Workplace Safeguarding
in the MENA Context

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Every day as we get ready for work, most of us need to be prepared for a lot of disruptive situations: that awkward elevator moment where a colleague is standing too close; a manager belittling our work; another colleague or director appropriating our efforts and accomplishments; and the list goes on.

Abusive practices in the workplace have become so normalised to the point that, more often than not, they are part of our daily lives – from exploitation to assault, harassment, bullying, and discrimination, in all their diverse forms. And if you dare to complain, you should be ready to face blame, victimisation, and/or accusations of how you terribly misunderstood an “innocent” situation.

Organisational safeguarding aims to ensure a “safe environment” where problems of workplace abuse can be properly addressed.

Too many employees are facing abusive practices in the workplace today – such realities prevent them from speaking out, from accessing justice, and from feeling safe at work. For the employer, these realities also have consequences that are felt on the bottom line; from compromising the organisation’s reputation, to the risk of legal prosecution, to recruitment challenges that prevent attracting and/or retaining the best qualified employees.



In this toolkit, you will find a functional and comprehensive “safeguarding” framework, which will help you to address these incidents both on an individual level and on an organisational level.

Quick Guide

In this publication, we give you a glimpse into the concept of “safeguarding” and how it can be exercised efficiently. In sharing this information, we hope to offer feminist tools to help address the many examples of normalised abusive practices in the workplace, within the MENA context. 


What is exploitation, assault, harassment, or bullying? What are the different forms of abuse that fall under each of these terms? And how do they overlap or stand out?

The very first step to properly address violence and abusive practices is to be able to name them, identify them as they occur, and describe them in case of reporting. Nevertheless, there are various limitations in existing terminologies, and even more when they are exported to Arabic-speaking countries.

Getting the terminology right is key.

How good are you at terminology?


A proper analysis of power enables organisations to a) reduce the potential for any form of power to be misused; and b) understand an aggressor’s context and background to better plan actions against them. Moreover, c) by analysing our own source of power, we can overcome our own prejudices and projections.

Shall we try to give a name to some of the very diverse forms of “powers”?


Collective accountability falls on all of our shoulders. In other words, everyone who is able to prevent the incident from happening is part of the accountability chain. Therefore, while noting that accountability is to be seen vis-a-vis the power-structure analysis and positionalities mentioned above, we must not only think about the responsibility that falls on individuals (i.e., punishing the perpetrator), but also about that which falls on us as individuals and on all levels of oppressive systems.


There are some basic procedures and principles that organisations should have in place for responding to employee complaints. Complaint response mechanisms (CRMs) need to be accessible, secure, predictable, and tailored.

Do you think you can choose the best CRM track?

It is important to always remember that accountability and safeguarding systems must be adapted to different contexts and workplaces, consider political, economic, and social factors, and take into account the natural, legal, technological, and relational environment for which they are being created. Moreover, we should be aware that the process of developing policies and procedures is a long term commitment, which will never yield a final or complete product.

If we keep this in mind, and start approaching “safeguarding” in a more efficient way following the aforementioned guides and tips, we might eventually be able to better address abusive practices and feel safer at the workplace.

There is no one-size-fits-all or permanent solution to address abusive practices, but it is important to acknowledge that we are all complicit in reproducing and recreating this “abuse” in one way or another; and we all have a responsibility to nurture a culture of change in our organisations and within ourselves.

Workplace Safeguarding Video Transcript

(A man in a suit is standing too close to a woman inside an elevator.)

“I am sorry. The space is too tight.”

(In an office space, a woman in formal attire is standing in front of a man in a suit, holding papers in her hand.)

“By God, bravo! After all this time, this is what you came out with? Well done!!!”

(A middle-aged man and woman are sitting at a desk. They are speaking to a younger female who is standing up with crossed arms.)

“You will understand when you get older.”
“You still need years of experience.”

(The three above scenes are compiled on one screen.)

Abusive practices are very common in the workplace and take different forms.
However, unfortunately, they are rarely treated properly. To be able to respond to them, we must first name and define them.

(A hand points to a woman who is looking down, with her hand on her forehead. The word “exploitation” is written to the right.)

One form of abusive practices is exploitation – when a person uses their power or position for personal gain, causing harm to others.

