Violence is not part of the job. For any of us

A study on violence and harassment at work found that 20 of 80 countries surveyed had no laws to protect workers from retaliation if they reported sexual harassment, and 19 did not even have a legal definition of sexual harassment at work, writes the Solidarity Center’s Lisa McGowan. But there is a way forward. Hundreds of workers, their unions and human rights allies are at the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva this week and next, where they are pushing for a global rule that includes include strong protections against gender-based violence at work.

‘YES to Ratification of ILO C190!’

‘YES to Ratification of ILO C190!’

In June 2019, the International Labor Organization adopted Convention 190, along with Recommendation 206, the first global binding treaty to address gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work. The treaty calls on governments, employers and unions to work together to confront the root causes of GBVH, including multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, gender stereotypes and unequal gender-based power relationships.

Women trade unionists and feminist activists campaigned for more than a decade to make this historic victory possible, led by the International Trade Union Confederation, the Solidarity Center and other labor allies. One year later, women from around the world who led the fight reflect on what has changed in the last year, discuss their current plans to ensure ratification and implementation of C190/R206, and envision the changes necessary to end GBVH in the world of work.

“We are commemorating the one-year of the passage of Convention 190, a vitally important convention that addressed one of the most pressing issues facing workers, violence and harassment in the world of work,” says Rosana Fernandes, at the Secretariat of the Committee to Combat Racism of CUT in Brazil. C190 “has translated into many victories—it has opened new areas of dialogue and negotiation for local unions with employers in their collective bargaining agreements, ranging from use of bathrooms to verbal abuse.” (See more videos with union activists on C190 here.)

Creating Space to End the Culture of Silence and Create Change in the Workplace

Since C190’s adoption by governments, employers and worker representatives one year ago, unions have conducted extensive education and awareness training among members, a process that has mobilized members to confront GBVH at their workplaces through collective bargaining.

“The Nigerian Labor Congress has strategically mainstreamed Convention 190 into all programs, activities and events to popularize and continuously sensitize our members and all workers,” says Mercy Okezie, chairperson of the NLC Women Commission.

The NLC has undertaken actions, including “media campaigns, advocacy and engagement with the government,” says Rita Goyit, head of the NLC Women and Youth Department and Secretary of National Women Commission. “There is increased outcry against gender-based violence. People are also ready to speak out to condemn such actions.”

In Indonesia, “many trade unions have also initiated keeping records of cases and victims of violence and harassment in the world of work, says Sumiyati, chairperson for Women and Children’s Affairs at the National Industrial Workers Union Federation (SPN–NIWUF), a Solidarity Center partner. “Another positive thing we have identified is that some companies, through their management, join our forces in campaigning for the elimination of all forms of violence and harassment in the world of work.”

“We have seen changes in the way some unions have negotiated their collective bargaining agreements,” says Rose Omano, national chair at the Central Organization of Trade Unions in Kenya. The union is planning to push for negotiations with employers “so that we can have a modern collective bargaining agreement that talks about GBV at the workplace. It is also very important for us to educate women, educate men, educate young girls and boys on the effects of gender-based violence on the workplace.”

“We are working on an education campaign with print materials and social media information to empower the working class and our members to stand up against violence and harassment,” says Francisco Xavier Santana, director of Bahia Domestic Workers Union.

Cida Trajano, president of the CNTRV national garment workers federation in Brazil, says “we have worked to build the capacity of workers, women and men, to confront and prevent gender-based violence in the world of work, and included these demands in our negotiating platforms. We are organizing to hold employers accountable for their responsibility to prevent and eradicate GBVH.”

“When we address gender inequality and violence as union issues, it means we, as women, can set an agenda in our organizations, in our collective bargaining agreements and in our political advocacy,” says Cassia Bufelli, vice president of the UGT confederation in Brazil.

