Nearly one in two women journalists have experienced sexual harassment, psychological abuse, online trolling and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV) while working—yet “up to three-quarters of media workplaces have no reporting or support mechanism,” says broadcast journalist Mindy Ran, citing results of a survey survey released this month by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
Ran, IFJ Gender Council co-chair, overviewed the survey findings yesterday at the panel, “Challenging Impunity and GBV against Women Journalists and Media Workers,” one of dozens of parallel events taking place this week in conjunction with the 62nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City.
Without safe and structured systems for reporting gender-based violence at work, employees are less likely to seek assistance—and, as the survey found, 66 percent of journalists who had experienced some form of gender-based violence said they had made no formal complaint.
“It is clear that the current approaches have had limited impact. We’re here to get practical,” says Ran, who opened the panel which included six experts in media and gender-based violence from around the world.
Journalists, like other workers, also experience gender-based violence outside their workplace while doing their jobs. The IFJ survey of 400 women in 50 countries found that 38 percent of perpetrators were a boss or supervisor and 45 percent were people outside of the workplace (sources, politicians, readers or listeners). Thirty-nine percent were anonymous assailants, such as through cyber bullying.
Gender-based Violence at Work: Global Issue Needs Global Solution
Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, has seen a “severe increase in violence against women journalists both online and offline,” says Aimée Vega Montiel, a research specialist in feminist communications at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and vice-president of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR). Yet there is a “cycle of impunity” and “media companies are not ensuring safety for women journalists,” she says.
Zuliana Lainez Otero, president of the Latin American Federation of Journalists and IFJ executive council member, agrees. “Media owners, at least in Latin America, don’t offer protection,” says.
Marieke Koning from the ITUC and the CLC’s Vicky Smallman joined the IFJ discussion on gender-based violence at work. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Gender-based violence occurs around the world, and is one of the most prevalent human rights violations. Yet few laws address even some forms of gender-based violence at the workplace, and those are not enough or not enforced, further enabling employers to ignore the issue. Marieke Koning, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) policy advisor for gender equality, discussed how union activists, women’s rights champions and their allies can take action by joining the ITUC campaign for passage of an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention (standard) covering gender-based violence. Workers around the world could have access to a binding international standard covering gender-based violence at work after it is finalized.
The Solidarity Center has joined the campaign, which Koning says can give momentum to gender equality activists around the world, as did the years’ long effort leading to passage of the 2011 ILO Convention on domestic workers’ rights. Like the domestic workers’ campaign, which built powerful support networks around the world, Koning says, “we want to build alliances to pass the gender-based violence convention.”
Male Media Control ‘Should Be Next on Feminist Agenda’
Domestic violence also impacts those at the workplace, and Vicky Smallman, director of Women’s and Human Rights, Canadian Labor Congress (CLC), shared details of a CLC survey of more than 8,000 union members that found 67 percent had experienced domestic violence. Of those, 47 percent say they were prevented from going to work by their abuser and eight percent lost their jobs because of ramifications from their abuse.
Following the survey, the CLC went on help unions negotiate contracts with paid leave for workers experiencing domestic violence, and successfully lobbied two Canadian provinces to pass similar protections. Smallman credits the Australian union movement for taking the lead on the issue.
Several panelists discussed how the lack of data on women’s experiences in the workplace, and the rates of specific forms of gender-based violence at work hamper efforts to define and address the issues. Carolyn Byerly, chair of the Howard University Department of Communication, Culture and Media Studies, described the lack of representation by women in the media documented in Global Report on the. Status of Women in the News Media. As principal investigator of the report, Byerly says the gender imbalances are still valid 10 years after the report was published.
Byerly and others also warned that media consolidation is creating a global web of male structural power that further exacerbates inequities and inequalities in newsrooms and in media coverage.
“The challenge we face is men’s control of media industries. The problem of media conglomerate is rampant around the world and is growing. We must put media ownership control on global feminist agenda,” she says.
Gunilla Ivarsson, former president of the International Association of Women in Radio & Television, discussed the association’s security handbook developed with a focus on women journalists, and ended the program, saying:
“I think we all have been affected in one way or another. It’s important for us to go to action for change.”
As part of our year in review series, we are highlighting the 12 most popular Solidarity Center web stories of 2017. This story received the most reach on our Facebook page in November. Read the full story here.
Agricultural work remains one of the most dangerous in the world. And women, who comprise between 50 percent and 70 percent of the informal workforce in commercial agriculture, are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment, physical abuse and other forms of gender-based violence at work.