(A man is placing his hands on the shoulders of a woman who is sitting in front of a computer. She looks shocked.)

Exploitation can be sexual, such as requesting sexual favours in exchange for benefits, or forced sexual activity.

(A veiled woman is giving a speech. A young man is standing behind her carrying papers. The spectators are clapping.)

It can be in the form of exploitation of others’ labour and efforts.

(A man and a woman are sitting at a table. He looks sad, leaning his head on his hand. She is laying her head down on the table. A speech bubble appears over her head.)

Or it can be emotional exploitation, to evade responsibility for instance.

(A cropped scene of two hands; one holding the other violently. The word “assault” is written on the left side of the screen.)

As for assault, it refers to any actual or attempted aggressive act that deliberately violates or threatens the physical or personal space of an individual or group. It is not necessarily linked to a power difference.

(A cropped hand is placed on a woman’s shoulder. She is looking at the hand angrily.)

It can also be a sexual assault;

(On the right side, a young man is being hit on the face. On the left, a cropped hand is placed on the mouth of a young woman, silencing her.)

a physical assault, such as hitting or kicking;

(A man in a suit is standing up in front of a table, expelling someone from the room. A young man and woman are sitting at the table.)

or a verbal assault, such as threats and insults.

(A young man is sitting in front of a computer covering his ears; and an older man is talking to him angrily. The word harassment is written on the right side of the screen.)

As for harassment, it sometimes includes assault, but further encompasses other practices.

(Two young women are walking (one veiled and the other not). A young man is walking towards them.)

These can take the form of: Physical harassment, such us threatening touches, looks, and physical gestures;

(A man is hitting the table with his hand. He looks angry and is surrounded with two speech bubbles.)

verbal harassment, such as insults and unconstructive comments;

(A young woman with eyeglasses is looking at her phone. She looks shocked.)

or sexual harassment, such as sharing photos or videos of a sexual nature.

(Two young men are pointing at a young woman sitting at a desk.)

As for bullying … it is more frequent and systematic than harassment, and aims to belittle the other party.

(On the left side, a woman is sitting with her head between her hands, and fingers are pointing at her. On the right, a man is holding his head, surrounded by speech bubbles.)

Bullying can be physical or verbal;


(Two pregnant women (one veiled and one not) are standing up. One young woman is shouting at them. Another is standing behind them. And a third older woman is in the background contemplating.)

or feminist bullying – such as one woman accusing another of being unfeminist because she decided to conceive.

(On the left side, two women are hugging. On the right, a blind man is standing up with a cane and dark glasses.)

Such abusive practices often systematically target marginalised social groups.

This is called discrimination.

(A woman in a wheelchair is looking at a stairwell.)

It can be based on:
Special physical needs
Or other.

(A middle-aged woman and man are sitting at a desk, speaking to a younger man with an amputated leg standing in front of them.)

Such forms of discrimination often intersect, and reflect oppressive structures.

Hence, some groups and individuals become subject to multiplied discrimination.

(The above scenes appear consecutively on white paper.)

From here, the first step to properly addressing violence and abusive practices is to be able to name them, identify them immediately, and describe them when filing a report.

(Venus sign changes color, and a dove flies into it, making up the WILPF logo.)


Exploitation occurs when a person or group of people uses their power, status, or positionality for personal benefit through the use of force, duress, violence, coercion, deceit, or trickery that causes direct or indirect harm to another person or group of people, or to public interest.


Assault is any actual or attempted aggressive act that deliberately violates or threatens the physical space of an individual or group. It is often believed that assault is limited to direct physical violations only, but as a concept it also includes indirect infringement on personal space.


Harassment/Taharrush is a group of unwanted abusive practices that are threatening to the recipient by their very nature. Unlike bullying, harassment need not be targeted. It may take place directly or indirectly, so that it creates an atmosphere of distress, heaviness, and insecurity.


Bullying is any abusive practice or behaviour directed by an individual or group of individuals towards another individual or group. Bullying can be considered a form of harassment that is more frequent and systematic. It aims not only to violate the receiving party, but also to belittle them. Bullying is characterised by being targeted at a person or group of people, while harassment need not be targeted.

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