COVID-19 Highlights Connection Between Violence at Home and Work

Many sisters from Solidarity Center partner unions reflected on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that it has left women in particular more vulnerable to GBVH, including the impact of domestic violence on the workplace.

“Gender-based violence has increased to the extent that in the first eleven days of the COVID-19 lockdown, we had 700 cases of gender-based violence, ” says Fiona Magaya, gender coordinator for the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

C190/R206 explicitly recognized the profound impact of domestic violence in the workplace, and calls on governments and employers to address its impact on worker safety, dignity and health and its broader effects on the full and equal participation of women in the economy and society.

Women—the primary targets of domestic abuse—have struggled to protect themselves and their children, often while attempting to continue working or weathering recent unemployment in an unsafe home. For many women around the world, including child care workers, in-home healthcare workers, cleaners and other domestic workers, as well as many small enterprise handicrafters, a home already was their workplace.

“We need to ensure all our sisters and brothers and comrades can work free from violence,” says Andrea Morales Perez, secretary general of FETRADOMOV, a domestic worker union in Nicaragua. “This pandemic has left us even more vulnerable, and suffering even more rights violations—and highlights the importance of the work of domestic workers.”

“GBVH is so common that it has come to be seen as a normal part of our work or something that should not be questioned. Domestic workers are more exposed and vulnerable to violence at work than those in some other sectors for reasons including: asymmetrical power relationships, isolation, under-recognition of this occupation as work, and insufficient, ineffective legal protections,” says Maria Isidra Llanos, co-secretary general of SINACTRAHO Mexico.

“We face growing violence in the workplace in our society, especially in the context of the COVID crisis,” says Marcia Viana, secretary general of Sorocaba Garment Workers Union in Brazil. “In São Paulo, we are launching a campaign with all the unions in our state to combat violence against women, to create a moment to engage workers and employers to end violence in our workplaces and our society.”

Says Solidarity Center Equality and Inclusion Co-Director Robin Runge: “By raising broad awareness of the intricate connection between domestic violence and violence in the world of work, this unprecedented crisis offers a significant opportunity for the type of education and awareness-raising among among governments, employers and the broader public that can ensure the right to a violence-free workplace, one that is protected under international law.”

Unions Urge Ratification of C190 Around the World

Just as women trade unionists led the struggle to win C190/R206, they are now at the forefront of the struggle to ensure governments widely ratify and implement its framework. Uruguay recently became the the first country to officially ratify C190, with several others expected to do so in the coming months. Women trade unionists have been pushing governments around the world to ratify C190/R206.

“We urge our government to ratify, implement, and enforce Convention 190 on its one-year anniversary,” says Silma Perez, president of SINTRAHO in Honduras. “We are domestic workers and must defend our rights,” states Miriam Sanchez, also of SINTRAHO.

“Convention 190 is an important tool for us to be able to denounce abuses, the Brazilian government must ratify this convention,” says Luiza Batista, president of FENATRAD, Brazil. “The struggle continues.”

“This is especially important for us as women workers, who face constant harassment and violence, we need ratification in Paraguay, and we need real enforcement and implementation,” says Marcia Santander, Secretary General of SINTRADESPY in Paraguay.

In Ukraine, “we talk about C190 ratification at every government meeting,” says KVPU vice president and gender committee head, Nataliya Levytska. “We need to protect workers from violence at the workplace. Employers, government and trade unions must do everything to ratify the convention. Recently, we provided our proposals to the National Action Plan to the National Human Rights Strategy to ratify C190 and implementation of its norms into Ukrainian legislation. We hope that our proposals will be implemented.”

“We as trade unions must do everything to ratify C190 and to eradicate violence at the work. Our workers deserve protection.”

“In C190, we find the mechanisms that will enable us prevent and and defend workers against violence and harassment. Up with women! Together we will win!” says Selfa Sandoval, SITRABI Izabal banana workers union in Guatemala. Sandoval is also coordinator for Gender Equality of the Latin American Coordinating Body of Banana and Agricultural Unions (COLSIBA).

