An analysis of the nature and effects of sexual harassment on secondary schoolgirls in South Africa : a case study of four co- educational schools in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal.
This study investigates the nature and extent of sexual harassment of girls in four coeducational secondary schools in Pietermaritzburg. It focuses on how boys sexually harass girls; how it manifests itself; the way it is perceived by the girls and the language they use to describe it; the strategies they use to deal with it; and the effects the behaviour has on their schooling. School policies and procedures in dealing with sexual harassment, or lack thereof, will also be analysed and recommendations made for policies and strategies for educators and learners. The study locates sexual harassment as a form of gender-based violence against females and asserts that all the incidents of sexual violence, both in the public and private spheres, both overt and subtle forms, are linked because all these incidents are a manifestation of gender power inequalities. Sexual harassment at school is only part of the continuum of violence that females constantly face. The concept of a continuum enables the exploration of experiences that are subtle and covert, which are not easy to recognise, but are a key issue to be addressed if the problem of genderbased violence is to be tackled effectively. The methods used in this research process are reflective of the ethnographic case study and acknowledge the complexities of the issues involved in the research problem. Thus, it develops a complementary relationship between qualitative and quantitative components so that tools necessary for deep exploration can be provided and the perspectives of the central subjects of the study can be brought in. In-depth group interviews were conducted with at least 10 girls, from diverse backgrounds aged between 16 to 18 years, from each school and questionnaires were administered to 150 girls from the four schools to investigate the nature and effects of sexual harassment on them. School managers were interviewed about school policy on sexual harassment and procedures that have been adopted to address the problem. An analysis of the data reveals that despite the pervasiveness of the problem, it is surrounded by silence because the girls have difficulties in recognising and articulating their experiences of sexual harassment. It shows that the sexually harassing behaviour is rationalised as 'normal' whilst at the same time controlling the girls educationally, socially and emotionally Further, it shows that when gender intersects with race and class it can produce greater negative treatment for black, working class girls. The perpetrators, who are mostly males, act with impunity because the power relations inherent in the schools are gendered and, therefore, the schools are complicit in producing the inequalities in gender and power relationships that underpin sexual harassment.