CAPE TOWN: Employers and team leaders can play a vital role in supporting staff who are impacted by gender-based violence (GBV), says a counselling psychologist from Universal health care.
Scott Barnes says that while the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign is commemorated once a year, millions of women in South Africa and globally live with the shadow of the perpetual nightmare daily.
“Outside of the home, the workplace is where people spend most of their time. This allows work colleagues a particular insight into the behaviour of company employees who, away from their private life, may display certain cues indicating that they are in dire need of help. It is therefore important for employers, team leaders and colleagues to have a clear understanding of gender-based violence.”
While GBV is defined differently by individual researchers, Barnes says, generally it refers to violence that occurs due to the lack of equity between genders.
The societal issue is widespread and is the result of a legacy of stereotypical gender norms and prejudices in which men are perceived as dominant and superior. This, in turn, shaped expectationd of gender roles as well as ideas about masculinity and femininity.
“A multitude of issues can contribute to GBV and it is how these factors interrelate that sits at the heart of the matter. A few common core issues are worth noting.
“In some societies, there remains a stigma attached to GBV for the person who has experienced this violence.
“Furthermore, some may still consider a woman who has experienced GBV as being the guilty party, assuming that she has done something to attract the violence that she has experienced. This can have legal implications as these perceptions may contribute to lower levels of reporting of GBV.
“It is vital to reinforce that a person who has perpetrated GBV is responsible for their actions, not the person who has experienced this violence.”
Barnes says economic factors also need to be considered, as a lack of gender equity in the workplace has led to women being less financially independent and therefore more dependent on men and thus more vulnerable to violence.
“We are living in a society where continued economic gender inequality can lead to financial abuse against women, often making them reliant on men, thereby reducing their power.
“We also cannot discount the potential influence of environmental factors such as spending your formative years in a home or neighbourhood characterised by violence, where this is a normalised form of communication.
“The potential impact of growing up without a positive male role model can lead to a poor understanding of an equitable male-female relationship.
“Alcohol and substance abuse have also been linked to an increased risk of GBV.”
Barnes says there are important signs to look out for, which may indicate a colleague is a victim of GBV:
* Visible injuries, marks or bruises.
* Strange or suspicious medical problems.
* High levels of absenteeism without a clear explanation.
* Heightened levels of fear or anxiety.
* Decreased concentration and focus.
* Social withdrawal and depression.
* Sudden or seemingly irrational change in emotions and responses.
Barnes says it is important for leaders to be aware of the support that is available and to be tuned into how their team members are doing.
“If you see that a team member is struggling, approach them from the perspective of caring for their well-being and wanting to ensure that they are well supported.
“Engage in a compassionate and supportive conversation with them and use good listening and communication skills to encourage team members to open up about what may be bothering them.
“Once you have gained their trust and feel that they are receptive to what you are saying, be proactive and talk to them about any available support and resources your organisation may have at its disposal.”
Barnes says toxic masculinity in the workplace needs to be eradicated and a healthy sense of masculinity needs to be implemented, not only in the workplace but in society in general. This means treating all people with the same level of kindness and acknowledgement that both they and you deserve.