“In El Salvador, we are fighting to ratify Convention 190, a tool that will help us eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work,” says Marta Zaldaña, secretary general of FEASIES federation in El Salvador. “YES to ratification of ILO C190!”

Through education, mobilization and advocacy on a global scale, workers and their unions are taking the lead in this transformative change.

Union Women Rock 16 Days of Activism Against GBVH

Union Women Rock 16 Days of Activism Against GBVH

During the recent 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, workers and their unions from Honduras to Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Nigeria and Bangladesh made big gains raising awareness about gender-based violence and harassment at work (GBVH) and demanding that their governments ratify the new global convention adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) that includes GBVH.

With Solidarity Center support, more than 23 unions, worker associations, and their allies in more than a dozen countries issued statements urging their governments ratify ILO Convention 190. Adopted by the ILO in June, C190 is a global treaty to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work that includes gender-based violence and harassment. C190 will become effective for all ILO members states ILO 12 months after two governments ratify it. On December 17, Uruguay became the first country to ratify C190.

Nigeria, 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women, Solidarity Center

Members of the Nigeria Labor Congress held a series of actions throughout the 16 Days Campaign. Credit: Solidarity Center/Nkechi Odinukwe

Solidarity Center union partners far exceeded the organization’s goal for the 16 Days Campaign: 16 letters or statements of support sent from unions and worker associations to their governments urging ratification of C190 in 16 days.

“Women trade union leaders continue to build on the momentum that led to the votes in support of adoption of C190 by an overwhelming majority of governments at the ILO in June, and now their leadership continues as unions and their allies demand that their governments follow up with their commitment by ratifying C190,” says Robin Runge, co-director of the Solidarity Center Equality and Inclusion Department.

“Only through ratification and implementation can the goals of C190 of preventing and addressing GBVH in the world of work be achieved.”

From Union Hall to Parliament Floor

In campaigning for ratification, union women leaders are explaining the need for unions, employers and governments to adopt the broad definition of GBVH in C190, which reflects the experiences of women and other vulnerable workers.

C190 states that gender-based violence and harassment is directed at people because of their sex or gender, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, and includes sexual harassment.” C190’s strong language also covers all workers—formal and informal—regardless of their contractual status and how work is performed, and it covers the commute to work, at employer-provided accommodations and in work-related communications, including information and communication technologies.

For the first time in a global binding agreement, C190 recognizes the right to work free from violence and harassment, including GBVH. Union activists and women’s rights and anti-violence allies also are springing off the global repudiation of gender-based violence and harassment at work embodied in C190 to advocate changes in national laws and policies to address and prevent GBVH.

Georgia, 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence, Solidarity Center

In Ukraine, members of  KPVU, a Solidarity Center partner, developed a campaign against violence and harassment at work and  ratification of Convention 190. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tatiana Solodovnyk

Solidarity Center facilitated action by union partners around the globe throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (November 25–December 10).

In Bangladesh, for instance, migrant workers joined garment workers to call attention to the connected issues of gender-based violence at work and the rights of domestic workers, rallying together and forming human chains at the Department of Immigration and Passports and other government buildings. Together, they called for the government to ratify Convention 190 and ILO Convention 189 on the rights of domestic workers. Each year, more than 400,000 Bangladeshis migrate for employment to other countries, the vast majority of them for domestic work in private homes, where they are isolated and often subject to harassment and violence with little access to support.

Union leaders from the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) and the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) took their message directly to Parliament. Speaking on the floor of Parliament, Touriya Lahrech, a member of the Moroccan Parliament and CDT leader and Amal Al Amri, a member of the ILO governing body and UMT executive board member, called on the government to ratify ILO Convention 190.

