Last week one of our reporters proposed that we begin a new project, a series perhaps, that deals with the harassment that South African women face as they go about their lives each day.
“Street harassment is such a big problem in SA and there’s really nobody talking about it until girls are caught on CCTV camera being hounded by a group of men at Noord taxi rank. Those girls were not an exception, that incident just happened to have been caught on camera,” our reporter, Pontsho Pilane, said.
The issue resonated with us.
In a country where sexual and intimate partner violence is so rampant, the small, cutting instances of everyday sexism do not get much attention. We decided to look into doing such a project in the near future. Little did we know we would soon be dealing with such an issue of street harassment ourselves.
On Thursday, as Pontsho was wrapping up an interview with a miner from Marikana, a man walked up to her and exposed himself.
It was the second time in two weeks that a woman I know was the subject of indecent exposure in a public place, in broad daylight.
To make matters worse, our reporter was harassed again, by a different person, as she made her way to the police station to report the matter. She never made it to the police station. She opted instead for the safety and security of home.
Now, before you ponder the chances of suffering harassment twice in one day, within hours of each other, or perhaps what our reporter might have been wearing at the time, we’d like to clarify that those details are not only immaterial but they are absolutely none of your business.
She was on assignment to detail the hardships miners and their families endured over the grueling five-month strike in the platinum sector, when both incidents took place. You can make a host of assumptions about the context in which the harassment took place. But in reality, that would be short sighted, even puerile.
Pontsho’s experience is an echo of the everyday experience of women in South Africa.
These incidents of harassment – be they catcalling, wolf whistling, groping or indecent exposure – take place in schools, at shopping malls, in restaurants, taxi ranks and trains across the country. They have little to do with a woman’s looks or clothing, and everything to do with power and control over women.
The Protection From Harassment Act came into effect, aptly enough, on Freedom Day last year.
Although the Act allows a person to get a protection order from a court in the event of any sexual harassment – be it stalking, unwanted communication or sexual harassment – it is not designed to help the person who is subject to catcalls on the street, flashing in a park or groping on a taxi.
So, how do you get a protection order against someone you’ve never seen and may never see again?
We don’t know what it will take to change the sense of entitlement that some men believe they have over women’s bodies; we certainly don’t want to bring in big words like “feminism” and “patriarchy” and scare you, because we know many of you are just looking for a reason to switch off.
Instead, last week’s harrowing incident has strengthened our resolve to bring these incidents out of the shadows, to pursue a new project to highlight everyday harassment in South Africa and to let the stories speak for themselves.
Look out for our stories and please take the time to share yours.
Have you experienced harassment in your daily life? Tell us about it.