Nigeria: Amplifying the Silence and Fight Against GBVH in the Workplace

Nigeria: Amplifying the Silence and Fight Against GBVH in the Workplace

Gender-based violence and Harassment (GBVH) is a pervasive issue in Nigeria, affecting individuals across various sectors and walks of life. It encompasses a range of harmful behaviors directed at individuals based on their gender, including physical violence, sexual harassment, psychological abuse, and economic exploitation. Legal frameworks and policies aimed at addressing GBVH remain weak, and cultural beliefs still reinforce the culture of silence and stigma.

Efforts to combat GBVH in Nigeria have gained momentum in recent years, with increased advocacy, awareness campaigns, and support services for survivors. Initiatives like “Mista Silas: A Tale of Unheard Voices” play a crucial role in this fight by using art to amplify the voices of those affected and raise awareness of the issue and its impacts.

Scenes from the play “Mista Silas: A Tale of Unheard Voices ” from the performance. Credit: Maigemu Studios/Solidarity Center

“Mista Silas” is a compelling stage play that explores the profound and often overlooked impact of GBVH in the workplace. It shines a spotlight on the prevalence and effects of discrimination and GBVH, brings to life the stories of those who have faced such challenges and gives voice to their struggles and resilience.

A scene from the performance of the play "Mista Silas: A Tale of Unheard

The event commenced with a panel discussion with union leaders from Nigeria’s two labor centers, the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), with Solidarity Center Country Coordinator Chris Adebayo. The panel session titled, “The Impact of Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in the Workplace” provided a platform for deeper exploration of the theme presented in the play. 

“We have a lot of laws in place in Nigeria, but implementation is close to zero,” said NTUC Women’s Commission President Hafsat Shuaib. “But right now, we have [ILO Convention]190, which is really at the forefront for everybody. Together, we can put it into action. Eliminating gender-based violence and harassment is everybody’s business, and so we must all come together and fight against it. All hands must be on deck.”

From left: Chris Adebayo, Country Coordinator, Solidarity Center; Comrade Hafsat Shaibu, NTUC Women’s Commission President.

“Gender-based violence and harassment is criminal. It is a crime against the individual, it is a crime against humanity, and it is a crime against God. We are valued as human beings, as individuals. We work to earn a living, and earning a living does not include [access to] our bodies,” said Rita Goyit, head of the Women and Youth Empowerment Department for the NLC.

Left to right: Comrade Rita Goyit, head of the Women and Youth Empowerment Department for the NLC; Ms. Toyin Falaiye, global labor lawyers’ network ILAW.

After the panel session, the play set the stage for a narrative exploring the toxic nature of abuse of power that fuels GBVH in the world of work by introducing Mista Silas, a perpetrator of GBVH, in his office. With an air of entitlement, he disregards women’s autonomy, seeing them merely as objects for male pleasure. 

As the story unfolds, it highlights the insidious nature of GBVH and the attitudes that perpetuates it. Mista Silas’s words and actions exact an emotional and psychological toll on his victims, confronting the audience with the harsh realities many women face in the workplace.

The women experience harrowing harassment and retaliation for refusing Mista Silas’s advances, portraying survivors’ trauma and resistance. Their synchronized movements and harmonized voices evoke the solidarity and strength found in shared experiences and illustrate the widespread impact of GBVH and the courage required to stand against it.

By understanding the experiences of those affected by GBVH in the workplace, we can raise awareness and cultivate empathy and a more profound commitment to fostering safe and respectful workplaces.

The play is a call to action. It underscores the importance of implementing effective policies and support systems to protect and empower all workers. Workplaces must collectively strive to create environments where everyone feels valued, respected and safe.

The audience responded to the performance with a standing ovation. Some wiped away tears, while others expressed gratitude and requested additional information from the Solidarity Center. Audible murmurs and gasps of shock and empathy were heard throughout the performance, especially during scenes depicting abusive experiences. The play’s power to elicit such emotional reactions highlights the effectiveness of storytelling and the personalization of the issue of gender-based violence and harassment. 

From left: Sophie Hart, MEL, USDOL, and Marie Ledan, Grant Officer’s Representative, USDOL, giving special remarks.

In their closing remarks, Sophie Hart and Marie Ledan, representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, reiterated the importance of addressing gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work and thanked the Solidarity Center for using the arts and storytelling to raise awareness of the issue.

Watch highlights.