In Kyrgyzstan, where 13 unions signed a joint statement urging the government to ratify C190, a recent survey by the Kyrgyzstan Association of Women Judges found some 80 percent of women workers in the public sector say they have experienced GBVH at the workplace. With support from the Solidarity Center, more than 60 union members and representatives from government agencies, Parliament, unions and employers’ organizations took part in a December 6–7 workshop on gender discrimination (below).

Kyrgyzstan, 16 days of Action on Gender-Based Violence Against Women at work, Solidarity Center

Following the training, the Women MPs Forum, together with MPs, international organizations and NGOs prepared amendments to national legislation covering GBVH at work. The Labor Ministry representative and women MPs agreed that C190 ratification will be an important “umbrella” for further amendments to the national legislation covering the GVBH at work, says Lola Abdukadyrova, Solidarity Center program coordinator in Biskek, the Kygyrz capital.

The National Confederation of Apparel Workers (CNTRV) union in Brazil released a report that found the vast majority of women in Brazil’s textile and shoe factories who took part in the 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.”

“Obviously it was very shocking to us when we received the results of the report to understand the extent of violence at the workplace,” CNTRV President Francisca Trajano. “At the same time it’s a wake up call to do something about it.”

Cartoons, Campaigns and ‘Orange the World’

Here’s a small glimpse of more of the many actions.

Honduras, Ratify Convention 190 poster, Network Against Violence Against Unions, Solidarity Center

The Network Against Anti-Union Violence in Honduras, a Solidarity Center partner, commemorated International Day of Violence Against Women by demanding on Facebook that the National Congress of Honduras ratify Convention 190.

  • SITRADOMSA, a domestic worker union in Guatemala and Solidarity Center partner, held a vigil to commemorate the violent deaths of women. “We also remember women domestic workers who have died violently from employers,” the union said. Despite the fierce opposition of Central American governments to C190 ratification, nearly 10 major union federations and worker associations in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Honduras took public actions to denounce GBVH at work and call for C190 ratification.
    .
  • Union activists in Nigeria held a gender equality workshop that included a representative from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Nigerian Labor Congress members and attended a candlelight vigil for women targets of domestic violence.
  • The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) developed a cartoon campaign poster (below) to advocate for C190 ratification and held awareness-raising campaigns in seven regions, reaching union members in one-third of Tunisia.
    Tunisia, gender-based violence at work poster, Solidarity Center, UGTT
  • The Solidarity Center Gender Forum in Georgia held two one-day workshops across the country, aiming to increase the awareness of municipal workers about C190 and gender-based discrimination in labor relations. The Women’s Committee and Legal Committee of the Georgia Trade Union Confederation also held open offices in Tbilisi, Gori and Mtskheta to increase public awareness about C190 and GBVH at work.
  • In Jaffna, Sri Lanka (below), Solidarity Center staff joined the GBV Action Committee of the Jaffna District Secretariat who are becoming trainers on gender-based violence at work issues. Jaffna’s GBV Secretariat is charged with creating awareness about gender-based violence at work and addressing harassment-related complaints.
    Jaffna, Sri Lanka, gender-based violence at work training, Solidarity Center
  • In Thailand, union members staged a public action at a Bangkok train station to raise awareness about the impact of all forms of violence in the world of work as part of their “Stop Violence against Women” campaign. They also urged the government to ratify ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment at work. Train passengers joined the union members in a photo session.
  • Solidarity Center partner Sitradotrans, the Union of Trans Domestic Workers and Various Trades of Nicaragua, marched in Managua, the capital, calling for ratification of Convention 190 and a world without violence.
  • The Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Jordan drafted a letter to the government and collected signatures from their civil society and political parties partners to submit to the government and parliament, and took part in the global media campaign calling for ratification.

Solidarity Center partners see the effort as part of a broad and ongoing campaign to end gender-based violence at work.

“Ratification of C190 is a first step,” says Natalya Levytska, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) deputy chair and Gender Committee leader.

