If you witness someone who is being sexually harassed, do you walk away, watch from afar or intervene to improve the situation? This is a strategic question that needs practical answers.
What is a bystander?
When we witness someone who is distressed as a result of a harmful situation such as sexual harassment, we are a bystander.
If we do not yet do anything to help or stop the harmful activity, that is a bystander effect and may be a diffusion of responsibility.
Sexual harassment refers to any form of behaviour or action, both physical and verbal including looking, staring or touching that violates another individual. It is unwelcome or inappropriate to people of any gender. If we witness the event and are inactive, it can affect individuals and society. Therefore, we should be involved in helping the person who is being harassed.
During the first digital GIZ Gender Network Meeting in October 2020, GIZ Thailand Gender Working Group shared the importance of and their approach to moving from being a bystander to becoming an upstander to prevent sexual harassment in a peer-to-peer exchange session attended by more than 30 participants from the region and Germany.
The topics covered the importance of intervention in sexual harassment, how to act on the individual level to improve the situation, the prevention of sexual harassment, what to do when you are in an unfamiliar situation and recommendations on publishing guidelines for sexual harassment prevention.
The conclusion of the meeting was that sexual harassment can happen everywhere – in public spaces, in the workplace or at home. Therefore, we should place importance on those who are harassed. However, the bystanders need to learn how to react and lend a helping hand as incidents vary in nature and require a different approach or method of intervention.
“The GIZ Thailand’s Gender plan is inspiring, insightful, informative and useful for all participants,” several participants commented after the session. All suggestions and opinions will be taken into consideration.
Further Steps from GIZ Thailand
GIZ Thailand Gender Working Group plans to conduct an internal Bystander Training in January 2021 to empower GIZ employees to interact and engage in situations in a safe way. The training will go hand in hand with prevention of sexual harassment and will provide approaches for witnesses to help people who are harassed in a safe and appropriate manner.
“The key to interfering in any situation in a safe way is empowerment, knowledge and training. I am very glad to be part of the GIZ Gender Focal Points to implement this the plan and training and share the ideas with all other participants to raise awareness, build knowledge and offer approaches to help those who are harassed and make our society safe for everyone”, said Kirsten Orschulok, GIZ Thailand Gender Focal Point.
Additionally, GIZ Thailand will continue to exchange with GIZ colleagues in other countries such as GIZ Laos and Vietnam to improve the existing Prevention of Sexual Harassment Strategies and promote the importance of bystanders as a prevention measure. During the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence meeting held by GIZ Headquarters in December, GIZ Thailand was also invited to host an online session on raising awareness of the building blocks needed to prevent sexual harassment.
We all have the ability to overcome the bystander effect and learn how to identify a way to safely intervene to stop it from continuing.
Get to know your neighbours, family, friends and keep an eye out for their well-being.
Speak with those who seem to be in trouble or distress. Listen and learn their stories.