At 34, Sorya already has 16 years of experience in the garment industry. She’s been working in factories ever since she was 18. In that time she has experienced more than her fair share of sexual harassment at work.
“Sometimes my colleagues would hug me from behind and call me ‘honey.’ Sometimes they would tease me verbally. I tried to accept it but in my heart I was so mad and really wanted them to stop.”
Sorya tried to take their behaviour as jokes, and would dismiss it, not daring to demand they stop touching her because she was worried about her job. And there was no sexual harassment policy in her workplace to support her.
Back then she didn’t even know it was called sexual harassment – she just knew it made her mad, and made her not want to go to work. But Sorya is the sole earner in her family. Her husband is a stay-at-home dad and looks after their three children aged 6, 12, and 15. So the whole family depends on her.
No matter how much sexual harassment she experienced from her colleagues, she still had to go to work.
“It was very hard for me and I was so angry.” Once, while cutting fabric at work, a male colleague grabbed her from behind, and she almost lost control: “My hand holding the scissors was trembling and I almost struck him with the scissors. But I held back my anger and told him that it was too much and to stop it.”
When CARE brought its Enhancing Women’s Voice to Stop Sexual Harassment (STOP) project to Sorya’s workplace, things changed. The project helps create safer environments for women workers in garment factories by reducing sexual harassment through training, the development of an effective policy, and implementation of safe reporting mechanisms.
Thanks to her involvement in CARE’s STOP project, Sorya now understands that her colleagues’ behaviour was sexual harassment.
“I never knew anything about sexual harassment. Only after I engaged with CARE did I learn about it. Now we know that activities such as hugging without consent, poking our cheeks, or other small things that have physical or verbal aspects are not considered acceptable actions at all.
“Before there was no sexual harassment policy in my garment factory at all, but now we have one after CARE engaged with us. It helps us solve issues quickly. Workers now feel safe and secure because they can depend on the policy and other people.
“I learnt about many things from CARE, including violence against women and children, sexual harassment, and so many other things I cannot count them all. I have changed myself a lot.”
Sorya is committed to stopping sexual harassment in her workplace, and now trains others in what is acceptable behaviour and the importance of reporting harassment – something that takes confidence to do.
“CARE staff taught me a lot about sexual harassment and now I share this knowledge with others. Everyone used to view it differently. They thought sexual harassment was only when people did extreme things such as force a kiss or sexual intercourse. I tell them that it is not only about this, but it is more than that. I share what I learnt from CARE with them, so they now all understand what sexual harassment is. Now they all understand more about sexual harassment, and with some of my complaints about the harassers, no one acts or jokes inappropriately anymore.”
CARE continues to work in factories like Sorya’s, as well as engage with governments to strengthen the regulation of factories and enshrine in law the policies and mechanisms which will help address sexual harassment in the workplace.