personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

Stuck on You: On sexual harassment and those touchy-feely energizers


It just wouldn’t be a workshop without Lionel Richie. Endless Love came trickling out of the speakers almost hourly at the Hotel Ibis in Morocco when I stayed there back in 2008. By the end of the workshop I was going sufficiently batty, and yet felt strangely empty upon boarding the plane and not hearing it.

Lionel’s back. The band playing tonight at dinner (they’re still going strong 2 ½ hours later) gave an acoustically-accurate but grammatically incoherent version of Stuck on You – the only real words I could understand were those in the song’s title. Stuck on you, mushrele grumpoo frumvsh depin msnool...They’re so good at playing the song that it’s the second time they do so. They played it last night as well. They also played every other song all over again, and pretty much in the same order. It may be a long week. Or perhaps they are only here on weekends.

The song reminded me of a moment during our facilitators’ orientation when we were discussing energizers, or “dinamicas” as we say in French. A discussion started after an energizer led by some of the participants created based on the word “love”. (The choice of words was up to them. The previous group had to make an energizer with the theme “conflict.”) In the love energizer, half the group approached the other half and began dancing with them and eventually tried to hug them (I should point out that the group members know each other quite well!). One woman ran away from one of them men yelling sexual harassment and that’s when the discussion began. While she yelled out in mock terror, it raised two serious issues: sexual harassment in a workshop and how to engage all participants in energizers where they may not be comfortable being close to others.

On the first issue, sexual harassment; some of the facilitators who attended last year’s program were surprised to find out that there were incidents of sexual harassment during last year’s workshop. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon: female participants in a significant number of workshops I’ve attended have been victims of sexual harassment. This is particularly regrettable when you consider that the participants are there to learn about human rights, dignity, respect, and equality. You’d think the guys would know better.

We discussed what happened last year and explored solutions to address any incidents that may happen during this year’s session. Have a play that demonstrates sexual harassment and talk to the participants about it, one facilitator suggested. Another one noted that there is one female and one male facilitator in each group, and a participant should feel comfortable going to one or the other to discuss any problems. The important thing was for us as facilitators and organizers to be observant of signs that show a participant is being harassed, and to take prompt and decisive action.

Solutions were a bit muddier when we discussed energizers in which participants touched each other. Facilitators noted they’ve had some participants – on religious or cultural grounds – who would refuse to participate in energizers and sideline themselves, an action that does affect the group dynamic. One participant wondered if we should ask them if they have any traditions that would prevent them from participating, but she quickly realized the futility of asking that kind of question, in itself discriminatory. We settled on taking the cautious route at first and having more non-contact or little-contact energizers at first, then trying out ones that require more contact later on in the program. The discussion lasted a good half hour, and to me it’s a splendid reflection of how much thought these facilitators take into what some would consider insignificant details. Who knows, by the end of the week, I’m sure most participants won’t have any problem being stuck on each other during an energizer.

Now if I can only get that one participant to stop taking pictures of me when I’ve got a mouthful of food. 



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