“The GBVH campaign is long-term—it’s about building a movement, changing perception and public awareness around the issue. Through educating and mobilizing union members who will build a grassroots movement, and by working with lawmakers in Parliament, we see a two-pronged strategy for success.”

Union Women Rock 16 Days of Activism Against GBVH

Union Women Rock 16 Days of Activism Against GBVH

During the recent 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, workers and their unions from Honduras to Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Nigeria and Bangladesh made big gains raising awareness about gender-based violence and harassment at work (GBVH) and demanding that their governments ratify the new global convention adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) that includes GBVH.

With Solidarity Center support, more than 23 unions, worker associations, and their allies in more than a dozen countries issued statements urging their governments ratify ILO Convention 190. Adopted by the ILO in June, C190 is a global treaty to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work that includes gender-based violence and harassment. C190 will become effective for all ILO members states ILO 12 months after two governments ratify it. On December 17, Uruguay became the first country to ratify C190.

Nigeria, 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women, Solidarity Center
Members of the Nigeria Labor Congress held a series of actions throughout the 16 Days Campaign. Credit: Solidarity Center/Nkechi Odinukwe

Solidarity Center union partners far exceeded the organization’s goal for the 16 Days Campaign: 16 letters or statements of support sent from unions and worker associations to their governments urging ratification of C190 in 16 days.

“Women trade union leaders continue to build on the momentum that led to the votes in support of adoption of C190 by an overwhelming majority of governments at the ILO in June, and now their leadership continues as unions and their allies demand that their governments follow up with their commitment by ratifying C190,” says Robin Runge, co-director of the Solidarity Center Equality and Inclusion Department.

“Only through ratification and implementation can the goals of C190 of preventing and addressing GBVH in the world of work be achieved.”

From Union Hall to Parliament Floor

In campaigning for ratification, union women leaders are explaining the need for unions, employers and governments to adopt the broad definition of GBVH in C190, which reflects the experiences of women and other vulnerable workers.

C190 states that gender-based violence and harassment is directed at people because of their sex or gender, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, and includes sexual harassment.” C190’s strong language also covers all workers—formal and informal—regardless of their contractual status and how work is performed, and it covers the commute to work, at employer-provided accommodations and in work-related communications, including information and communication technologies.

For the first time in a global binding agreement, C190 recognizes the right to work free from violence and harassment, including GBVH. Union activists and women’s rights and anti-violence allies also are springing off the global repudiation of gender-based violence and harassment at work embodied in C190 to advocate changes in national laws and policies to address and prevent GBVH.

Georgia, 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence, Solidarity Center
In Ukraine, members of  KPVU, a Solidarity Center partner, developed a campaign against violence and harassment at work and  ratification of Convention 190. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tatiana Solodovnyk

Solidarity Center facilitated action by union partners around the globe throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (November 25–December 10).

In Bangladesh, for instance, migrant workers joined garment workers to call attention to the connected issues of gender-based violence at work and the rights of domestic workers, rallying together and forming human chains at the Department of Immigration and Passports and other government buildings. Together, they called for the government to ratify Convention 190 and ILO Convention 189 on the rights of domestic workers. Each year, more than 400,000 Bangladeshis migrate for employment to other countries, the vast majority of them for domestic work in private homes, where they are isolated and often subject to harassment and violence with little access to support.

Union leaders from the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) and the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) took their message directly to Parliament. Speaking on the floor of Parliament, Touriya Lahrech, a member of the Moroccan Parliament and CDT leader and Amal Al Amri, a member of the ILO governing body and UMT executive board member, called on the government to ratify ILO Convention 190.

In Kyrgyzstan, where 13 unions signed a joint statement urging the government to ratify C190, a recent survey by the Kyrgyzstan Association of Women Judges found some 80 percent of women workers in the public sector say they have experienced GBVH at the workplace. With support from the Solidarity Center, more than 60 union members and representatives from government agencies, Parliament, unions and employers’ organizations took part in a December 6–7 workshop on gender discrimination (below).

