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S. Africa: Study finds that sexual harassment & abuse of domestic workers worsened during Covid-19

‘Domestic workers suffer abuse, sexual harassment by employers: study’ 12 October 2020

A hotline to report abuse and an improved inspectorate by the labour department focused on domestic workers has been mooted, after a study alleging that domestic workers had experienced sexual harassment at the hands of their employers, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. The study commissioned by Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance and Hlanganisa Institute of Development in Southern Africa, was conducted in July and August with domestic workers from Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. “Hlanganisa works with high-impact community organisations reaching marginalised members of society,” said the organisation’s executive director Bongiwe Ndondo.

According to the report, domestic workers did not frequently report abuse because despite legal protections, every avenue of recourse seemed to threaten their livelihoods. “As in other areas of South African society, the situation has worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. During this period, many domestic workers have been locked down at their workplaces, unable to leave the house. This constant contact and lack of privacy has increased the potential for employers to take advantage of them,” the report read.

…Domestic workers, the study noted, were often foreign migrants, frequently undocumented and working largely in isolation in the homes of employers. In the research, four participants mentioned cases of rape or sexual assault. “In other cases, domestic workers were shown pornography, forced to touch employers and assaulted sexually,” says the report. The research found that gender-based violence experienced in the domestic work sector also included male employers doing the following:

  • walking around the house without clothes;
  • exposing their private parts to domestic workers;
  • walking into the rooms of domestic workers during their private time at all hours, and;
  • engineering opportunities for domestic workers to bring them something while employers are bathing or taking a shower.