Managua, Nicaragua -Factory supervisors Fatima Alejandra Espinoza Cisnero and Jovany Antonio Chavarria Murillo walked into the Better Work Sexual Harassment Prevention Training in Nicaragua along with other colleagues. The course was rigorous —eight sessions, eight hours each—but the participants were eager to grasp the new concepts.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment is a relatively common occurrence in garment factories across the world. The apparel industry is largely comprised of women workers under the age of 30, many of whom migrate from rural areas or from abroad for their first formal job. Typically, the majority of supervisory and management positions are held by men and power imbalances are endemic.
Better Work has been implementing different strategies over the years to lessen, and ultimately eradicate, this issue on factory floors in Nicaragua and across the countries where it operates.
Through the training, Better Work attendees in Nicaragua learn about the concept of gender, ways of preventing harassment and, specifically, sexual harassment, both in the factory and outside. Survivor-centred approaches and complaint mechanisms for sexual harassment cases are also part of the curriculum.
The training is a key element of Better Work’s gender strategy, which is set to reduce discrimination, empower women in the workplace, and close the gender pay gap.
“The course has triggered a change in my attitude from before and after,” read one message trainers received. Another participant talked about the “transformative impact” the training had on her.
Better Work sat down with Fatima and Jovany for an in-depth conversation on their takeaways from the course.
Here is what they said.
Fatima Alejandra Espinoza Cisnero is a 41-year-old woman from the town of San Marcos, 45 km south of the capital Managua. She has been working in Nicaragua’s ANNIC factory as a quality supervisor for the last 13 years.
What did you know about harassment and sexual harassment before this training?
I only knew that people could feel a bit uncomfortable when facing some actions against their will. I was unaware of the many situations in which harassment may occur. Ignorance could lead to irresponsible actions towards other people. This training opened my eyes to the different situations that fall under the definition of harassment, helping me avoid them in the future, both as a possible victim or as a perpetrator.
What do you know about harassment and sexual harassment now?
I’ve understood this is a very delicate issue that greatly impacts people’s emotional health. I’ve learnt how to help others to avoid situations in which harassment might occur, and what to do in case colleagues or friends face this kind of abuse.
Do you think you’ve had any inappropriate behaviour towards your colleagues before this training?
I touched the belly of a pregnant colleague without asking her for permission. I didn’t know this could fall under the category of workplace harassment.
Has your behaviour changed following this training?
Yes, of course. I’ve learnt that one needs to be super careful with their gestures, attitudes, display of affection and attention. As supervisors, we are responsible for our staff, meaning it’s crucial we avoid any ambiguous behaviour that might disrespect our colleagues and become the cause of troubles. Obviously, this set of behaviour should not only be applied on the factory floor, but also in our everyday life.
Will you now change your behaviour also outside the factory premises?
From now on, I will show every person I come across the degree of respect they deserve. I also want to share my knowledge and help others understand that unpleasant situations they may experience in their life should not be accepted, as they represent a form of harassment.
How useful is the training you’ve just received?
Trainings like this are very important as they open one’s eyes. Not only to understand what harassment really is, but to help people find their own courage and stand up against harassment, while also looking for ways to address it with appropriate solutions.
Have you had a recent experience where you put what you learnt into practice?
I have been a victim of harassment myself and, following the course, I’ve contacted a lawyer as an intermediary to fix the situation and avoid dealing with the person who was harassing me.
Have you shared the learnings of the course with anyone?
I shared what I’ve learnt with a few relatives who have been facing difficult situations in their lives for a very long time. This has helped them make better decisions, leading them to put an end to the abusive situation.
Jovany Antonio Chavarria Murillo is a 34-year-old man and a father of two from the town of Masatepe, 50 kilometers from the capital. He’s been working in Nicaragua’s ANNIC factory as a packaging supervisor for the past five years.
What did you know about sexual harassment before this training?
I thought only women could suffer from this type of harassment. Also, I couldn’t imagine the magnitude of the consequences that harassment can cause on a personal, mental and emotional level.
What have you learnt through the training?
It is important to keep in mind that the one who causes the harassment is the perpetrator. We must also be clear about the different types of harassment, as it could occur in the form of jokes, comments and gestures, which can be easily misinterpreted.
Will you now change your attitudes and behaviour?
Yes, I will be more cautious and always display respectful behaviour in our workplace and outside. I will also start to point out wrong behaviour when I notice it.
What are the common behaviours that fall under the definition of sexual harassment and that people still see as normal in society?
Although many people try to respect others, verbal and physical harassment still persist and are perceived as normal across our society.
Will you also change your behaviour outside the factory premises?
Yes, I will try to respect each persons’ view and their specific way of feeling and apply more integrity in general.
How useful is the training you’ve just received?
Knowing about this topic helps us make decisions across a vast spectrum of situations we witness daily. This training helps us avoid inflicting any physical or psychological damage on our colleagues and, more extensively, to any person we may encounter and deal with in our life.
Have you had a recent experience where you put what you’ve learned into practice?
I recently started a conversation with one of the coaches in the factory who was addressing another colleague using inappropriate language. I gave her some suggestions about how to improve her way of communicating, since it could have been perceived as verbal harassment, eventually leading to a conflict.
Have you shared what you have learnt from the training with others?
I have talked to the personnel working in my department, inviting them to apply appropriate behaviour when dealing with their colleagues and be aware of the damage and conflicts that might arise if otherwise.
Since 2021, a special intervention on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) has been rolled out to 8 factories in Nicaragua employing approximately 10,000 workers.