Code of Conduct for Spiritual and Yoga Festivals

Inspired by #metoo in the yoga and spiritual community... This is not a debate post, but an action-oriented solution post. 👇🏻

I have been working on developing a Code of Conduct for participants and presenters at yoga festivals and spiritual conferences. It includes bullet points of specific red flag behaviors and some sample narratives to be aware of when allegations of abuse are made public.

This is NOT my area of expertise, but I see a need for it and no one in my circle stepped up to volunteer for it, so I took a stab at a draft. Dozens of people have commented or contributed thus far!

(NOTE for full disclosure: I have a personal motivation to do this now, because I created the Sacred Sound Stage at the annual International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, and am influencing the old school āśram to update their presenter policies to disclude problematic presenters, 2020 style. I’ve made some real progress, but it’s as slow as the cows on the streets of Rishikesh... and I’m not 100% happy with their presenter choices grandfathered in this year. However, I hope this code of conduct can get implemented and move things in a good direction.)

*Feel free to copy, edit, and use the Code of Conduct as you wish, for your own purposes - much of it is from Geek Feminista. Author credit to me for the complementary blog post content (if you use any of that part) is requested.*

 


Sample Code of Conduct for International Yoga Festival (IYF)

(Compiled from the wiki available at geekfeminista.com and revised by Anandra George of heartofsound.in.)

The International Yoga Festival is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, or religion or lack thereof, [insert any other specific concerns here]].

We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants or presenters in any form. [Presenters include anyone with a microphone or on a stage. Participants include anyone in an audience, attending a class, or present on the festival grounds.] Conference participants or presenters violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference [without a refund] at the discretion of the conference organizers.

Furthermore, we take the honor of celebrating the great tradition of yoga with the international community very seriously. We acknowledge that in light of the recent #metoo movement, many yoga and spiritual leaders who have enjoyed the honor of representing the tradition are having previous and current students come forward to report:

  • Sexual harassment, ranging from unwanted verbal advances to rape.
  • Duplicity, e.g. claims of celibacy and “divine” status while secretly sleeping with students
  • Psychological manipulation, e.g. spiritual philosophy weaponized to control and coerce students
  • And other abuses of power


Therefore, the International Yoga Festival is dedicated to upholding the highest standards of integrity with our presenters, and request that reports of power abuses and/or harassment of any kind during, before, or after the festival are made without hesitation. We request the festival community (and the international yoga community as a whole) join us and refrain from turning a blind eye to, accepting, endorsing, enabling, and normalizing abuses of power. Let’s move forward together in alignment with heart, thought, word, and deed to uphold that most fundamental principle of yoga: ahimsā, non-violence!



This code of conduct is divided into two parts:

  1. At the Event
  2. 
A Perpetual Agreement Between Presenters & Participants

*Note: Knowing that people from 120+ countries will read this document, and come from innumerable cultural backgrounds, we apologize if the language is overly complicated and for any unconscious cultural assumptions. Please ask questions if there’s something you don’t understand.

 


At the Event:

Harassment includes, but is not limited to:

  • Verbal comments that reinforce social structures of domination [related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion, [your specific concern here].
  • Sexualized images in public spaces [Sexual language and imagery [that is not part of a sacred lineage tradition] is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks.]
  • Deliberate intimidation, stalking, or following 
  • Harassing photography or recording [Ask before you take someone’s photograph.]
  • Sustained disruption of talks or other events
  • Inappropriate physical contact
  • Unwelcome sexual attention
  • Posting insults on Twitter and other online platforms
  • Harmful jokes and banter
  • Advocating for, or encouraging, any of the above behaviour
  • False reporting any of the above behavior

 

Enforcement at the Event:

Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

[Exhibitors in the expo hall, sponsor or vendor booths, or similar activities are also subject to the anti-harassment policy. In particular, exhibitors should not use sexualized images, activities, or other material. Booth staff (including volunteers) should not use sexualized clothing/uniforms/costumes, or otherwise create a sexualized environment.] 


If a participant engages in harassing behaviour, event organisers retain the right to take any actions to keep the event a welcoming environment for all participants. This includes warning the offender or expulsion from the conference [with no refund].

Event organisers may take action to redress anything designed to, or with the clear impact of, disrupting the event or making the environment hostile for any participants. 


We expect participants to follow these rules at all event venues and event-related social activities. We think people should follow these rules outside event activities too!

 

Reporting

If someone makes you or anyone else feel unsafe or unwelcome, please report it as soon as possible. [Conference staff can be identified by t-shirts/special badges/head sets.] Bystanders are also welcome to report. Harassment and other code of conduct violations reduce the value of our event for everyone. We want you to be happy at our event. People like you make our event a better place.

You can make a report either personally or anonymously.

 


Anonymous Report

You can make an anonymous report here [Wufoo form or similar that DOES NOT require an email address to submit.]

We can't follow up an anonymous report with you directly, but we will fully investigate it and take whatever action is necessary to prevent a recurrence.

