Over the past two years, most people who regularly patronize clubs and bars in Tel Aviv have become familiar with women of Layla Tov – “good night” in Hebrew. Their goal is to ensure that women can enjoy a night out without being harassed, or worse.
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Some Tel Aviv residents know Layla Tov from the distinctive signs the group places in venues around the city, declaring zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Others know it from the training sessions it runs for club personnel. Its aims and methods are similar to those of Good Night Out, an independent campaign operating in many cities around the world.
Last month, the ten members of the group launched a crowdfunding campaign on Head Start to help them register as an official nonprofit organization, with great success: Within a week, they had raised their initial target of 100,000 shekels ($27,000). The campaign will end this weekend, and the new target has been set at 200,000 shekels.
Yet the beginning wasn’t easy, as one group member, Yasmin Wachs, recalls. “Many places were afraid to cooperate with us, because they feared they’d be branded as a place where there’s rape drugs or sexual harassment,” she said. “But within a short time, everyone was with us.”
So far, 40 Tel Aviv bars and clubs have signed the Layla Tov pledge. Its Head Start video includes clips of four Tel Aviv nightclub owners expressing their support.
“Over the last two years, whether or not it has any connection to us, a lively public discussion has arisen in Israel about harassment, and about the border between that and sexual harassment,” said Shira Makin, another Layla Tov member. “Awareness has increased, even within the nightlife community, and this is the healthy action of a healthy community.”
Aside from hanging signs and having staff attending training sessions, venues that sign the Layla Tov pledge must appoint an employee as the group’s contact person. This allows the activists to investigate any incidents that do occur at the venue, together with the contact person, and to educate that person about how to deal with them.
In their training sessions, the activists primarily try to convey the value of mutual responsibility – that employees should keep an eye on what is happening beyond the bar and notice if anyone is acting oddly.
“When they see a woman who looks ‘out of it,’ the staff should know it’s their responsibility to come and ask if everything’s okay, if she has friends there, if someone is with her,” said Yael Elbaz. “When the situation isn’t okay, you can see this immediately from the body language, and one of the things we teach is that it’s okay to ask, that there’s no embarrassment in mutual responsibility.”
“The responses at the training sessions aren’t always what we would like,” Elbaz continued. “Ultimately, we’re talking about young people. You can sense from their body language, even if they don’t say it, that they’re still uncomfortable with coming and hearing from us what harassment is and understanding that someone has hurt them or those around them or been hurt by them. Sometimes, that’s how their friends behave.”
Israel has a law against sexual harassment, and all workplaces are legally required to hold training sessions on the issue. But the work environment in a nightclub is very different from that of an office, so the training must be adapted to the relevant language and situations.
“At the end of our process, every nightclub owner understands that a sexual insult is violence, and that removing a sexual harasser from the nightclub is like barring the entry of someone who comes to the nightclub with a knife,” Wachs said.
Do you expect nightclubs to halt potential harassers at the door?
Fear of discrimination lawsuits “is one of the questions nightclub owners raised with us back at the beginning of the process,” says Keren Greenblatt, the director of Shutafot – Coalition of Feminist Organizations for Economic Justice.
“Our fear was that they’d start to use dealing with sexual harassment as a pretext for not admitting certain population groups to the club,” says Greenblatt, a lawyer.
“In our training sessions, we explode the myth that certain population groups have a tendency toward harassment. All people are liable to harass and hurt, with no relationship to the color of their skin or where they live, and we won’t lend a hand to using sexual harassment to adopt racist practices,” Greenblatt says.
Elbaz added, “Many places in the city decided to saw off the bottom halves of bathroom doors, and many nightclub owners who have already joined us are telling us about incidents and responses to find out if they acted properly.”
The next stage, the women of Layla Tov say – after completing the registration process and raising more money – is to begin disseminating their message outside of Tel Aviv. They also eventually want to develop educational programs.
“In the next phase, we want to come talk with teenagers,” Elbaz said. “That’s where the education begins, so this is a pretty important issue.”
“One of our goals,” added Greenblatt, “is to reach a situation in which to obtain a license for a nightlife business, you have to post a sign against sexual harassment, similar to the way it works with signs forbidding the sale of alcohol to minors. If the state or the local governments adopt this standard and ensure that the staffers get training in preventing sexual harassment, the situation would be ideal."
“We’re still at the beginning of the road,” she acknowledged. “But the Tel Aviv municipality supports our pledge unreservedly, and will soon launch a billboard advertising campaign together with us.”