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Press Statement: NGO Feminist Caucus Statement on Sexual Harassment

Press Statement: NGO Feminist Caucus Statement on Sexual Harassment

NGO Feminist Caucus Statement on Sexual Harassment

28 May 2018

#WeBelieveThem

We, the undersigned Feminist collective, stand in solidarity with, and as a default, believe all womxn[1] who come forward, who report on their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. This includes cases that have already been reported in the media, and those who have not spoken about it.

We applaud the incredible bravery it took for those who have spoken out thus far, especially with the knowledge that we live in a world where those who call out abuse routinely face backlash, intimidation and derision from their abusers and their enablers.

We recognize that we live in a patriarchal society that consistently and systemically devalues womxn. Despite our professed values, this is in fact sadly not different in our own social justice sector, as we are very much a reflection of the patriarchal society we live in.

With this knowledge, we demand a default approach that places the burden of disproving the allegations on accused men. This requires of us to deliberately create conditions conducive for all to have voice, with a particularly urgent need to ensure that those who do come forward to report on experiences of abuse, as well as journalists who report on these are protected from victimization. We note with grave concern the attack on the integrity of the M&G journalist who broke the Equal Education story and we condemn any further actions used to silence these stories.

This is an absolute precondition to make possible the breaking of the culture of silence that allows sexual violence to happen with such impunity within our community. This culture has not only enabled sexual harassment to go unchallenged, but even when exposed, has seen cases swiftly swept under patriarchal carpets.

We fully support the principle of due process and believe that organisational awareness programmes alongside the required transformative policies are crucial. We do however note the extent to which these processes can, and are often instrumentalised in devious way to:

a) Provide further the protection of predators,

b) Perversely, further punish victims/survivors of sexual harassment and assault.

It is therefore the responsibility of organizations (managements, staff, boards and donors) to collectively ensure that the processes followed are guided by processes that first and foremost protects victims/survivors and sanctions transgressors.

For us, the litmus test for the quality of our responses should be if victims/survivors feel that their interests are truly placed at the center of our “due processes”. This should be located within a critical analysis of power relations, to ensure that our interventions are responsive to the dynamic and violent nature of patriarchy, and not reduced to mere tick box exercises to escape management and governance culpability.

Whilst the focus of media attention has thus far been on NGO staff, we note with concern, the even greater vulnerability of womxn in communities and partners with whom we work. Accordingly, all our processes should be extended beyond the realm of a labour rights framework focused exclusively on the rights of employees of social justice organisations.

We note with concern the punitive response adopted by the Western Cape Department of Education in the immediate termination of its partnerships with EE. This will have far-reaching livelihood implications for other EE staff, partners and the communities they work with – most of whom would not have been guilty of any of these violations. We call on all our partners in government and the donor sector to not adopt a default punitive approach.  Instead, we call for a partnership approach focused on lasting solutions to this systemic crisis. Despite the distress of the moment, we recognize that it does indeed also represent a moment of opportunity to deal with a systematic societal problem faced not only by organised civil society, but by our society at large.

Finally, as a feminist collective, we declare our commitment to use this moment of crisis as a catalyst for systemic change in our sector by leading a deep process of making visible and then dismantling uneven power dynamics so prevalent in our sector. We call on everyone in the sector, and in the country, to help us undo systemic oppression in all its forms. We all deserve to live and work in spaces that are free of patriarchal violence, and the microaggressions that accompany it. 

With regards to organisations that will face sexual harassment cases, we demand that:

  1. Organisations, their management boards and donors put in place a transparent process to ensure that victim-centered processes are followed to ensure that womxn (those already known, and as yet unknown) are protected when speaking up, at all costs;
  2. Womxn who may have left the organisations as a result of experiences of violations receive public apologies and that appropriate reparations are made to them;
  3. The names of those found to be guilty are made public to prevent the continued circulation of predators in our sector.

We further call on every womxn in this sector to continue to claim their rightful place in this space, and where support is not forthcoming inside your organisations, we invite you to reach out to any of us, your sisters undersigned here. We envision sustained mobilisation towards the realization of a sector in which our dignity and rights as womxn are respected and protected.

Signed and endorsed by NGO Feminist Caucus:

  1. Alia Kajee, ActionAid South Africa
  2. Belinda Nehwoh
  3. Claire Martens
  4. Fatima Shabodien, ActionAid South Africa
  5. Fatima Vally, ActionAid South Africa
  6. Koketso Moeti, amandla.mobi 
  7. Lerato Motaung
  8. Lindelwe Nxumalo, Action Aid South Africa
  9. Lorna Houston
  10. Lorraine Kakaza, ActionAid South Africa
  11. Naledi Mahooa
  12. Nobukhosi Zulu, South African History Archive
  13. Shereen Usdin
  14. Sibongile Ndashe
  15. Sibongile Rakabaele, ActionAid South Africa
  16. Teresa Yates
  17. Wame Mahlangu, Positive Women’s Network
  18. Zandile Motsoeneng, ActionAid South Africa

For further information please contact:

Fatima Shabodien - fatima.shabodien@actionaid.org - 0824473645

Koketso Moeti  - koketso@amandla.mobi - 0825835869

Lindelwe Nxumalo - lindelwe.nxumalo@actionaid.org - 0823792416

Lerato Motaung - lerato@soscoalition.org.za - 0828329107

[1] What is womxn? We use the word as a substitute for the word “women” to avoid using the suffix “men”, as we do not see ourselves as a sub-category of men.