How the UN human rights office is rethinking sexual harassment in the workplace

The Palais Wilson in Geneva, home to the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Photo by: Eric Bridiers / U.S. Mission / CC BY-ND

UNITED NATIONS — A new volunteer “first responder” network to address sexual harassment and abuse at the U.N. human rights office in Geneva could be easily replicated at other offices across the United Nations and outside the U.N. system — but not without a commitment of leadership, the architects of the program at OHCHR say.

“It's very important to stress the leadership commitment. If you don't have that, [it] is much more difficult. With the [OHCHR] deputy high commissioner, we are quite confident this will get somewhere in the coming months,” said Saori Terada, a policy officer responsible for executive direction and management.

OHCHR announced earlier this month that they were establishing a new program, “Dignity@Work,” which would train volunteers to serve as point-people for peers who have experienced sexual harassment or abuse, as Devex reported. Formal channels of recourse would still remain in place.

“People may feel concerned about going to the staff committee or human resources when they are not sure about whether what is happening to them is something that should be brought to their attention or when they have other concerns,” said Veronica Birga, the head of the women’s human rights and gender section at OHCHR. “As we create this network, we will also, of course, train first responders and develop and share material so there is more awareness, and greater flow of information on how cases are handled.”

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About the author

  • Lieberman amy

    Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the New York Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.