Study: Gender Violence Rife in Brazil Garment Factories

Study: Gender Violence Rife in Brazil Garment Factories

The vast majority of women in Brazil’s textile and shoe factories who took part in a recent study say they have experienced some form of violence at work, often gender-based violence and harassment—to the extent that “for many women, work is synonymous with suffering,” according to a new report, “Promoting Human Rights and Strengthening Trade Union Action and Equality in the Brazilian Clothing Sector.”

Francisca Trajan, president of Brazil garment worker union, Solidarity Center

CNTRV President Francisca Trajano says the extent of violence against women in garment factories is shocking, Credit: CUT

“The most revealing thing this study uncovered is the extent of violence in the workplace,” says National Confederation of Apparel Workers (CNTRV) President Francisca Trajano, speaking through a translator. “I am especially surprised by the extent of sexual harassment by supervisors.”

Some 246 women workers took part in either regional workshops or guided discussions between March and June as part of an Instituto Observatorio Social study of textile and shoe workers in six cities: Colatina, Fortaleza, Ipirá, Pouso Alegre, Sapiranga, Sorocaba, and Sao Paulo. (The report is available in Portuguese.)

The study found the most frequent form of violence is bullying, with supervisors screaming and cursing at workers, threatening them if they do not produce at the required pace and harassing them for using the bathroom.

Bullying often is directed toward union leaders, the report finds, with female union leaders closely watched by supervisors, who also harass and even fire workers who talk with them.

Collective Agreements Improve Working Conditions

Brazil gender-based violence study in garment factories, Solidarity Center

Instituto Observatorio Social researcher Mariana Castro presents the study’s findings at a meeting of garment worker union leaders. Credit: CUT

Sexual harassment, which is a form of gender-based violence, is widespread and sometimes subtle, according to the report. “But regardless of the form, sexual harassment is a constant situation,” say the report’s authors. Women often fear reporting sexual harassment or assault, and with good reason: “In some cases when they bring the complaint to superiors, women are ridiculed. In other cases they have no one to whom to bring the complaint because the supervisor is also a stalker,” the report states.

The study also looked at the intersections of gender violence and harassment against LGBTQI+ workers and workers of color. “When admitted, black women are usually assigned to the worst services, such as working with shoe glue or working in noisy and uncomfortable machines,” according to the report.

In general, the report finds that clothing companies are organized from a rigid social and sexual division of labor, in which women generally occupy the least qualified and worst paid positions.

The women workers who took part in the study stressed the importance of collective agreements to improve working conditions, and the report recommends unions negotiate clauses to combat bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace. The study also recommends unions hold workshops and discussion sessions to make workers aware of their right to a violence-free workplace. Many women interviewed were unaware of the laws and other options to combat violence at work.

Report Raises Union Leaders’ Awareness of GBVH at Work

One key goal of the report, funded by the Brazilian branch of the C&A Foundation, is to start a dialogue with employers to seek remedies for gender-based violence at work, says Jana Silverman, Solidarity Center Brazil country director. Further, the study, which solely examines union workplaces, should “raise awareness about the prevalence of gender-based violence in the workplace, raise awareness among union leadership, especially male leadership, about how prevalent this is in their rank-and-file membership,” she says.

In fact, says Trajano, union leaders at the local and national levels who were not directly involved in the project have shown keen interest in its findings. “They are reflecting on how to think through how unions can be a place where women who are victims of the violence can turn to to get help,” she says.

The report already has created concrete change. Union members at garment factories in Pouso Alegre negotiated a contract clause in which employers committed to hold biannual trainings for managers to combat gender-based violence in the workplace.

Unions evaluated the study’s findings last week and plan to take the report to their executive committees and create the conditions to prevent and end GBVH through collective bargaining or social dialogue with employers. Trajano says CNTRV, which represents 69 unions and three state regional federations, is pressing unions to negotiate contract language protecting against gender-based violence and harassment. Many of the union contracts come up for negotiation in January.

CNTRV is well-placed to lead the campaign addressing gender-based violence at work. In April, delegates to CNTRV’s 11th Congress voted for gender parity in leadership and adopted a pro-women’s rights agenda. In partnership with the Solidarity Center, CNTRV in recent years ran a nationwide women’s leadership project, preparing women workers to assume leadership positions.

“Obviously it was very shocking to us when we received the results of the report to understand the extent of violence at the workplace,” says Trajano, who also is an executive committee member of the Central Union of Workers in Brazil (CUT). “At the same time it’s a wake up call to do something about it.”

