Sexual Misconduct in South Africa’s Civil Society Sector

The Heinrich Böll Foundation is a feminist political foundation working regionally and globally. Gender democracy, the respect for women's dignity and autonomy, and the right to sexual diversity are core values underpinning our efforts to build equitable and just societies. We thus strive to achieve a working environment free of abuse in all its forms within the Foundation. As our co-operations are based on mutual values, we expect the same commitment from our partners.

The #MeToo movement has been an important moment in shifting public discourse into one where women's accounts of sexual assault are finally taken seriously. It has helped to intensify a conversation on the complexity of consent and women's agency. We believe that society at large must respond to this challenge by recognising problematic norms and seeking to transform them. Most importantly, many women in numerous countries across the globe have raised their voices to expose the passive social acceptance of patterns of sexual conduct that, while perhaps not always defined as illegal, are ethically and professionally questionable.

We welcome the emergence of similar movements in South Africa, specifically in the NGO sector. Further, we believe that patterns of bullying and intimidation that have allowed abusive behaviours to fester and become unaccountable, must be addressed alongside sexual harassment. We also believe that all players in the sector – including donors – need to revisit their work environments and practices to ensure that going forward, such conduct is not tolerated.

We feel encouraged by the transparent, urgent and sensitive manner with which the EE leadership has responded to both current and historical allegations. In order for it to deliver justice, all of us are called upon to ensure that the process will be independent and fair. We also hope that the process EE is currently undergoing is constructive and will instigate a broader and transformative reflection process within the sector on how it is reproducing and reflecting power dynamics in relation to race and gender in wider society.

We remain committed to enable these conversations and to provide spaces for a critical and open dialogue, and wish to participate in a debate on how to transform work cultures, as well as on mechanisms and instruments that help countering abuse in work relationships.

Transforming the sector without compromising its important work towards social justice will require us all - including government departments, donors and the broader public - to sustain, not withhold our support as it acts to address these challenges.