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Shining a light on men’s experience of violence and harassment in Southern African workplaces

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This page was written by Johan Botes

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Johan Botes, Partner and Head of Employment Practice at Baker McKenzie Johannesburg, comments on how violence at work is higher for men in Southern Africa and low-income regions.

 

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Men face higher workplace violence in Africa, especially in Southern Africa

Violence and harassment in the workplace remains an alarming problem in Southern Africa. As with other low, low-middle, and middle-upper income regions, the World Risk Poll findings from people in the Southern African region reveals male employees are at greater risk of violence and harassment - whether psychological, physical, or sexual – at work. While the high-income regions appear to show that more women than men report this traumatic experience, the trend is reversed in lower income regions.

The Poll reveals that in all African regions, men were at greater risk of violence or harassment while at work than women, with Southern Africa showing the largest gap between men and women reporting abuse, at 11 percentage points. This shines a light on a topic not often broached in the region - the violence and harassment that men experience in the workplace - where they often find themselves in vulnerable positions due to low income or other power mismatch factors.

It’s important to identify and protect vulnerable groups

Another interesting part of the report is that migrant men are more likely to experience violence and harassment while at work, compared to their native counters, 26% and 23% respectively. It's similar for women, 30% of foreign-born experience violence and harassment, compared to 21% for native born women. Looking at countries with lower incomes, the gap between migrant and native victims of abuse is higher.

This supports the belief that migrant workers, from countries who do not fall within the high-income regions, are more likely to suffer violence and harassment that their native-born counterparts in richer countries.

 

The Poll also points to migrant workers being concentrated in sectors with unprotected, informal work and poor working conditions, and with greater likelihood of discriminatory and xenophobic attacks, making them more vulnerable to abuse. In Southern Africa, this high number of men reporting such abuse identifies a marked vulnerability in this group of low income (and often migrant) workers, made even more prone to abuse due to the possible fear of deportation, discrimination, or other retaliation.

It is important to note that female reports of incidents of violence and harassments in these regions are equally worrisome and should not take a backseat to any initiatives to shine a light on harassment and violence against males in the workplace. The fact that incidences of harassment and violence are higher for men than women in low income groups could also be because women are less likely to report instances of abuse, for example. According to UN Women.org, less than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort.

As the report notes, "identifying dominant forms of discrimination at the country level could help governments and other national agencies map a more targeted path to action."  While finding a solution for this ailment is unlikely, progressive employers could create greater awareness in the workplace of the under-reported vulnerability of male workers in lower income regions. It is important that employers do not lose sight of the fact that male employees also require education on their rights as victims of violence and harassment while at work. In addition the same male employees have to play their part to resolve the issue in an environment where traditionally males are the perpetrators and females the victims.

Ensuring we have zero tolerance to violence and harassment at work

The World Risk Poll report findings serve as a wake-up call to all of us, and especially to employers whose workplaces are not adequately dealing with this crisis. Employers should ensure all employees and service providers are clear on the company's zero tolerance for violence or harassment against its employees, irrespective of sex or gender. Companies should also ensure workplace induction and training programmes clearly message the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and safe reporting channels for victims or witnesses of abuse. Lastly, employers should take swift and decisive action against perpetrators of such misconduct. The employment tribunals and courts are supportive of initiatives to eradicate workplace violence and harassment, and employers should not shy away from playing their crucial part in addressing this issue.