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Woman Alleges Harassment at Major International Conference

by Prasad Krishna last modified Mar 30, 2016 05:06 PM
A prospective lawyer's name tag was flipped, and she was asked rude questions by a CEO at a conference, where, ironically enough, she was invited to devise sexual harassment policies.

The article by Kavita Patil  was published in Bangalore Mirror on March 30, 2016.

Padmini Baruah, 22, a National Law School of India University (NLSIU) student representing Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), at the ICANN55 (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) held at Marrakech, alleged that she was sexually harassed by Khaled Fattal, the chairman and CEO of The Multilingual Internet Group.

On March 2, Baruah had reached out to the conference ombudsman and expressed her concerns about the lack of a specific sexual harassment policy. She was directed to the ICANN55's Standards of Behavior, who invited her for a discussion at the conference in Marrakech.

About three hours before her meeting with the ombudsman on March 6, she had a shock. "I was, unfortunately, subjected to sexual harassment in the nature of verbal remarks and infringement of my personal space by the perpetrator in question, a man I eventually came to know was called Khaled Fattal," she recalled. "Fattal approached me, pulled at my name tag, examined it and dropped it. A little later, he lifted my name tag and flipped it back and forth asking me, "Where are you from?"

He then leaned in, lecherously looked at me and asked, "Do you know how to make a cheese sandwich?" I was taken aback and responded angrily saying, "Yes, that is why I came here, to make you cheese sandwiches." He went on to throw another lecherous look my way and said, "Well, I love veg sandwiches."

Sunil Abraham, executive director of the CIS, said, "ICANN doesn't have a special cell where complaints can be raised but they have an ombudsman. The ombudsman is investigating the case and is in touch with both Baruah and also the perpetrator." He said after she raised the sexual harassment complaint, he received many mails from women who had faced harassment at the event but never made an attempt to raise their voice. "Through CIS we have issued a public statement of support for Baruah and we are waiting for the result of the investigation," he said.

Fattal and the ombudsman were not available for comment despite repeated attempts made by BM to get a response. Baruah, meanwhile, was informed by the ombudsman that her's was the first harassment case reported in the history of ICANN.