Joining Together, Building Power, Ending Gender Violence at Work

Joining Together, Building Power, Ending Gender Violence at Work

Sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence are rampant in garment factories in Bangladesh and throughout the textile production and retail industry in South Africa, according to two recently published Solidarity Center reports. The sample surveys are among a broad spectrum of outreach by Solidarity Center partners who also are addressing gender inequities through awareness efforts among informal economy workers and workers with disabilities in Nigeria, in labor rights and career workshops in Armenia and Georgia, and among app-based drivers in multiple countries.

In addressing the root causes of GBVH in the world of work, a priority for the Solidarity Center, workers and civil society join together to advocate collectively beyond the workplace to push for policy and legal reform, expanding democracy.

November 25 marks the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an annual  international campaign in which union activists stand in solidarity with women’s rights activists to highlight the prevalence of GBVH at the workplace and to support feminist movements around the world in calling for a world free from GBVH. The campaign culminates on December 10, Human Rights Day.

As activists mobilize worldwide, here’s a snapshot of how Solidarity Center and its partners are moving forward efforts to end GBVH at the workplace and achieve decent, inclusive work for all.

Garment Industry: Rife with GBVH

Bangladesh garment workers, standing up to gender-based violence at work with their unions, Solidarity CenterBecause so little data exists on the prevalence of GBVH at workplaces, union activists and their allies in Bangladesh and South Africa sought to document workers’ experiences at garment factories and clothing outlets. Solidarity Center partners previously conducted similar studies in Cambodia, Indonesia and Nigeria.

In South Africa, 98 percent of the 117 workers surveyed said they had experienced one or more forms of GBVH at work. The Bangladesh survey found severe outcomes for workers who experienced GBVH at work, with 89 percent saying they “broke down mentally” and 45 percent reporting leaving their jobs temporarily and/or losing pay. The survey involved 120 workers in 103 garment factories and was conducted by 21 activists from grassroots and worker organizations.

In many cases, workers’ jobs and wages were at risk if they did not agree to sex with employers or managers. In Bangladesh, 57 percent of survey participants said they lost their jobs because they refused such overtures. As one survey participant in South Africa said:

“My manager called me to his office and said that if I want to extend my hours of work, I must go out with him. He kept on asking, even forcefully and aggressively … I heard from other women workers that he had also asked them.” Survey participants were not identified for their safety.

Both surveys were conducted through participatory action research, rooted in collaboration, education, developing skills and centered on a “Do No Harm” ethos to avoid re-traumatizing interviewees. Through worker-driven strategies to address and prevent GBVH in the garment sector, the processes created a set of recommendations including urging employers to enforce zero tolerance policies for GBVH and for unions to prioritize GBVH prevention and make women worker safety a core union priority.

Key to the recommendations is ratification and enforcement of an international treaty on ending violence and harassment at work. Convention 190 was approved by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2019 after a decade-long campaign led in part by the Solidarity Center and its partners. C190 now must be ratified by governments, and union activists are mobilizing members and allies in ratification campaigns that include awareness-raising about GBVH at work. South African unions, led by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), successfully pushed for ratification in 2021. 

Reaching Marginalized Workers

Nigeria, Lagos market, informal economy workers, gender-based violence and harassment at work, Solidarity Center

Amina Lawal, a Solidarity Center-trained GBVH researcher, leads the way for Nigerian Labor Congress leaders in Lagos’s Mile 12 market. Credit Solidarity Center / Nkechi Odinukwe

In Nigeria, union activists are using awareness raising to address the intersecting challenges facing workers with disabilities who also experience GBVH and gender discrimination at work. Through a weekly radio program and public service ads, the program elevates the voices of workers with disabilities who already are marginalized because of their status, providing a platform where they discuss their concerns around GBVH and access to equal rights to work and pay.

The program stems from recommendations in a survey of more than 600 workers with disabilities in Nigeria by the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) to create mass awareness of disability rights and GBVH. 

The radio program also is an avenue to reach workers in Nigeria’s large informal economy. Following the adoption of C190, union leaders at the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), with Solidarity Center support, began training vendors at the sprawling Mile 12 market in Lagos. The vendors formed a GBVH task force that worked with the NLC to develop a market code of conduct covering gender-based violence and harassment and helped raise awareness among vendors about their rights to a violence-free workplace. 

Their outreach resulted in the identification of multiple cases of rape and sexual assault against minors, who often assist their parents in the market. Five people have been arrested and now are awaiting trial for allegedly violating the rights of children between 9 and 14 years old, said Agnes Funmi Sessi, NLC Lagos State Council chairperson.    

