Sexual harassment in the workplace is something many of us can relate to, whether we speak out about it or not. It’s so common, that almost half of South African female lawyers have reportedly been sexually harassed according to a first-of-its-kind survey of the legal profession released by the International Bar Associations. Nearly 50%, guys. WTF.
Are We Surprised Though?
I mean not really. Sexual harassment is something that cuts across professions and positions. And it has done so for generations. Whether you’re an intern or a CEO, you may have experienced some fool silencing you, interrupting you, undermining you, mentally undressing you, asking you inappropriate questions – or worse – just because you’re a woman in the workplace. Not to mention the gender pay gap which is still screwing us over today.
Women generally face more obstacles in the workplace than men. The legal profession, it seems, is no exception. Half of South African female lawyers say they have been sexually harassed, the Business Insider reports, while nearly three-quarters of them have reported being bullied: “South Africa rates among the worst in the world: bullying is common, sexual harassment affects nearly half of all women, and the problem is ongoing.”
The Stats Might Piss You Off
This new survey is the first-of-its-kind. It looks at lawyers and advocates around the world, covering eight countries: South Africa: Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. And (surprise, surprise) the situation in South Africa is one of the worst.
It’s not only women that experience harassment btw. Harassment can happen to ANYONE. And something doesn’t have to be sexual in order to be considered harassment. Bullying, for example, was one of the main issues that came out of this new survey report. Bullying is such a big problem in legal spaces in SA that 73% of women and 42% of men say they’ve experienced it, according to Business Insider. Globally, one in two women and one in three men, have been bullied in the legal world. Many of these incidents went down in the last year. So this is a problem RN.
When it comes to sexual harassment, 43% of women and 12% of men report being victims of it – in South Africa. This puts South Africa well above the global average. With high gender-based violence rates and rape culture in SA, it’s important to remember that harassment and abuse can happen anywhere. Even in a legal office. Globally, one in three women have experienced sexual harassment in the legal world, while one in 14 men say they’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace.
So What Happens When You Actually Speak Out?
Spoiler alert: it may not go your way. Particularly if you work in a toxic company (of which there are many). Many women have spoken out about harassment. This is your right, it’s brave and it should be applauded. But the messed-up thing is sometimes speaking up about it can make things worse, leaving women to deal with major backlash. One female advocate (from SA) in the survey had this to say:
“After requesting that a sexual harassment policy be implemented, I experienced a huge backlash. There was an immediate increase in sexist comments, jokes and derogatory comments personally directed at me.”
Imagine speaking out about harassment and then only having it GET WORSE in response? Smh. A different advocate said the legal profession in SA does not have a glass ceiling, but a “solid wall”.
South African women in the legal world deserve better. The culture needs to change from within. Male allies, raise your voice when you see harassment, don’t turn a blind eye. Colleagues, stand up for each other. Bullies and abusers need to be called tf out.