ANC’s sexual harassment policy is ‘inadequate’

Activists red-flag draft policy on sexual harassment for exemptions and its lack of consultation.

The ANC’s draft sexual harassment policy does not sufficiently protect women and those who report incidents, says Charlene Beukes, director of the Wits Gender Equity Office.

“The policy, as it reads, is not sufficient to adequately protect women and those who would report sexual harassment. The document reads as attempting to ensure that boxes can be ticked, as if to say that measures were put in place, even if those measures are lacking,” she said.

City Press is in possession of the draft policy document, dated March 18 2019, which was drawn up following several incidents in which young employees within the party complained about sexual harassment.

Following a national executive committee (NEC) meeting held in July, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule announced that the party would soon be adopting a sexual harassment policy.

The latest known allegation involved ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe.

As part of her claims against Mabe, Kgoerano Kekana alleged that he had visited her hotel room late at night and sat on her bed, making her feel uncomfortable. She also claimed that Mabe ill-treated her and slashed her salary after she complained about the alleged advances.

Mabe returned to work after being cleared of sexual harassment and misconduct by the ANC’s grievance panel. However, the party paid a R50 000 settlement to Kekana after she rejected the findings and took her case to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

Beukes has raised a number of concerns about the policy, one of them being the lack of consultation with individuals and groups whom the policy will affect the most.

“Women in the party must be consulted during the process of drafting this document,” she said.

“From the way it reads, I doubt that any survivor-victims were consulted, or even spoken to in passing. Much work needs to go into this document before it is ready to be implemented.

“A policy that seeks to address gender harm must be complainant-centred. It must consider the courage it takes for women to speak out and it must enable an environment where individuals will not feel retraumatised by the process.”

Neither Kekana nor the ANC Women’s League were part of the consultation process.

Thoko Xasa, spokesperson for the women’s league, told City Press that although members were not in possession of the document, they believed that this was “a step in the right direction for the party”.

But Kekana’s legal counsel, Brenda Madumise-Pajibo, has criticised the policy, citing the lack of firm timelines and clarity on the appointment of mediators in the complaint process, as well as a problem with section 18, which refers to behaviour “that does not constitute sexual harassment”.

“It begs the question: Why would the ANC exempt certain conduct from being classified as sexual harassment? This section 18 appears to indirectly encourage the sexual violation and abuse of women,” said Madumise-Pajibo.

“The alleged policy states that if the complaint is against a member of the NEC or of the provincial executive council, the matter should be reported to the provincial secretary or the deputy. My question is: What is the sanction against the officials if the matter reported is not dealt with?”

Section 18 has also been red-flagged by Beukes, who said it should be removed from the document.

The section excludes certain behaviours, saying they do not constitute sexual harassment.

These include compliments, flirtatious banter, forms of greeting that are “acceptable according to organisational culture and behaviour”, and “jokes not intended to be harmful”.

But, said Beukes, “this assumes that the institutional culture is not patriarchal or toxic, which then begs the question: Why the need for the policy? The clause is blind to the need for the policy and to the very real problem of institutional and organisational cultures that perpetuate violence towards women.”

The draft states that the purpose of this policy is to ensure that “organisational spaces are free of sexual harassment, sexual favours, intimidation and victimisation, where all stakeholders respect one another’s integrity, dignity, privacy and the right to equality”.

It covers the various forms of harassment and the formal and informal procedures which will be taken if a complaint is lodged against a member.

Sexual harassment, according to the draft policy, is defined as “the unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated. It includes situations where a person is asked to engage in sexual activity as the condition of that person’s employment, as well as situations which create an environment which is hostile, intimidating or humiliating for the recipient. Sexual harassment can involve one or more incidents and actions, and may be physical, verbal or non-verbal.”

Beukes said that the ANC’s attempt to “narrow down” the definition to very specific acts, almost to the exclusion of others, could be problematic.

“Use of the phrase, ‘including, but not limited to’, could remedy this limitation,” Beukes said.

She also questioned why “sodomy” was referred to in the document as a common-law crime when it was declared unconstitutional in November 1998 by the Constitutional Court in the case, National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v Minister of Justice.

“[It is] concerning and wildly homophobic that the ANC does not know this. Rape is rape, irrespective of the sexual orientation or gender identity of the rapist or survivor-victim,” she said.

The document states that a sexual harassment adviser as well as a complaint committee will be appointed when an incident occurs.

However, Beukes believes that these vacancies should be filled on a permanent basis.

She fears that employing officers and committee members on a short-term basis could slow down the complaint process as victims would have to wait for the appointment process.

She recommended that the policy be reviewed after the first two years of implementation.

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