Building Leadership Skills, Building Power

Armenia, professional development for young women, Solidarity Center, worker rights, unions

The OxYGen foundation in Armenia, with Solidarity Center support, held “Women for Labor Rights” seminars this year as part of its professional empowerment network. Credit: Solidarity Center

Building leadership and power within historically marginalized populations to take on issues and traditional hierarchies is a key part of Solidarity Center’s focus on ensuring equality and inclusion at the workplace. 

In Armenia and Georgia, young women workers are learning crucial employment skills as part of Strengthening Women’s Participation in the Workforce, a Solidarity Center-supported program in partnership with professional networks and other civil society organizations. The project seeks to increase women’s full, equal and safe participation in the workforce, including vulnerable women workers’ access to decent work. Training sessions include exposure to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions and other career development, and cover labor rights, including the right to a safe and healthy workplace. The programs reach women in rural areas, many of whom are marginalized with limited access to job opportunities and skills building.

In Armenia, where the project operates as the Women Professional Empowerment Network (WPEN), young women take part in an interactive exchange that fosters the development of a supportive network and includes upskilling and raising awareness of employment opportunities, along with advice and guidance about the most in-demand new careers.

Women Delivery Drivers Stand Strong Together

UNIDAPP President Luz Myriam Fique Cardenas, Colombia, platform workers, delivery drivers, app-based workers, gig workers

“Not just in Colombia, but worldwide, women are always the ones that are the most vulnerable and paid the worst”—Luz Myriam Fique Cárdenas. Credit: UNIDAPP_Jhonniel Colina

Addressing GBVH is an essential part of campaigns mobilizing app-based drivers to achieve their rights on the job, including the freedom to form unions, as the safety risks they face every day are especially compounded for women platform workers.

“Not just in Colombia, but worldwide, women are always the ones that are the most vulnerable and paid the worst,” Luz Myriam Fique Cárdenas told participants earlier this year at a Solidarity Center-sponsored event, Women Workers Organizing: Transforming the Gig Economy through Collective Action. “We suffer harassment. We don’t have security in the streets because we’re women,” said Cárdenas, president of Unión de Trabajadores de Plataformas (Union of Platform Workers, UNIDAPP) in Colombia. 

Recently in Mexico, the Solidarity Center hosted women delivery drivers from seven countries in Latin America and in Nigeria. The eight unions participating agreed on five key gender-focused points for inclusion in the Convention on Decent Work on Digital Platforms now being drafted for consideration by the ILO. The women leaders at the Alza La Voz (Raise Our Voice) forum are planning a joint campaign to ensure the convention addresses the specific challenges women app-based workers face. 

As throughout the campaigns to end GBVH at work, women app-based drivers are finding strength in joining together and experiencing the power to improve working conditions through collective action.

“We have to create alliances,” Shair Tovar, gender secretary of the National Union of Digital Workers (UNTA) in Mexico, told participants. “Women can achieve enormous things together.”

Pandemic a ‘Cruel Joke’ Say Migrant Kyrgyz Women Working in Russia

Pandemic a ‘Cruel Joke’ Say Migrant Kyrgyz Women Working in Russia

Women and workers from marginalized communities suffered disproportionately from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new survey details the effects on Kyrgyz migrant workers in Russia.

The survey of almost 300 Kyrgyz women who are dependent on precarious, low-wage jobs in Russia finds that the pandemic exacerbated migrant workers’ vulnerability to economic precarity and that women migrant workers reported brutal conditions on the job, including sexual violence. Almost half a million Kyrgyz women were working in Russia in 2021.

The survey compiled data from Kyrgyz women working in Russia in caregiving, catering, domestic and janitorial work and garment manufacturing and retail sectors in 19 Russian cities, including Moscow, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg. The survey was conducted by local non-governmental organization Insan-Leilek Public Foundation, a long-time partner of the Solidarity Center in advocating for the rights of migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan.

“The pandemic played such a cruel joke on us,” said a survey respondent. (For their protection, respondents are quoted anonymously.) “They start with migrants; they are the first to be fired.”

Respondents reported increased health precarity during the pandemic due to limited non-resident medical services and higher virus exposure while working service jobs, as well as increased financial precarity following mass service-sector and retail layoffs. Without formal written work agreements—common for migrant workers and a violation of their rights under Russian labor law—many lost their incomes without compensation, which increased their food insecurity and other economic hardships.