Study: Gender Violence Rife in Brazil Garment Factories

Study: Gender Violence Rife in Brazil Garment Factories

The vast majority of women in Brazil’s textile and shoe factories who took part in a recent study say they have experienced some form of violence at work, often gender-based violence and harassment—to the extent that “for many women, work is synonymous with suffering,” according to a new report, “Promoting Human Rights and Strengthening Trade Union Action and Equality in the Brazilian Clothing Sector.”

Francisca Trajan, president of Brazil garment worker union, Solidarity Center
CNTRV President Francisca Trajano says the extent of violence against women in garment factories is shocking, Credit: CUT

“The most revealing thing this study uncovered is the extent of violence in the workplace,” says National Confederation of Apparel Workers (CNTRV) President Francisca Trajano, speaking through a translator. “I am especially surprised by the extent of sexual harassment by supervisors.”

Some 246 women workers took part in either regional workshops or guided discussions between March and June as part of an Instituto Observatorio Social study of textile and shoe workers in six cities: Colatina, Fortaleza, Ipirá, Pouso Alegre, Sapiranga, Sorocaba, and Sao Paulo. (The report is available in Portuguese.)

The study found the most frequent form of violence is bullying, with supervisors screaming and cursing at workers, threatening them if they do not produce at the required pace and harassing them for using the bathroom.

Bullying often is directed toward union leaders, the report finds, with female union leaders closely watched by supervisors, who also harass and even fire workers who talk with them.

Collective Agreements Improve Working Conditions

Brazil gender-based violence study in garment factories, Solidarity Center
Instituto Observatorio Social researcher Mariana Castro presents the study’s findings at a meeting of garment worker union leaders. Credit: CUT

Sexual harassment, which is a form of gender-based violence, is widespread and sometimes subtle, according to the report. “But regardless of the form, sexual harassment is a constant situation,” say the report’s authors. Women often fear reporting sexual harassment or assault, and with good reason: “In some cases when they bring the complaint to superiors, women are ridiculed. In other cases they have no one to whom to bring the complaint because the supervisor is also a stalker,” the report states.

The study also looked at the intersections of gender violence and harassment against LGBTQI+ workers and workers of color. “When admitted, black women are usually assigned to the worst services, such as working with shoe glue or working in noisy and uncomfortable machines,” according to the report.

In general, the report finds that clothing companies are organized from a rigid social and sexual division of labor, in which women generally occupy the least qualified and worst paid positions.

The women workers who took part in the study stressed the importance of collective agreements to improve working conditions, and the report recommends unions negotiate clauses to combat bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace. The study also recommends unions hold workshops and discussion sessions to make workers aware of their right to a violence-free workplace. Many women interviewed were unaware of the laws and other options to combat violence at work.

Report Raises Union Leaders’ Awareness of GBVH at Work

One key goal of the report, funded by the Brazilian branch of the C&A Foundation, is to start a dialogue with employers to seek remedies for gender-based violence at work, says Jana Silverman, Solidarity Center Brazil country director. Further, the study, which solely examines union workplaces, should “raise awareness about the prevalence of gender-based violence in the workplace, raise awareness among union leadership, especially male leadership, about how prevalent this is in their rank-and-file membership,” she says.

In fact, says Trajano, union leaders at the local and national levels who were not directly involved in the project have shown keen interest in its findings. “They are reflecting on how to think through how unions can be a place where women who are victims of the violence can turn to to get help,” she says.

The report already has created concrete change. Union members at garment factories in Pouso Alegre negotiated a contract clause in which employers committed to hold biannual trainings for managers to combat gender-based violence in the workplace.

Unions evaluated the study’s findings last week and plan to take the report to their executive committees and create the conditions to prevent and end GBVH through collective bargaining or social dialogue with employers. Trajano says CNTRV, which represents 69 unions and three state regional federations, is pressing unions to negotiate contract language protecting against gender-based violence and harassment. Many of the union contracts come up for negotiation in January.

CNTRV is well-placed to lead the campaign addressing gender-based violence at work. In April, delegates to CNTRV’s 11th Congress voted for gender parity in leadership and adopted a pro-women’s rights agenda. In partnership with the Solidarity Center, CNTRV in recent years ran a nationwide women’s leadership project, preparing women workers to assume leadership positions.

“Obviously it was very shocking to us when we received the results of the report to understand the extent of violence at the workplace,” says Trajano, who also is an executive committee member of the Central Union of Workers in Brazil (CUT). “At the same time it’s a wake up call to do something about it.”

