Dealing with Sexual Harassment at Work

Sexual harassment: the risk of not taking action in the workplace, a webinar hosted by the “We Empower” team

Stop sexual harassment at work

Dianova’s toolkit is addressed to employees and employers and includes tips to prevent or deal with sexual harassment

By Gisela Hansen Rodríguez – This webinar was hosted to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in December 2018. Three panellist participated in this event to discuss this issue: Anna Fälth (Un Women), Gisela Hansen (Dianova) and Ana Catalina Ramírez (ILO). Dianova’s representative’s participation was based on the introduction of a toolkit to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

The #Metoo movement was an incredible use of social networks that opened a space for women to talk about their painful, dehumanizing or shameful experiences and not feel alone. “For a long time, most women defined their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault as something that shouldn’t be mentioned or debated, an experience utterly private and too shameful to even acknowledge”. While not a solution to this problem or even a movement with long-term goals, the #Metoo movement opened a Pandora’s box of stories of sexual violence that sparked an activist zeal, along with other campaigns like #TimesUp.

Although men can also experience situations of violence and harassment in the workplace, they represent a minute number of survivors as compared with women. The patriarchal cultural system and its related stereotypes and blatant inequalities in power relations are responsible for women being those most exposed to these types of abuse. This is truly a gender-based violence situation.

One of the most common forms of violence at work is sexual harassment and what’s most worrying is that about 75% of women with vocational training or those in senior leadership positions have experienced this form of abuse at some time in their lives according to a study carried out in 2014 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

However, very few women dare to tell or report cases of harassment, most of the time for fear of losing their jobs. According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights’ report, among the women who have experienced sexual violence since age 15, 32% mentioned that the perpetrator was either a co-worker, a supervisor or a client. However, 4% only reported this situation to their employer or a superior.

In Dianova we are committed to promoting gender equality through education, civic engagement and advocacy actions to help change these social structures and thus contribute to reducing violence against women. In the context of the 16-day campaign to raise awareness about gender-based violence, we created a practical toolkit to help people recognize sexual harassment, prevent it, combat it when necessary and encourage victims to report.

This toolkit is addressed to employees and employers and includes tips to prevent or deal with sexual harassment. For example, the document includes a list of behaviours that should be avoided at all times.

A section of the document is about the various steps employers may take to reduce the risk of sexual harassment in the workplace, such as implementing clear sexual harassment policies and having them clearly outlined in corporate employee handbooks.

In conclusion, sexual harassment should be considered as a form of gender-based violence and a violation of human rights rather than a mere “bad behaviour” in order to open new areas of responsibility and reparation.

We must engage in a winning fight against harassment at the workplace by calling into question the overall behaviour of a company’s staff and its collective culture and, beyond that, of society in general. It is a collective responsibility that we must uphold together.