November 26, 2012—At a Turkish-owned textile plant in the Democratic Republic of Georgia a few years ago, female employers were repeatedly forced to remain on the job without pay for hours a day. When they ultimately demanded to be released, the factory manager responded by yelling and throwing a heavy load of unfinished dresses at one woman. The blow knocked her unconscious. The factory manager returned to Turkey to avoid prosecution—but likely would not have faced charges even if he had stayed, says Bob Fielding, Solidarity Center country program in Georgia, who described the incident.
Like the Georgian garment worker, millions of women around the world are the targets of violence—which is why trade unionists and others highlighted November 25 as “NO to Violence Against Women” day.
Globally, up to six out of every 10 women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, much of it work-related. Yet it is impossible to accurately tally incidents of workplace-related violence because in most countries, those statistics are not reflected in employer or police records. In fact, many women do not report such abuse because they fear reprisals, including the possibility of losing their livelihood. Further, they do not trust anything will be done to address the problem.
Although women on any job can experience violence, those most at risk include migrant workers, domestic workers and women in forced and bonded labor. Health services workers also are under threat at the workplace—it is estimated that 70 percent of violent incidents among nurses are not reported. However, the 218 million child laborers, female and male, are the most vulnerable to violence.
The United Nations in 1979 adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which requires that countries which sign on to the convention take steps to end violence. In 2008, the UN launched the campaign, “Say NO—Unite to End Violence Against Women,” as it became clear that the political commitment and resources have not been sufficiently mobilized to address what the UN describes as a “pandemic.”
While governments are responsible for ensuring that national legislation and institutional frameworks address job-related violence, workplace-related initiatives are essential. When both trade unions and employers work together to tackle violence on the job, they are “instrumental in progressively reducing the incidence of workplace violence,” according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Every day in countries around the world, the Solidarity Center empowers women to fight for their rights by providing training and fostering the leadership skills needed to give women a voice in their unions, in their workplaces and in the global economy.
The Solidarity Center stands united with global unionists to point out how violence against women not only harms the women who suffer it, but also hurts society and the overall environment for labor rights, economic justice and social inclusion.
• Violence at Work, an ILO publication which includes workplace violence guidelines and prevention strategies.
Other ILO publications include:
• Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work: Overview and Selected Bibliography
• Migration, Gender Equality and Development
The International Transportation Federation (ITF) offers a “No to Violence Against Women” poster and calendar.
Check out the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) for the following:
• Video: Migrant Domestic Workers in the Gulf: trafficking and Forced Labor
• Trade union federations’ joint statement on No to Violence Against Women
• New website: Equal Times
• Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women
• Effective Approaches to Addressing the Intersection of Violence Against Women and
Next March, the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women will focus on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.