Nowadays, we always hear about “safe spaces.” But what does it really mean?
A safe space is not purely a physical space; it's beyond that. A safe space is an environment where there are systems in place that allow free speech, expression of identity, and protection from harassment and exploitation. It's also inclusive and promotes progressive understanding, where authorities are at the forefront in safeguarding and fighting for the rights of the people within that institution.
In the Philippines, we have the Republic Act No. 11313 or the Safe Spaces Act to ensure that private, online, and public places are safe for all. Under the law, institutions have the responsibility to have protective measures for the victims and to prescribe penalties for the perpetrators.
Now that we know what a safe space is,
how can we make sure our workplace is one?
1.) Ensure that everyone has a deep awareness regarding safe spaces and sensitive social issues.
In order for people to work hand in hand to make the workplace safer, they must first be aware of what a safe space is including the necessary laws that champion it. The institution must also partner with experienced organizations to conduct regular gender sensitivity training sessions, and it is also best to include topics on other social issues such as getting rid of racism and cultural intolerance in the workplace.
2.) Establish a culture of understanding, openness, and accountability.
There is nothing more beautiful than unity amidst diversity, because it enriches and enlivens every space. This is something that the workplace must foster-- that everyone feels comfortable and empowered to express their thoughts and be who they are, provided that they don’t hurt other people in the process. Fostering a culture of accountability will also include concrete actions such as having a safe space desk manned by mental health professionals where people can talk about their problems without being judged, and having a hotline or an email address the workers can safely contact when they have issues.
3.) Have an internal committee to address complaints.
Now that you have a safe space desk and a hotline for people to air out their grievances, there must also be a committee to investigate in an administrative level should the victims file a formal complaint. Under the Safe Spaces Act, institutions must have a committee on decorum and investigation (CODI) that will establish the facts of the case, hold hearings, and come up with a detailed document with their recommendations for immediate action. The committee should be well-represented and inclusive, with members that are from diverse backgrounds so that the issues can be understood through different lenses.
4.) Spearhead the protection of everyone in the workplace.
While having an internal committee to handle formal complaints is good, we must also keep in mind that not all victims feel comfortable reporting or filing a case, and might even do so anonymously. As advocates for safe spaces, institutions must have zero tolerance on harassment and abuse. Even in the absence of formal complaints, it is also stated in the law that institutions must investigate possible harassers and abusers, and they must resolve the issue in a way that leads to a safer environment for all. It is also stated in the Safe Spaces Act that it is the role of the institutions to ensure the protection of the people in the workplace through these ways: encouraging victims to file complaints at the first instance of harassment, having closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage available, and providing assistance to the victims by coordinating them with the legal authorities.