Making companies commit to address sexual harassment issues in their workplace

In a bid to make companies commit to prevent and address sexual harassment issues in their workplace, a three-day training on sexual harassment has been completed for CEOs, Human Resource Managers and employees of various private and corporate companies on November 25.

The training also expects the companies to come up with their own internal sexual harassment policies.

The training, meanwhile, was a part of UNDP’s Sustainable Development Services (SDS) Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiative, implemented by the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) in partnership with the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC).

The training, conducted by the Institute of Management Studies, provided an overview of what sexual harassment is, its various forms and its impacts, the legal provisions, and reporting and redressal mechanisms, guiding principles in responding to sexual harassment and challenges faced in addressing the issue.

The training conducted in the lead-up to the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and the 16 Days of Activism campaign, which began on November 25, also aimed to create awareness on how the COVID-19 pandemic has led to steep increase in violence against women and girls. Sexual harassment is one form of gender-based violence.

“This limited progress made in the past decade is at risk of being reversed because of the pandemic, which has exacerbated existing inequality for women and girls across every sphere – from health and the economy to security and social protection,” states the Joint Press Release of the UNDP, NCWC and BCCI.

Based on the backdrop of growing disparities caused by the COVID-19, the BCCI, NCWC and UNDP are partnering to initiate the SDS program. The partnership is grounded on the common goals of contributing to SDG 5 and 12th FYP’s National Key Result Area (NKRA) 10 ‘Gender Equality’.

Meanwhile, the SDS programme is an innovative approach to help private sector companies increase employee satisfaction, realize the full potential of all workers regardless of gender and have a more inclusive, healthier and equal work environment.

“It can promote gender equality, address gender-based discrimination and contribute towards advancing the sustainable development agenda. It is based on International Legal Organization conventions, international regulations on human rights, the Women’s Empowerment Principles, and sustainable business practices,” states the joint press release.

Addressing the participants on the opening day, Resident Representative of UNDP Azusa Kubota said that sexual harassment continues to go unnoticed and is under-reported to a large extent in Bhutan.

“In most cases, victims are unsure or unaware about whether their experience would be considered sexual harassment,” she said. “Sexual harassment at the workplace and gender-based violence impact employees’ physical and psychological health and leads to higher employee turnover and increased absenteeism.”

BCCI President Tandin Wangchuk said, “Private and corporate sector plays a key role in addressing disparities in the business world. One of the ten key areas of improvement at the workplace is prevention and treatment of sexual and gender-based harassment.”

The objective of the training, he said, was to create a gender-friendly and conducive working environment by enhancing an understanding on sexual harassment, legal and policy provisions, reporting procedures, and sensitizing on the consequences of sexual harassment and strategies for prevention.

NCWC’s Director General Karma Drukpa said sexual harassment is a serious workplace issue which goes unreported, and the victims suffer in silence.

“We can definitely overcome the above challenge if all agencies and stakeholders play proactive roles to support the victims of sexual harassment and ensure timely justice to the survivors,” he said.

Besides the training on sexual harassment, the BCCI, as part of the SDS programme, identified four private companies to participate in the programme.

Based on criteria set up by the partner organizations, Wangchuk Group of Companies, Singye Group of Companies, Druk Chapchap Construction and Norbu Healing Center have been identified as the participants.

The four companies will be assessed on 10 key areas of recruitment and retention, equal pay and wages, promotion, training, internal and external communication, work-life balance, prevention and treatment of sexual harassment and gender-based harassment, supply chains, inclusion, crisis management and employee protection. The assessment is being carried out by a private consulting firm.

Based on the findings an action plan on gender equality measures will be developed, and the BCCI will assist the private companies to implement it. A Gender Equality Committee will also be formed in the participating companies.

Meanwhile, the SDS Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion programme, initiated in September 2021 will end in March 2022.

Yenten Thinley from Thimphu