Addressing workplace violence against women should be all business' business

Violence against women in the workplace remains disconcertingly pervasive across the world. Ranging from overt acts of physical assault to covert micromachismos, women of various ages, race, ethnicity, religion and social class often face some form of violence throughout stages of their lives and careers. The workplace – a space where projects are executed, livelihoods are secured and ambitions are realised – should be a safe environment for all, yet violence in the workplace is pervasive. Whilst both women and men experience violence and harassment in the world of work, women remain disproportionately affected. Patriarchy, gender stereotypes, unfavourable working conditions, gender pay gap and other forms of discrimination heighten women’s exposure to violence in the workplace.


As a gender justice advocate, I have listened to women share horrendous stories of their experiences in the world of work. One particular International Women’s Day event, aimed at advocating for ending workplace gender-based violence, remains indelible in my mind. I recall listening to women of various status share shocking stories of different forms of violence they had experienced and continue to be subjected to in the workplace. Harrowing stories of rape and sexual harassment were told. A nurse recounted a daunting experience of how she was hit and shoved to the floor by a male doctor. A group of women who worked at a foremost telecommunications company in Nigeria narrated how they were relieved of their jobs because the company no longer found them attractive to fit in the box of “slim and attractive” staff. While in service, they were often requested to share pictures of themselves with the human resources department of the company to ascertain whether they were still physically appealing to be on the team. Their productivity and effectiveness did not matter to the company. They were perceived as mere objects. Events such as these constitute a grave violation of women’s rights, safety and freedom in the workplace.


Violence is not just limited to the above, a plethora of other acts can be classified as violence against women in the workplace: degrading jokes, verbal abuse, inappropriate physical contact, moral harassment, gender pay gap, being forced into sexual activities with clients, amongst others. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 190 elucidates that violence and harassment in the world of work refers to a “range of unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.”


Gender-based violence in the workplace has enormous impacts on women’s physical and mental wellbeing, their right to work and their livelihood. The ILO Convention No. 190 acknowledges that violence and harassment in the world of work affects a person’s psychological, physical and sexual health, dignity, family and social environment. It also affects the quality of services being rendered, may prevent women from accessing, remaining and advancing in the labour market, and negatively impacts workplace relations, worker engagement, enterprise reputation, and productivity. Correspondingly, it has been averred that women’s right to a life free from gender-based violence is indivisible from other human rights, including the rights to life, health, liberty, equality, freedom from torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, etc. Despite its overwhelming impacts, not many women report incidences of violence due to the fear of losing their jobs and their sources of income. Women who garner the courage to report are often faced with a workplace that is not responsive to the needs of victims/survivors.


Everyone has the right to just and favourable conditions at work, including safe and healthy workplaces. Just like governments, businesses have a significant role in combatting violence against women in the workplace. This requires organisational change and commitment to engender a workplace built on the respect for human rights, and a space where women can thrive without fear of violence. Businesses can, and should do more.


To combat violence in the workplaces, businesses can:

  • Adopt and implement a workplace policy on violence and harassment, in consultation with employees ;

  • With active participation of employees , identify and assess risks of violence and harassment against women, and take measures to prevent and control them;

  • Provide employees with information and training on the identified risks of violence and harassment and the associated prevention and protection measures;

  • Ensure easy access to appropriate and effective remedies; safe, fair and effective reporting and dispute resolution mechanisms in cases of violence and harassment in the world of work;

  • Protect the privacy of survivors and ensure confidentiality to the extent possible and as appropriate;

  • Administer appropriate sanctions in cases of violence and harassment in the workplace;

  • Ensure that victim-survivors of gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work have effective access to gender-responsive, safe and effective complaint and dispute resolution mechanisms, support, services and remedies. [4]



Written by Fisayo Aransiola Fakayode

Human Rights Lawyer & Thrive Law Changer, Nigeria


 

References

[1] International Labour Organization, Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190), preamble

[2] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), General Recommendation 35: Gender-Based Violence against Women, 26 July 2017, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/GC/35, para. 15, p. 6.

[3] United Nations, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16 December 1966, General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI), Article 7

[4] International Labour Organization, Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190), Articles 9 & 10