Colombian Workers, Allies Wage 3rd Protest for Justice

Colombian Workers, Allies Wage 3rd Protest for Justice

Colombian workers, their unions along with students, indigenous and Afro-Colombian and environmental groups took to the streets today in the third nationwide march to protest government moves that would reduce worker-rights protections, pensions and funding for education and increase electricity costs. The protests also demand full implementation of the 2016 peace accords.

Colombia, protests, unions, Solidarity CenterThe protests started on November 21, when an estimated 250,000 Colombians marched in cities across the country, driven by a coalition of unions—the Central Workers’ Union (CUT), Confederation of Colombian Workers (CTC), General Labor Confederation (CGT) and the Confederation of Pensioners of Colombia (CPC)—and now have been joined by a wide array of civil society organizations that formed the coalition of protesters, the “Mesa del Paro.”

The coalition presented the government with 13 requests, including repeal of new laws that make it easier to eliminate many labor rights protections and give a massive tax break for big corporations while cutting back on basic services for working people.

Colombians also are protesting the government’s moves to privatize the pension system,  base pension payments below the minimum wage and increase the cost of electricity by 35 percent, according the Colombian union federation CUT, a longstanding Solidarity Center partner, which represents 500,000 members. In addition, they are decrying the government’s inaction on the murders of community leaders and activists, as well as corruption draining the public coffers.

Following the November 21 protests, the government initially agreed with requests by the Mesa de Paro to hold a dialogue, but the government called for members of the military, police and corporate representatives to join in the discussions. The government ultimately accepted a direct and exclusive dialogue with the Mesa de Paro on December 2. The December 4 protests are part of ongoing actions to ensure the government pursues an agreement.

Five people were killed in the protests that began on November 21, and hundreds injured.

Africa Unions Address Gender-Based Violence at Work

Africa Unions Address Gender-Based Violence at Work

Delegates to the International Trade Union Confederation–Africa (ITUC-Africa) last week passed a resolution drafted by women union leaders that will help the organization’s 101 affiliates address gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work, including pressing African governments to ratify International Labor Organization (ILOConvention 190.

Passed in June, Convention 190 is a new global treaty to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work that includes gender-based violence and harassment.

Delegates from more than 47 African countries gathered in the Nigerian capital of Abuja for the 4th Ordinary Congress of the ITUC-Africa’s Regional Organization November 21 and 22. Held every four years, the Congress sets labor’s priorities and direction on behalf of Africa’s working people, both internally and in its dealings with governments and employers.

“The trade union movement in Africa has tremendous power to influence the future not only of the continent but the world,” said AFL-CIO Vice President Tefere Gebre, speaking to delegates.

Some 45 women leaders of unions from across the continent—many of whom have long been engaged in a global campaign to end gender-based violence and harassment at work—presented their recommendations to the full Congress, which the ITUC-Africa leadership formally adopted.

The resolution includes the following recommendations for African unions and ITUC-Africa:

  • Women trade union leaders participate in worker negotiations with employers, so gender-based violence and harassment at work is prioritized
  • Going forward, negotiated agreements with employers include language that explicitly addresses gender-based violence and harassment at work
  • ITUC-Africa provide support for union affiliates that are lobbying their governments to adopt Convention 190.
Africa Unions Address Gender-Based Violence at Work

Africa Unions Address Gender-Based Violence at Work

Delegates to the International Trade Union Confederation–Africa (ITUC-Africa) last week passed a resolution drafted by women union leaders that will help the organization’s 101 affiliates address gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work, including pressing African governments to ratify International Labor Organization (ILOConvention 190.

Passed in June, Convention 190 is a new global treaty to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work that includes gender-based violence and harassment.

Delegates from more than 47 African countries gathered in the Nigerian capital of Abuja for the 4th Ordinary Congress of the ITUC-Africa’s Regional Organization November 21 and 22. Held every four years, the Congress sets labor’s priorities and direction on behalf of Africa’s working people, both internally and in its dealings with governments and employers.

“The trade union movement in Africa has tremendous power to influence the future not only of the continent but the world,” said AFL-CIO Vice President Tefere Gebre, speaking to delegates.

Some 45 women leaders of unions from across the continent—many of whom have long been engaged in a global campaign to end gender-based violence and harassment at work—presented their recommendations to the full Congress, which the ITUC-Africa leadership formally adopted.

The resolution includes the following recommendations for African unions and ITUC-Africa:

  • Women trade union leaders participate in worker negotiations with employers, so gender-based violence and harassment at work is prioritized
  • Going forward, negotiated agreements with employers include language that explicitly addresses gender-based violence and harassment at work
  • ITUC-Africa provide support for union affiliates that are lobbying their governments to adopt Convention 190.

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