Rampant Worker Rights Violations, Including GBVH
  • Many respondents reported health and safety violations and loss of dignity at work due to migrant status, unregulated use of chemicals and rampant sexual or other gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) by employers, supervisors and customers.
  • Sexual violence was common. Fourteen percent of those surveyed reported rape; two were victims of gang rape in their workplaces.
  • Sexual harassment was widely reported. Forty percent of participants said they were subject at work to comments about their bodies, obscene jokes and sexually suggestive gestures. Twenty percent reported violation of their personal boundaries, such as men touching their waist, breasts, buttocks and other parts of the body.
  • More than half of the respondents were working without contracts, leaving them without legal protection and vulnerable to the whims of employers—many of whom reportedly refused to sign employment contracts at the time of hiring.
  • More than two thirds of the women reported encountered discrimination at the workplace. Of that number, two thirds attributed it to their migrant status; half said it was because of their gender.
  • Many respondents reported wage and working conditions in violation of Russia’s labor code, including a quarter of respondents who suffered wage payment delays, half who did not receive overtime pay and four-fifths who were denied paid sick and holiday leave.
  • Half of respondents reporting rights violations did not know where to turn for help or were afraid to talk about it.

“I don’t want to seek help and it’s impossible to seek help,” said a survey respondent who reported being touched sexually at work but feared deportation if she reported the abuse.

Based on survey findings, Insan-Leilek made recommendations to the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Russia to better protect migrant Kyrgyz women, including a greater role for the Trade Union of Migrants of the Kyrgyz Republic, pre-departure worker rights training for those migrating to Russia for work and the creation of migrant crisis centers to provide emergency shelter as well as legal, medical and psychological aid. To address GBVH suffered by women Kyrgyz migrants in the world of work, union women are demanding ratification of UN International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190).

Many Kyrgyz citizens are forced to move to other countries to earn their livelihoods because of limited economic opportunities in Kyrgyzstan, where a third of the population lives below the national poverty line and migrant remittances in 2022 represented 30 percent of the country’s GDP. 

 

M-POWER SUMMIT: Program to End Violence, Harassment Changing the Dynamic in Lesotho

M-POWER SUMMIT: Program to End Violence, Harassment Changing the Dynamic in Lesotho

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M-POWER SUMMIT: Program to End Violence, Harassment Changing the Dynamic in Lesotho
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An unprecedented, binding, worker-centered program designed to comprehensively address rampant gender-based violence and harassment in several garment factories in Lesotho is succeeding in creating a safe and dignified workplace in Lesotho, attendees of a high-level summit in the southern African country were told last week.

The July 27 summit, “Eradicating Gender-Based Violence and Harassment at Work in Southern Africa,” brought together government, labor and business leaders in Maseru, Lesotho’s capital, to highlight advances in ensuring worker rights and civil-society participation—including the program that arose from groundbreaking, anti-GVBH agreements negotiated collaboratively by local unions and women’s rights groups, multinational brands sourcing from Lesotho, international worker rights groups and a Taiwanese factory group producing clothing for Western markets. The event was co-hosted by the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment and Rights (M-POWER), the Lesotho Federation of Trade Unions and Lesotho Labor Council, and was supported by the Solidarity Center.

“I experienced so much harassment at the factory before the program at Nien Hsing was established,” said garment worker Popoti Ntebe. “Because of the high level of unemployment in our country, workers tend to be harassed because of poverty.”

Before the program launched in 2020, Ntebe said a variety of behaviors by supervisors and managers were common, including bullying, verbal and physical abuse, and sexual harassment. The desperation to have a paying job made workers vulnerable to situations where supervisors would demand sex for letting workers past the factory gate, granting overtime work or not terminating a work contract. 

“After you were hired, you were given a 3-month contract. Supervisors threaten to terminate the contract if we don’t agree to have sex with them. And workers desperate for work agree,” she said.

However, since the program of education and awareness raising for workers and managers, “the rate of GBVH has really decreased. This program is so beneficial to workers,” she said.

The program has educated thousands of workers and managers about GBVH and worker rights at Nien Hsing factories in the country. It is the first attempt to end GBVH at work that is binding on the factory to implement the program; enforceable through the economic power of U.S. brands; and grounded in ILO Convention 190 on violence and harassment. And, in another milestone, it established an independent organization, Workers’ Rights Watch, to investigate allegations of violence and harassment, and remediate violations–with workers able to report issues to a newly established toll-free information line.  

Other speakers on the panel, “How Workers and Companies are Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in a Global Supply Chain: Focus on the Lesotho Agreements,” were: Jeffrey Hogue, chief sustainability officer, Levi Strauss & Co. (by video); Samuel Mokhele, secretary general, National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU); Matsie Moalosi, education and awareness raising facilitator, NACTWU; Itumeleng Moerane, information line manager, Federation of Women Lawyers Lesotho (FIDA); Motseoa Senyane, lead assessor, Workers’ Rights Watch;  and Leeto Makoro, shop steward, Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL). Thusoana Ntlama, programs coordinator of FIDA Lesotho, moderated the panel.

