STOP Violence at Work. Fullstop.

“The culture of silence that surrounds sexual harassment in flower farms is unacceptable. Most women workers think it’s normal to be treated as sexual objects. Fellow men workers do not rise up and speak out when a woman is sexually harassed in public because it’s the acceptable norm”

This was the assertion of a participant during a Training of Trainers (ToT) Workshop on Blossoming Women’s Leadership for Decent Work in the Horticultural Sector in October 2017. Convened by FEMNET in partnership with Akina Mama wa Afrika and Hivos, the ToT was premised on the need for gender-responsive practices at the work place as well as a women’s leadership strategy in the sector.
The training also sought to enhance leadership capacities for women workers and ultimately ensure that women take up leadership positions at the farm level and/ or in the trade unions. During the ToT, the 32 women and 15 men workers who are leading in various committees and unions, in 14 different farms in Uganda and Kenya deliberated on diverse challenges they faced at the work place including sexual violence and harassment and low representation of women in leadership positions.
Sexual violence and harassment is exacerbated by the unequal power relations at work, in the family and in the society – heavily entrenched in patriarchal gender norms and stereotypes. Research shows that violence against women persists in all countries and societies. It happens in private and public places, and in physical and online spaces. Why? Because violence against women is often driven by a deep-seated belief that a woman is not equal to a man. It is unacceptable that women continue to be treated as second-class citizens. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 70 years is unequivocal that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements continue to gain traction, women and girls are speaking up and speaking out in what is dubbed as breaking the culture of silence. These women have been narrating heart-rending untold experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the world of work. The women are drawn from different industries and sectors and include celebrities in the film industry to educational institutions, horticultural farms, boardrooms, C-level executives, United Nations agencies, aid sector and even in the military!
Worldwide, women are saying enough is enough! No more discrimination. No more inequality. No more violence at work and at home.
In the labour movement, the UN body charged with pushing for workers’ rights and ensuring a safe and secure work environment, the International Labour Organization (ILO), has been meeting in Geneva from 28th May to 6th June 2018 for the annual International Labour Conference. Top on the agenda is the first discussions on the proposed ILO Convention and Recommendation on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work – which is great leap forward in the struggle to meaningfully address persistent violence and harassment in the world of work.
According to the recent ILO Report V(2) to be submitted to the Conference for the first discussion on ending violence and harassment in the world of work, almost all governments and workers’ organizations and a simple majority of employers’ organizations are in favour of the Conference adopting an instrument to address violence and harassment in the world of work. This is because, none of the existing ILO international labour standards address violence and harassment in the world of work in a comprehensive way. The proposed instrument is to boldly identify the steps that governments, employers and workers’ organizations must take to prevent, address and redress violence and harassment in the world of work.
A majority of governments and workers’ organizations are in favour of a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation. However, employers’ organizations favour a Recommendation. A Convention is legally binding (member states are required to ratify and are obligated to report regularly on measures taken to implement it) whereas a Recommendation contains non-binding guidelines. A Convention supplemented by a Recommendation lays down the basic principles to be implemented by ratifying countries and is supplemented by a related recommendation to the convention giving detailed guidelines on how it could be applied.
The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), joins the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) global campaign calling for the adoption of an ILO Convention and Recommendation on “Ending violence and harassment in the world of work” with a strong message that there can be no decent work with violence at work. Women and girls must be respected as equal human beings.
Rooting out of violence and harassment in the workplaces is a collective effort requiring intentional, consistent, and comprehensive efforts by governments, trade unions, employers and workers.

  • Governments as the primary duty bearers have a responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill their obligations and commitments to foster safe and decent workplaces. There are several progressive national, regional and international legal and policy frameworks and commitments that must be IMPLEMENTED.
  • Trade unions as workers’ representatives, must continue to lead by example in ensuring that there will be zero-tolerance of any kind of violence within or in relation to the workplace as well as in the trade union structures. On annual basis, for example during labour day celebrations and the commemoration of the16 Days of Activism against GBV, trade union leaders should publically NAME and SHAME workplaces that persistently violate workers rights.
  • Employers too have a responsibility and power to ENFORCE gender-responsive policies and influence a culture of workplaces that are free of any form of violence and harassment, where women are free to speak up when they are subject to unwelcome or harassing conduct and assaulters face the full force of the law.
  • Workers as rights holders should exercise their rights to safe and respectful workplaces. They should acquaint themselves with workplace policies and labour standards and report all incidents immediately. PEER-TO-PEER accountability is also key in nurturing an environment of mutual respect. For example men and women speaking up and speaking out against workplace violence and harassment – and not accepting it as the norm – because it is not!

Violence and harassment in the world of work is a human rights violation and a threat to the dignity, health and security of individuals – and undermines the global vision of sustainable development embedded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
We must #StopGBVatWork!
Written by Rachel Kagoiya, Information Manager and Coordinator of the Women’s Leadership Programme at FEMNET. She can be reached on email
First published by African Woman and Child Features Services here

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