Sexual Harassment at ICANN

Posted by Padmini Baruah at Mar 18, 2016 12:05 PM |
Padmini Baruah represented the Centre for Internet & Society at ICANN in the month of March 2016. In a submission to ICANN she is calling upon the ICANN board for implementing a system for investigating cases related to sexual harassments.

On the 6th of March, 2016, Sunday, at about 10 am in the gNSO working session being conducted at the room Diamant, I was sexually harassed by someone from the private sector constituency named Khaled Fattal. He approached me, pulled at my name tag, and passed inappropriate remarks. I felt like my space and safety as a young woman in the ICANN community was at stake.

I had incidentally been in discussion with the ICANN Ombudsman on developing a clear and coherent sexual harassment policy and procedure for the specific purposes of ICANN’s public meetings. Needless to say, this incident pushed me to take forward what had hitherto been a mere academic interest with increased vigour. I was amazed, firstly that the office of the ombudsman only had two white male members manning it. I was initially inhibited by that very fact, but made two points before them:

  1. With respect to action on my individual case.
  2. With respect to the development of policy in general.

I would like to put on record that the ombudsman office was extremely sympathetic and gave me a thorough hearing. They assured me that my individual complaint would be recorded, and sought to discuss the possibility of me raising a public statement with respect to policy, as they believed that the Board would be likely to take this suggestion up from a member of the community. I was also informed, astoundingly, that this was the first harassment case reported in the history of ICANN.

I then, as a newcomer to the community, ran this idea of making a public statement by no means an easy task at all, given the attached stigma that comes with being branded a victim of a sexual crime by certain senior people within ICANN who had assured me that they would take my side in this regard. To my dismay, there were two strong stands of victim blaming and intimidation that I faced I was told, in some cases by extremely senior and well respected, prominent women in the ICANN community, that raising this issue up would demean my credibility, status and legitimacy in ICANN, and that my work would lose importance, and I would “...forever be branded as THAT woman.” My incident was also trivialised in offhand casual remarks such as “This happened because you are so pretty”, “Oh you filed a complaint, not against me I hope, ha ha” which all came from people who are very high up in the ICANN heirarchy. I was also asked if I was looking for money out of this. Click to read the full statement made to ICANN here.