#SexistSA: “As a woman, l do not feel safe in everyday life”

Living in a patriarchal and toxic world forces women to adapt to and normalise the experience of sexual harassment in order to adequately function. Even when women report these incidents, often very little is done to help them or bring the assailants to justice. For most women, everyday sexism is a daily obstacle to living our lives the way we want to. The Daily Vox spoke to 32-year-old Tina Nyamatore about her experiences of sexual harassment.

I often feel powerless against the threat of sexual harassment. It is unexpected, and and you don’t know what you did wrong or even how to even protect yourself against it. You can just be minding your own business and a man could attack you for no reason. Although we have all these laws supposedly protecting us, if men do not change their behaviour towards women, we continue being victims of their irresponsible behavior.

As a woman, l do not feel safe in everyday life as I encounter sexual harassment and sexism in some of the most unexpected places. The moment I step out of my controlled environment, anything can happen, and for a lot of women, it often does. I am black, but not South African. However, men assume I have understood their sexual overtures. My silence is taken as a rebellion, although l seriously have no idea what the guy is saying.

But the naughty smiles and lustful eyes and gestures say a lot. I have dreadlocks, and when I refuse to engage with the men, they call me “rasta” in retaliation. This normally happens in places like the taxi rank. I’m always shocked by the level of disrespect that men have towards me. Even though l have done nothing wrong and I am not provocative in any way.

Once I was followed by a plainclothes security guard in a supermarket in Cape Town for almost two hours. It spoiled my shopping trip, but left me wondering whether I am really safe anywhere I go. l complained and they promised to discipline him. I felt like my voice was not being heard and my discomfort did not mean anything, even though l protested and told him I was not interested. I even ended up asking myself if I had misinterpreted the situation because it was so surreal. I questioned my own instincts as a woman. I was highly offended and was left wondering how many companies actually take sexual harassment policies seriously. The fact that I trusted the shop as a safe place also makes it a different experience. This was different as it was so brazen and blatant. The situation was intense and I almost felt like I had been pushed into a corner where l could not defend myself.

Most men just say lewd stuff and they let you go, but this one kept following me from aisle to aisle. He would suddenly appear in my space. Although l was in a shop with other people, I was nervous and found myself even a bit confused and afraid. Afraid he would follow me out.

Although I told him to his face that l would complain, he persisted. l wrote the email to complain after getting home, as l did not want to complain to his managers. I felt they would fail to see the gravity of the situation and sweep it under the carpet. I emailed the store’s head office to make sure I got the message across. I explained that l had been harassed in their shop by one of their security personnel and asked that they made them sign a contract that stated that fraternising with customers was not allowed.

I don’t think that they are serious about their sexual harassment policies, because they didn’t believe me and I received numerous phone calls from different people within the company to explain the whole incident. They ended up asking me to come to the shop to identify the man, which l did. They promised to discipline him, but they never gave me feedback.

Author’s note: The Daily Vox has contacted the store and been informed by the manager that the guard has been suspended and sent in for inquiry due to his actions. The store is still awaiting the results of the inquiry.

I think that, as women, we are bothered by men’s behaviour but because of tradition and patriarchy we are forced to accept it. They get away with bad behaviour. There is often no-one to defend or speak out against bad behaviour, which makes it difficult for it to stop.

Featured image via Flickr