Considering the recent 16 days campaign, it is disappointing to note the billboard campaign currently ongoing by Triumph International. Rather than ‘supporting’ women, Triumph has produced a range of outdoor adverts which implicitly promote stereotypical views of women.

The adverts are currently up and are prominently displayed on William Nicol in Johannesburg.  They show women in the undeniably lovely underwear with different, some clever, slogans.  However, there is one advert with the slogan ‘Undress for success’ which we should take exception to, considering the rates of sexual harassment and gender based violence in South Africa.

This advert contains a very dangerous message in the light of the current and recent high-profile gender high rates of sexual violence in this country.  The workplace is, seemingly a microcosm of broader social problems, including gender based violence.  Sexual harassment and discrimination is thought to be widespread in the South African workplace, it is difficult to gauge how widespread because it is hard for assaulted women to come forward.  This is even in organisations which have the structures in place to deal with it.  Many do not.

Typical forms of gender discrimination in the workplace include a lack of opportunities for advancement, unfair discrimination and even dismissal.  Gender discrimination is downplayed in public discourse and often ignored in the light of issues of racial discrimination.  However, the two are often entwined.  Making black women disadvantaged in terms of race and gender.  As a result, black women suffer from higher levels of unemployment than other groups.  These imbalances which affirmative action seeks to address, because the unconscious attitudes need to be changed.

Sexual harassment is almost uniformly male on female.  It may take the form of unwanted physical contact, unwelcome and persistent advances and pressure to engage in sexual intercourse, even rape.  Sexual harassment victims often are caught by surprise and may not react to the first few instances.

This is the real picture of the state of ‘success’ for women in this country.  By trivialising it in the billboard advert, the advert contributes to people’s perception of a sexualised workplace which could conceivably lead to sexual harassment.  The MMP would like to challenge Triumph to support women in a more comprehensive way, other than manufacturing bras.

– By Sandra Roberts