Picture: Soraya Crowie
Picture: Soraya Crowie

Gender inequality: don't keep quiet

By Dennis Pather Time of article published Sep 22, 2019

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Although it happened several years ago, I remember the episode like it was just yesterday.

The phone rang quite late at night. It was a close friend on the line, a senior colleague with whom I had worked for more than a decade.

He was sobbing and sounded highly emotional and distraught. After a heavy sigh, he opened up, telling me his life had been shattered by recent events, and he had decided to end it all.

I tried desperately to find the right words to talk some sense into him, and after what seemed like an eternity, he eventually appeared to calm down.

You see, a few weeks earlier, I had the unenviable task of laying a formal disciplinary complaint against him after several female colleagues complained about his behaviour towards them.

It started with a solitary complaint, but like the #MeToo movement, more complaints followed from other colleagues involving inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment.

After a company inquiry, he was formally dismissed.

I know he never forgave me for what happened, but had I not acted on the allegations, how would I have faced my colleagues who had laid the complaints?

How, too, would I have faced my own conscience?

There are times when one has to take uncomfortable decisions: I had lost a friend and trusted colleague but retained my self-respect.

My reason for sharing this experience with you is because I believe silence on such issues serves only to foster their prevalence.

I sometimes shudder to imagine how much more harm would have been caused had those brave colleagues not plucked up the courage to speak out about the harassment.

As Percy Qoboza, one of the country’s most celebrated journalists, once said: “It is true that for evil to succeed it takes far too many good people to keep quiet and stand by.”

Qoboza was then referring to the evil of apartheid and racial domination, but his words also ring true with the issue of gender inequality and people who remain silent in the face of such iniquities.

As South Africa grapples with the shameful avalanche of reports of violence and abuse against women, it comes as some relief that President Cyril Ramaphosa has placed the issue of gender inequality at centre stage by announcing an emergency plan to deal with the scourge that has plagued the nation.

Isn’t it about time we started talking about gender equality in our own homes?

It is said children develop an awareness of gender stereotypes at a very early age - often reinforced by TV, advertisements, social media and their interactions at school.

So it is critical that parents are aware of the influence they have in internalising such stereotypes in their children.

Let’s be absolutely candid with each other in these soul-searching family sessions and talk about our experiences, observations and concerns at what happens at work, at school or on the play fields.

It all begins at home.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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