Kyrgyzstan, 16 days of Action on Gender-Based Violence Against Women at work, Solidarity Center

Following the training, the Women MPs Forum, together with MPs, international organizations and NGOs prepared amendments to national legislation covering GBVH at work. The Labor Ministry representative and women MPs agreed that C190 ratification will be an important “umbrella” for further amendments to the national legislation covering the GVBH at work, says Lola Abdukadyrova, Solidarity Center program coordinator in Biskek, the Kygyrz capital.

The National Confederation of Apparel Workers (CNTRV) union in Brazil released a report that found the vast majority of women in Brazil’s textile and shoe factories who took part in the 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.”

“Obviously it was very shocking to us when we received the results of the report to understand the extent of violence at the workplace,” CNTRV President Francisca Trajano. “At the same time it’s a wake up call to do something about it.”

Cartoons, Campaigns and ‘Orange the World’

Here’s a small glimpse of more of the many actions.

Honduras, Ratify Convention 190 poster, Network Against Violence Against Unions, Solidarity Center
The Network Against Anti-Union Violence in Honduras, a Solidarity Center partner, commemorated International Day of Violence Against Women by demanding on Facebook that the National Congress of Honduras ratify Convention 190.
  • SITRADOMSA, a domestic worker union in Guatemala and Solidarity Center partner, held a vigil to commemorate the violent deaths of women. “We also remember women domestic workers who have died violently from employers,” the union said. Despite the fierce opposition of Central American governments to C190 ratification, nearly 10 major union federations and worker associations in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Honduras took public actions to denounce GBVH at work and call for C190 ratification.
    .
  • Union activists in Nigeria held a gender equality workshop that included a representative from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Nigerian Labor Congress members and attended a candlelight vigil for women targets of domestic violence.
  • The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) developed a cartoon campaign poster (below) to advocate for C190 ratification and held awareness-raising campaigns in seven regions, reaching union members in one-third of Tunisia.
    Tunisia, gender-based violence at work poster, Solidarity Center, UGTT
  • The Solidarity Center Gender Forum in Georgia held two one-day workshops across the country, aiming to increase the awareness of municipal workers about C190 and gender-based discrimination in labor relations. The Women’s Committee and Legal Committee of the Georgia Trade Union Confederation also held open offices in Tbilisi, Gori and Mtskheta to increase public awareness about C190 and GBVH at work.
  • In Jaffna, Sri Lanka (below), Solidarity Center staff joined the GBV Action Committee of the Jaffna District Secretariat who are becoming trainers on gender-based violence at work issues. Jaffna’s GBV Secretariat is charged with creating awareness about gender-based violence at work and addressing harassment-related complaints.
    Jaffna, Sri Lanka, gender-based violence at work training, Solidarity Center
  • In Thailand, union members staged a public action at a Bangkok train station to raise awareness about the impact of all forms of violence in the world of work as part of their “Stop Violence against Women” campaign. They also urged the government to ratify ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment at work. Train passengers joined the union members in a photo session.
  • Solidarity Center partner Sitradotrans, the Union of Trans Domestic Workers and Various Trades of Nicaragua, marched in Managua, the capital, calling for ratification of Convention 190 and a world without violence.
  • The Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Jordan drafted a letter to the government and collected signatures from their civil society and political parties partners to submit to the government and parliament, and took part in the global media campaign calling for ratification.

Solidarity Center partners see the effort as part of a broad and ongoing campaign to end gender-based violence at work.

“Ratification of C190 is a first step,” says Natalya Levytska, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) deputy chair and Gender Committee leader.

“The GBVH campaign is long-term—it’s about building a movement, changing perception and public awareness around the issue. Through educating and mobilizing union members who will build a grassroots movement, and by working with lawmakers in Parliament, we see a two-pronged strategy for success.”

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.”

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