Samuel Mokhele emphasized the importance of collaboration in addressing GBVH in Lesotho’s garment factories. “We came together with international organizations we are working with, namely the Solidarity Center, then we asked what we can do to eliminate the challenges that workers are facing at work,” he said. “We learned from other countries what kind of models they had and how we could domesticate that into our country.

“This is where all of us came up with the agreement to have a program on gender-based violence and harassment,” Mokhele added. 

Speaking on behalf of educators and facilitators, Matsie Moalosi stressed the importance of addressing the root causes of GBVH and collaboration across cultures in addressing GBVH. “There are root causes to GBVH. So we have to remove them: the abuse of power, disrespect of women’s rights and gender equity. We are from different cultures. So we have to know about gender and how it’s diverse in order to accommodate LGBTQIA+ because they are people who are most vulnerable in the workplace,” Moalosi said.

Itumeleng Moerane and Motseoa Senyane emphasized the importance of the principle of confidentiality throughout the process of gathering workers’ reports of GBVH through the information line, then investigating and making determinations on remedies for valid cases, with the express consent of workers. 

To date, Senyane said, Workers’ Rights Watch has issued 108 determinations, and five cases are currently under investigation. 

But, more importantly, she said, “This program puts justice in the hands of workers.”

The program’s power to right injustices has elicited calls from workers in other factories and organizations, panelists said. Currently, the work is limited to factories owned by Nien Hsing, a signatory to the agreements. However, the need is great. 

“Some of our (union) members are interested in the program but it’s only at Nien Hsing, as a pilot. It would be helpful to extend it to other factories,” said Mokhele.

M-POWER is a historic global initiative focused on ensuring working families thrive in the global economy and elevating the role of trade unions and organized workers as essential to advancing democracy. The government of the United States and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) co-chair M-POWER, joined by steering committee members: the governments of Argentina, Canada and Spain; the International Domestic Worker Federation; the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); the AFL-CIO; and Funders Organized for Rights in the Global Economy (FORGE). Additional partners include the governments of Germany and South Africa, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum, ProDESC, Solidarity Center and Worker Rights Consortium.

Event partners for this M-POWER summit were: the Congress of South African Trade Unions; Federation of Women Lawyers Lesotho; Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho; International Domestic Workers Federation; International Trade Union Confederation-Africa; International Trade Union Confederation; National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers Union; Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council; United Textile Employees, Lesotho; Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust; Worker Rights Consortium and Workers’ Rights Watch.

View a photo essay covering the summit in full.

Kyrgyzstan: Women Workers Winning Protection Against Gender Violence

Kyrgyzstan: Women Workers Winning Protection Against Gender Violence

To address obstacles preventing elimination of gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work, union women and their allies marked International Women’s Day with a public event advocating for ratification of UN International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190).

Women in Kyrgyzstan are routinely subjected to various forms of discrimination—including unequal pay and lack of opportunities for career advancement—and harassment that includes sexual harassment, verbal abuse and even mockery, said Textile and Light Industry Trade Union Chairman Almash Zharkynbaeva.

“[GBVH] harms women’s mental health and well-being, leading to long-term emotional and psychological trauma,” says Zharkynbaeva.

The event was convened to recognize publication of a March 2 ratification motion that moved the draft law to parliament and, on March 8 International Women’s Day, opened the draft law to public comment on Kyrgyzstan’s draft law public discussion portal.

Publication of the draft law represents a three-year Solidarity Center campaign to educate government officials, labor inspectors, unions and the public on the use of C190 to end violence and harassment in the world of work. The Solidarity Center secured commitments from trade unions and parliamentarians to support the ratification process, advised on language now included in three union bargaining agreements to protect workers from violence and harassment, and coordinated a sectoral union campaign appealing to the Ministry of Labor for ratification of C190.

The convention is a powerful tool to combat discrimination and harassment in the world of work, says Eldiyar Karachalov, chair of the Republican Committee of the Trade Union of Construction and Building Materials Workers, but significant progress will require unwavering commitment from employers, workers and the government.

C190 was adopted during the ILO’s annual meeting in Geneva in 2019 following a decade-long campaign by women trade unionists and feminist activists, led by the International Trade Union Confederation, the Solidarity Center and other labor allies. Since 2019, 25 countries have ratified the convention, of which ten have begun enforcement.

Hear more about the global campaign to end GBVH in the world of work.

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