kind of presentation,” explained Ngubane.

Introducing Ms Mandisa Mthembu was Alumni Relations Co-ordinator, and Programme Director, Ronelle Lyson.

Ms Mthembu has 13 years of experience in this environment, her work in all these outreach programmes ensures that our vulnerable people have a voice which is a very critical part in her journey.

Ms Mthembu’s presentation focused on Sexual Harassment in the workplace, Gender Based Violence and Rape and possible behaviours that can lead people to end up exhibiting such behaviours.

She explained the definition of sexual harassment conveying that it is an unwanted, improper, or even offensive sexual behaviour which could be either performed through verbal or physical action.

“Sexual harassment can occur in different circumstances. Any gender can possibly be the offender of the conduct. At the workplace it can be conducted by a colleague, director, manager, supervisor or anybody that may be in power over you as a victim of the circumstances,” she said.

She focused on various scenarios of sexual harassment, from the very blatant and obvious, to the subtler and less obvious forms.

Ms Mthembu presented examples of verbal and physical acts of sexual harassment where one colleague who may be in a position of power touches another inappropriately.

Ms Mthembu gave more insight into the matter indicating that it could even be as seemingly light as when two males, for example, are talking sexually about a female colleague and even looking at her in a lustful or sexual manner.

In addition, the lady in such a scenario may even be aware of their reaction, maybe even what they may be saying about her. “Such conduct unacceptable and should be corrected and strictly prevented by the employment policies and laws,” she stressed.

Ms Mthembu also conveyed that such acts can lead to very serious emotional and physical effects including mental health issues as well.

Elaborating on what can be done in such situations, she indicated that boundaries that individuals set must be noted.

“Always notice if someone consistently gets too close and respond by creating distance. Have discussions about a persons’ behaviour towards you, in addressing unwanted or uninvited communication or contact. Communicate verbally or physically exactly what you want and what you do not want.” She went on to indicate that it is important to clarify what behaviour you expect going forward. “Reiterate your agreement about behaviour, communication if in the future it is forgotten or disrespected. Take the matter to the Human Resources where the behaviour does not seem to change or is repeated. Also, have a separate, unbiased party that decides the seriousness of the harassment and the outcome,” she said.

Further into the discussion, Ms Mthembu directed her attention towards addressing Gender-Based Violence, stating that it is violence directed against a person because of their gender.

She indicated that “Women and men experience Gender Based Violence but the majority of victims are women and girls. Gender Based Violence typically results in physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women. It includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, threats, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life.” She also pointed out that “one in three women has experienced physical/sexual violence, one in two women has experienced sexual harassment, and one in five women has experienced stalking,”

Ms Mthembu said there is a lot that can be done to curb and to deal with Gender Based Violence by promoting early intervention that focuses on promoting positive relationships between boys and girls based on respect and equality through education.

“We encourage that victims of Gender Based Violence break the silence and report and seek help as early as possible,” she said.

She also encouraged victims of Gender Based Violence to go for counselling to help with their healing process.

Another topic of discussion was on rape which she explained as having unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman or any other gender without that person’s consent to sexual activity.

She also looked at the definitions of sexual abuse, sexual assault and consent.

“Sexual abuse also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one upon another. Sexual assault can range from unwanted sexual contact, including fondling, inappropriate touching, to a life-threatening attack like rape or any other penetration of mouth, vagina, anus or drug facilitated sexual assault. Consent is required to be involved in any form of sexual activity. In terms of the South African Law, someone cannot consent if they are asleep, unconscious or under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” she stressed.

Ms Mthembu further added that consent can never be assumed; and a person cannot assume that someone is consenting based on their behaviour or appearance.

“You also cannot assume that someone is consenting because the person has consented in the past. Consent is where we willingly and verbally agree to engage in specific sexual acts. Just because you are involved with someone and regularly kiss them, it does not mean that their body is at your disposable. You must always ask for consent,” she said.

A vigorous discussion followed with various inputs from guests. The webinar ended with a vote of thanks given by DUT’s Advancement and Alumni Relations Director, Zwakele Ngubane.

“I think that its important the we talk about these issues as much as we can so as to learn as much as we can. As noted from the talk, there can be very subtle ways in which people can be violated and so the more we learn, I believe the more we empower ourselves to ensure that we do not engage in or do not become subjected to such acts. It was a very important topic to have and we really do appreciate Ms Mandisa Mthembu for outlining and clarifying some of these issues for us, “he said.

Pictured: Ms Mandisa Mthembu

Waheeda Peters

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