Breaking the Silence: Confronting Gender-Based Violence in South Africa

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Human rights risks can adversely affect profitability of the businesses involved, for example through operational disruptions, reduced productivity and challenges in securing new business.

Sexual harassment and violence can have negative business outcomes, affecting brand image, restricting business productivity and profitability, and therefore impacts on economic growth.

From a business case perspective, gender-based violence in the workplace causes pain and suffering which can result in victims’ absence from work or leaving their job, ill-health, disability or even death. It can impact on work performance, motivation, staff loyalty, the quality of work and timely production, as well as on the working environment. . It can lead to workplace conflict, a failure to retain workers and high turnover of employees, especially where there is nearby competition. The employer faces costs including the cost of sick days, lower productivity and poor concentration and the costs of recruitment and re-training if a person leaves their job.

Evidence shows that profitability of garment factories improves when working conditions improve. Research from the Better Work impact assessment in Viet Nam demonstrates profitability of garment factories increases as working conditions improve. Profitability is boosted by increased productivity among workers in better working environments; the financial benefit accrued by the factory from this productivity improvement is shared with workers in the form of higher wages.

Better Work found that in factories which were more compliant with labour standards and had better working conditions, workers were more productive than their counterparts in otherwise similar factories. Better management practices and human resources policies have been shown to creating better business outcomes and higher profitability.  For example, Better Work (2015) research found a 17 percent increase in productivity among a subset of Indian textile firms whose managers received information on international best-practice management techniques. Responsible supply chain management has the potential to achieve direct economic benefits as a result of productivity gains by suppliers.

In a world filled with aspirations for progress and growth, it’s disheartening to confront the harsh reality that lingers within our society. As I sat down with prominent figures at a recent event, the conversation took a poignant turn towards one of South Africa’s most pressing issues: gender-based violence (GBV).

“It’s long overdue that we do something about it,” one speaker proclaimed passionately. These words echoed a sentiment shared by many across the nation. South Africa, despite its beauty and cultural richness, has garnered an unfortunate reputation as the “worst gender-based violence capital of the world.” The implications of this are profound, extending far beyond social
dynamics into economic realms.

The intersection between gender-based violence and tourism, a vital sector for economic growth and job creation, is particularly concerning. The CEO of a prominent organization highlighted this conundrum, emphasizing the detrimental impact on tourism when a country is marred by violence against women. “How can we grow tourism when we are known as the gender-based violence capital of the world?” she questioned.

Beyond the economic ramifications, the toll on individuals and families cannot be understated. With many households being female-led, the ripple effects of violence against women resonate deeply. As the CEO articulated, this reality hits close to home for many, myself included.

In addressing gender disparities within the workplace, particularly in leadership roles, the conversation shifted towards proactive measures that organizations must take. The call for deliberate action resonated strongly. “We need to make targets and commitments public, so that we can be held accountable,” the CEO asserted. It’s not merely about filling quotas, but about fostering environments where women can thrive and contribute meaningfully.

Breaking down barriers to female leadership requires intentional effort. Processes must be put in place to ensure equal opportunities for women to ascend to leadership positions. The business imperative of gender diversity cannot be overlooked. “We’re going to benefit from the quality of what happens in an organization,” the CEO explained. Indeed, diverse leadership fosters innovation, better decision-making, and ultimately, enhanced organizational

However, the impact extends beyond the confines of the workplace. As organizations champion gender equality, the broader society reaps the benefits. Empowering women in leadership positions creates a ripple effect, driving positive change at both local and national levels.

As the conversation concluded, it became evident that confronting gender-based violence requires a collective effort. From grassroots activism to corporate initiatives, each individual and organization plays vital role in effecting change. Together, we must break the silence, challenge the status quo, and forge a path towards a more equitable and inclusive society.

In the face of adversity, let us stand united, determined to build a future where every individual, regardless of gender, can thrive without fear. The time for action is now.

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