 


Personal Report

You can make a personal report by:

Calling or messaging this phone number: [Phone number for reporting]. This phone number will be continuously monitored for the duration of the event.

Contacting a staff member, identified by STAFF badges, buttons, or shirts.

When taking a personal report, our staff will ensure you are safe and cannot be overheard. They may involve other event staff to ensure your report is managed properly. Once safe, we'll ask you to tell us about what happened. This can be upsetting, but we'll handle it as respectfully as possible, and you can bring someone to support you. You won't be asked to confront anyone and we won't tell anyone who you are.

Our team will be happy to help you contact hotel/venue security, local law enforcement, local support services, provide escorts, or otherwise assist you to feel safe for the duration of the event. We value your attendance.

[Email address for organizers]

[Phone number for conference security or organizers]

[Phone number for hotel/venue security]

[Local law enforcement]

[Local sexual assault hot line]

[Local emergency and non-emergency medical (e.g., urgent care, day clinic)]

[Local taxi company]

 

False Reporting

While statistically rare, false reporting will be treated as sexual harassment as well. [False is estimated at 2-10% of claims, vs. estimates that only 35% of sexual abuse ever gets reported.]


Agreement Between Presenters & Participants - Perpetual

All presenters, honored guests, and musicians [anyone on stage, with a microphone] at the International Festival acknowledge the power and privilege of their position, accept personal responsibility to maintain the highest standards of yogic integrity. All presenters agree to maintain the following standards of personal conduct:

 

Presenter Personal Conduct:

  • Avoid verbal comments that reinforce social structures of domination [related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion, [your specific concern here].
  • Avoid deliberate intimidation, stalking, or following, including psychological power games using spiritual teachings for personal, material, or sexual gain
  • Maintain integrity between spiritual claims and human action [E.g. don’t publicly claim celibacy if it’s not practiced in private.]
  • Avoid perpetuating cultural expectations that women [homosexuals, gender fluid, low caste, People of Color, and other historically oppressed persons] silently bear and accept abuse.
  • Support a safe space for concerns and claims to arise, to encourage reporting and avoid silencing.
  • Refrain from inappropriate physical contact
  • Refrain from giving unwelcome sexual attention
  • Encourage peers to uphold the same standards

Reporting of Mishandling of Claims

Please report to the [Festival name] any evidence of one of our presenters handling a claim of sexual impropriety using the same reporting structures in the above Code of Conduct. Reporting is welcome at any time of the year.

 


A visionary way forward for leaders and communities to handle claims of abuse and sexual harassment, including sample dialogs, is in the next post.


GLOSSARY:

gender identity: a person's perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their birth sex.

 

Gender Fluid: Gender fluid is a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. Their gender can also vary at random or vary in response to different circumstances.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_identity

https://gender.wikia.org/wiki/Gender_Fluid

https://nonbinary.miraheze.org/wiki/Genderfluid

 

Sexual Harassment: behavior characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation.

https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_harassment

 

Me too movement: The Me Too movement (or #MeToo movement), with a large variety of local and international related names, is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. The phrase "Me Too" was initially used in this context on social media in 2006, on Myspace, by sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement

 

Ahimsā: (in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist tradition) respect for all living things and avoidance of violence toward others.

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/do-no-harm-the-art-of-ahimsa

 

Social structures of domination: Social dominance theory is a consideration of group conflict which describes human society as consisting of oppressive group-based hierarchy structures. The key principles of social dominance theory are: ... Human social hierarchy consists of a hegemonic group at the top and negative reference groups at the bottom.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_dominance_theory

Stalking: Stalking is unwanted and/or repeated surveillance by an individual or group toward another person. Stalking behaviors are interrelated to harassment and intimidation and may include following the victim in person or monitoring them. The term stalking is used with some differing definitions in psychiatry and psychology, as well as in some legal jurisdictions as a term for a criminal offense.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalking

Gaslighting: to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RC1-SPJChk

 

Himpathy:  Inappropriate sympathy given to male perpetrators of sexual violence.

https://femmagazine.com/feminism-101-what-is-himpathy/

https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2018/09/30/himpathy-is-a-societal-illness-but-at-least-we-have-a-word-for-it/

Victim Blaming: occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm that befell them. The study of victimology seeks to mitigate the prejudice against victims, and the perception that victims are in any way responsible for the actions of offenders.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victim_blaming

Spiritual Bypass: a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks. The term was introduced in the early 1980s by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_bypass

https://www.robertmasters.com/2013/04/29/spiritual-bypassing/

rape culture: a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_culture

 


Special thanks:
Andrew Hyde for giving me the idea and pointing me to Geekfeminista.com’s wiki, from which the basic code of conduct is based.

Jennifer Mazzucco for researching and providing the terminology links.

My Facbook friends and the community at Tantrik Yoga Now, who provided editing support and valuable feedback!

 

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