One in four children will be abused at some point in their childhood. 80% of sexual abuse offenders are known to and trusted by a child. 99% of the perpetrators of sexual abuse are men. Sexual abuse usually happens in a familiar environment where the offender has complete control.
One of every four women in South Africa is in an abusive relationship. Every six days, a woman is murdered by her intimate partner. Every 25 seconds a woman or girl is raped in South Africa. Sobering numbers.
The statistics are shocking and it is a sad truth that only between 5-7% of sexual offenders worldwide are ever convicted.
“The future leadership of this country is under threat, bringing the long-term viability of a strong, healthy people and economy into question – and often the misconception is that the responsibility of protecting women and children lies with the state, civil society organisations and faith-based institutions, when, in fact, business has a major role to play,” says George Grieve, MD for Vital Health Foods.
In the build-up to South Africa’s 13th commemoration of the 16 Days of Non Violence Against Women and Children campaign, which kicks off on 25 November 2013, Grieve believes that business in South Africa may be misinformed about their responsibility and the role they can play in alleviating this scourge threatening to destabilise South Africa’s young democracy.
“Many employers are unaware that violence at home can affect the productivity of their workforce and in the long-run the sustainability of the organisation,” says Grieve. Factors such as absenteeism, loss of concentration, fatigue, emotional instability and reliance on medication or alcohol all have a tangible and significant impact on a company’s bottom-line performance. Moreover, women abused at home may quietly use their work environment as a means to ‘escape’ their evening-to-morning reality. Additionally, time taken off to avoid the detection of visible abuse by a life partner impacts negatively on attendance and productivity. Ironically, the abusers who may work in stressful environments use their home environments to vent their frustration, as a means of restoring a sense of balance and control.
“Work and home are inextricably linked,” says Grieve. “The challenge, though, is to inform and educate business in South Africa on their role – and while the problem may seem insurmountable – I do believe we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of women and children.”
Awareness and education are two areas that can assist business, civil society, government and faith-based organisations in overcoming the challenge. In addition to rallying support behind the 16 Days of Activism campaign by promoting the wearing of a white ribbon (is a symbol of peace and demonstrates the commitment of the wearer to never carry out or remain silent about violence against women and children); Vital recommends the following tips for executive management teams to apply in their HR or CSI planning:
1. Reach consensus within the company’s management team to create and develop a safe workplace for employees – that is, a place safe from harassment, intimidation or humiliation by co-workers and supervisors, clients and customers;
2. Demonstrate a strong, highly visible and ongoing commitment by the company to uphold a safe workplace environment by:
a. Providing an education programme, or at least an education session, perhaps in a fun, enlightening way, on how individuals can either support a friend, colleague or peer being abused, or how they themselves can find help;
b. Train staff to help them identify the symptoms of violence against women and children at home.
c. Pledge your entire company’s support to campaigns like the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, encouraging staff to show their support by wearing white ribbons and participating in appropriate activities, as this creates awareness and learning internally around the issue;
d. Undertake an audit on a quarterly or bi-annual basis to establish whether the company’s working environment is, in fact, a safe workplace, and if not, be in a position to rectify it;
e. Make information available in staff congregation areas or ‘pause areas’, such as pamphlets or links on intranets and about community resources for abused women.
But Grieve believes that, in a South African context, small-to-medium sized businesses, where the heartbeat of South Africa’s economic boom lies, are often under-resourced and may not have the means to tackle or efficiently implement some of the points raised above, which is why he is encouraging the SMME sector to not only support funding vehicles like the recently launched Vital Foundation, that funds on-the-ground non-governmental organisations fighting to end violence against women and children, but also to create an environment amongst your staff of ‘wellness’ i.e. balance across areas including spiritual, mental and physical, which ultimately will ensure the sustainable future of one’s business.
Launched in Women’s Day (9 August) earlier this year, the Vital Foundation (http://www.vitalfoundation.co.za) makes it possible for every South African to make a difference by simply purchasing a Vital vitamin product; and for every pack of vitamins purchased, Vital will donate R1 to the Vital Foundation.
Comments Grieve, “We need to break the notion that family violence is a ‘private matter’. Understandably, it may take months, maybe years for an abused woman to speak up about her pain or reality. We can make this easier for her, by creating a caring, nurturing work environment where perhaps she can share her experiences with her immediate colleagues and/ or supervisor, and through them, gain access to support organisations like the Stop Women Abuse Helpline, Childline 24-Hour Helpline or SAPS Emergency Services.”
“It’s really about informing everyone about the role they can play in alleviating this scourge, and that it can be done” he adds.
George Grieve, MD for Vital Health Foods.