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Creating safe spaces to address GBVH in the workplace

Reos Partners
November, 2023

Discover how Reos Partners helped a large mining company address gender-based violence and harassment at a systemic level by creating safe spaces for deep engagement.  

Addressing gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) within any organisation requires us to tackle the problem from a systemic level. Moreover, it requires a human approach, where dialogue leads to a deep shift in awareness and behaviour. 

Over a two-year period, Reos Partners supported Anglo American Platinum to develop a robust, systemic approach to addressing GBVH across 10 of their operational mining sites in Southern Africa. 

In this interview, Linet Kimathi, the Project Manager, shares her insights and learnings.

Linet Kimathi_High res_Portrait_800x1200px

"I saw people really dig deep and fall into those safe spaces and allow the process to do its work. It taught me the importance of creating a safe enough space that holds people when they are being vulnerable. And that is the only way we can get to the real issue and bring positive change

- Linet Kimathi, Consultant at Reos Partners



Can you talk us through your role on this project? 

Linet: As a Project Manager, my main role is always to ensure that deliverables are tracked, all relevant stakeholders are well informed throughout the entire process and generally handling all the logistics. You want to think about project management as the glue that holds the project together.

However, with the work we do at Reos, it requires us to also manage the emotional wellbeing of both the participants and the team. 

We are asking our team, our clients and their people to engage in potentially trauma-inducing processes. So, ensuring their emotional wellbeing was also taken care of was a big part of what was needed for this project. Creating safe spaces is one of the ways we ensure we’re looking after people’s wellbeing.

Why was it important to create safe spaces on this project? 

Linet: Going into the project, Reos’ primary focus was to bring to light the issues related to GBVH that men and women face at the mining sites. To do this, we visited 10 Anglo Plats sites across Southern Africa. The purpose of these visits was to engage employees on their experiences with GBVH in the workplace.

Ultimately, we wanted to provide our client with a better understanding of the current reality of the people working on their operational sites when it comes to GBVH, thus empowering them with the information and tools needed to develop an appropriate response. By using workshops and our guided systemic approach, the team was able to create safe environments where people could be vulnerable about their experiences.

This is an intense topic of discussion, and we were asking people to tap into very traumatic events. They were required to reflect on their lives and think back on moments they experienced trauma and how it still affects them currently. 

The only way we could do this successfully was through creating safe spaces where people felt they could talk about these traumatic events. I saw people experience the beauty of those spaces, build trust, and feel safe enough to be vulnerable and talk about their traumatic experiences.

What were some of the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Linet: Our client had limited time available, and this project was undertaken on top of their day-to-day work. We were asking them to dedicate their time and resources to this project, above and beyond their regular daily schedules. We weren’t just asking people to show up, but to be present and vulnerable, so they can get to the root of the issues that they are facing.

Finding that time was understandably challenging and finding safe spaces we can meet to do the work was really asking a lot from the participants. We needed them to genuinely plug into the process because, if we don’t do our job well, people who are affected by GBVH won’t receive the help they need. 

So we had to strike a good balance between how much you ask from people who have their own KPI’s and bosses wanting to see results.

What changes did you observe during the process?

Linet: I think by virtue of our presence, we were able to start the dialogue and give our client the systems, and the language to talk about this difficult topic. What I saw on site is that people didn’t know how to talk about GBVH, because they didn’t quite grasp what GBVH is. 

We therefore found ourselves having to start from the beginning, giving them definitions and language before we could delve into their experience with GBVH.

I was delighted that we were able to provide the organisation with the systems they need to have these dialogues on their own. We trained about 50 individuals on how to conduct trauma-informed interviews, and what kind of questions needed to be asked to get the right answers.

We were able to get an in-depth perspective of what the lived experiences are of people on site and consequently gave the leadership at Anglo Plats that information to use in drafting responses to address GBVH at their mines.

Any final reflections on safe spaces?

Linet: It was powerful to see how you can create trust in such a short space of time. To the point where people were able to share some of their deep and emotional experiences. I saw people really dig deep and fall into those safe spaces and allow the process to do its work.

It taught me the importance of creating a safe enough space that holds people when they are being vulnerable. And that is the only way we can get to the real issue and bring positive change.

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