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As part of the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence in December 2013, Hollaback! Chennai launched its ‘Safer Spaces’ campaign, which calls on local businesses to become a ‘Champion of Change’ by pledging zero tolerance to sexual harassment on their premises. These can then be ‘safer spaces’ – spaces, where complaints of harassment or misbehaviour will be heard and addressed. As one of our first ‘Champions of Change’, Sandy’s Chocolate Laboratory has made a visible commitment to ‘zero tolerance’ by displaying helpline numbers in all its venues, and has brought together its employees for a training session on ways to deal with harassment. Recently, we interviewed Rohit Koliyot, Consultant – Strategic Ventures and Marketing at Sandy’s, on the reasons behind joining the campaign, and the impact it has had.
When Prajnya approached us, we jumped at it for two reasons: personally, and institutionally.
Personally: I feel that we are unfortunately a very reactive society instead of being a proactive one. Even though we may all have moral compasses, in most cases, we have no knowledge on how to react to such situations. We end up not reacting and letting it happen, therein further involuntarily encouraging such acts. We end up saying, these are things that we hear about in the news or read about in the papers, but don’t really feel the impact until it happens to a near and dear one.
Institutionally: We wanted to ensure that everyone felt safe in our spaces. The mental and physical safety of our guests are top priority for us. Also educating our staff, which is an audience under our influence is a small step in educating the rest of the world.
2. How have your customers responded to the ‘Safer Spaces’ campaign?
We think the posters stating that Sandy’s is a safe space, and especially the helpline numbers pasted in the bathrooms, have given a sense of reassurance to our guests. It’s probably the Panopticon effect at play, but we’d rather be proactive than reactive.
3. How has being a part of the campaign impacted employees at Sandy’s?
It was nice to realize that most of our employees were already dealing with particular situations in the manner suggested by Prajnya. Awareness levels, we feel, have definitely increased. It is our hope that they talk and share this with their families and friends as well.
4. How do you think businesses can help fight sexual harassment?
Awareness!! I still feel even the highly educated or well-travelled business owner today does not know what can be done. Victims still don’t know what their rights are, what the power of a moral society is. It’s not awareness of the infraction but awareness of what needs to be done during or post an infraction.
A request we would have is probably a 1-2 page document that gets included in every employees HR file. The moment he joins, he is given an awareness brief which he reads and signs.
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