Sumati Thusoo is a Program and Outreach Officer with Safecity. She is responsible for engaging with the communities and establishing and maintaining partnerships with NGOs and colleges, conducting workshops with colleges and raising awareness regarding sexual violence and providing input for developing appropriate training programmes. Her past work has focused on the effects of conflict on access and mobility of women, and her thesis looked at the experiences of Kashmiri women with conflict.
Workshops with Godrej
Safecity conducted a number of workshop for the trainers working at various centres of Save the Children India, Father Agnel and Godrej Salon I. This workshop was facilitated by the Godrej group at the Save the Children India office in Bandra Kurla Complex. This was an extensive workshop that covered topics ranging from “What is sexual harassment?” to “Prevention of Sexual Harassment at workplace”.
The workshop started with an ice-breaking session where everyone introduced themselves and the organizations that they are associated with. The first activity consisted of participants writing about places that make them feel safe and unsafe and the precautions that they take to feel safe. There was a consensus in the answers. Most of the participants said that they feel safe when they travel in broad daylight or are with someone they know. Places that they travelled to and routes that they commuted by every day were safe and familiar whereas going to a new place brought with itself a lot of anxiety and fear. Most of the participants said that they avoid going to new places stating that one can restrict himself/herself from going to a new place as a precautionary measure but can not control someone else’s actions. There were other activities that consisted of understanding the difference between biologically determined sex and socially constructed gender. While assigning various behavioural characteristics to men and women, participants who were divided into 4 groups brainstormed on different aspects in which men and women behave and the signals that they get from the society at large to conform to their gendered roles.
After establishing the difference between sex and gender, we arrived at the question of sexual harassment. We tried to decipher the general understanding of the sexual harassment in the present group of participants. Most of the participants were not aware of verbal and nonverbal harassment being considered as criminal and punishable under law. We covered the new Amendments to the Laws relating to rape. While discussing sexual harassment, there were quite a few participants who shared their stories of being harassed on the streets, in local trains and at other public places and admitted that they weren’t aware of the law. There was a participant who said that she was approached by a woman on the street who was being harassed by a group of men who were passing comments on her as her bra was visible through her top. She admitted resorting to violence as self-defence even though she was scared. She changed her travel route and never wore the same clothes again when she got to know that they were local goons who were looking for her. There were many similar stories that were shared by the other participants.
From sexual harassment in the streets, we spoke about safety at our learning and working spaces and the laws that safeguard us from hostile working places and enable us to negotiate strongly for our safety. Even after having clear Vishaka Guidelines in place, our participants had very little idea about the procedure through which one can exercise her rights to file a complaint against sexual harassment occurring at the workplace. One of the participants spoke about a man who stared at every woman’s breasts in her office and how she yelled at him for doing that. She said that had she been aware of the law, she would have filed a complaint against him and saved herself and many others from that harassment. Many of the participants spoke about their apprehensions in filing a complaint at their workplace because the perpetrator or harasser was usually a person of authority and the complaint could backfire. These apprehensions brought us to the concept of creating safe spaces, support groups and the importance of educating peers and colleagues about sexual harassment. It was established that attending this workshop also came with the responsibility of disseminating the information to others to empower not just ourselves but also others around us. Since most of our participants work with children, the last session of the day consisted of the definition of child sexual abuse and the laws related to child sexual abuse.
The day ended with feedbacks from the participants about the workshop. A lot of participants came up to Safecity’s team members individually and inquired about the procedures to report sexual harassment they or someone they knew faced.