As a young woman working in her company’s IT department, Jayne Muthoni Njoki was frustrated by what she says were employer attempts to push her around because of her youth and sex. But rather than quit her job, which she contemplated, she ran for a leadership position in her union, determined to work with others to make change on the job—and in society.
“I needed to fight for people whose voice can’t be heard,” she says.
Now 31, Njoki is the only young person in elected leadership in the Central Organization of Trade Unions–Kenya (COTU-Kenya), a Solidarity Center partner, and also president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)-Africa Young Workers Committee.
Njoki discussed how she is working through unions in Kenya and around Africa to educate and train young workers, especially young women, this week on the Working Life podcast, hosted by Jonathan Tasini (Njoki’s interview starts at 30:02).
Many Young Workers Work in Jobs that Don’t Pay Enough to Get by
With 71 million young people around the world unable to secure employment and 156 million more working poor because they have unstable income in the informal economy, the lack of jobs that pay living wages “is a global issue,” she says.
“We need to now think of the informal sector. When I talk of informal economy, that’s where you see the majority of young people are based.
“But unfortunately, we don’t think the informal sector is part of the economy.” Enabling informal-economy workers to have a voice through unions and associations is key to advancing their rights as workers—and once the informal economy is organized, “then everything will fall into place,” she says.
Through COTU-Kenya, which she says has encouraged young workers and women to become union leaders, Njoki also is working to create awareness among domestic workers about their rights and advance their efforts to become union leaders. Many are sexually harassed and assaulted, and fearful of speaking out about their treatment, she says.
Women workers and even women leaders “can’t come out because they are afraid, they are threatened. It’s not easy to come out and say ‘this is my right [to not experience gender-based violence on the job]’ as a young person, as a young lady.”
As she takes on the challenges facing young workers, Njoki is optimistic about the future. “So many ladies, even young people and young men, they are ready to listen and they are ready to work together so we can drive the agenda together.”
No global data document gender-based violence at work. But across the board, gender-based violence remains one of the most tolerated violations of workers’ human rights. Some 35 percent of women over age 15—818 million women globally—have experienced sexual or physical violence at home, in their communities or in the workplace.
The Solidarity Center and allies throughout the international labor, human and women’s rights communities are campaigning for an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention to stop violence and harassment at work. As part of the process, begun many months ago, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is now spearheading efforts to lobby governments and employer organizations around the world for their input and support. (The ITUC campaign toolkit includes talking points, resources and tips for lobbying your government.)
Allies are building awareness for passage of a convention and distributing an ILO questionnaire to their government representatives soliciting comments and support in advance of a September 22 deadline. When ILO member states ratify a convention, they commit to applying it in national law and practice, and complaints can be made against countries for violations. In June 2018, the ILO International Labor Conference (ILC) will take up the issue.
Gender-Based Violence: Worse Without Freedom to Form Unions
Domestic workers, whose isolation in employer homes makes them especially vulnerable to abuse, are strongly championing its passage. Building on the tactics of their successful global campaign for the 2011 ratification of ILO Convention 189 covering domestic workers—the last convention the ILO passed—they are reproducing those steps to ensure support for a convention to end gender-based violence at work, says Elizabeth Tang, general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).
“Gender-based violence is always worse when there is no freedom of association,” Solidarity Center Policy Director Molly McCoy said earlier this year. “When workers are not organized (in unions), they don’t have resources to tackle gender-based violence.” McCoy moderated a Solidarity Center panel in New York on gender-based violence at work in conjunction with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meetings.
Gender-Based Violence Includes Physical, Mental Abuse
In a detailed report issued in advance of the 2018 ILO conference, the ILO describes gender-based violence as affecting both women and men, but notes that unequal status and power relations in society and at work often result in women being far more exposed to violence and harassment, which can be physical, psychological and sexual.
In addition, the ILO uses the term “world of work” for a proposed convention, because gender-based violence occurs not only in the physical workplace, but during the work commute, at work-related social events, in public spaces—the primary venue for informal workers such as street vendors—and in the home, in particular for domestic workers and teleworkers.
Addressing violence and harassment through an international standard is key to the objectives of achieving decent work for all and addressing gender inequality in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Goal 8 and Goal 5). A new standard would be preventative, by addressing negative societal and workplace cultures, and “should also be able to respond to the new challenges and risks which might lead to violence and harassment in the world of work, such as those arising from changing forms of work and technology,” according to an October 2016 report by the UN Meeting of Experts on Violence against Women and Men in the World of Work.
Gender-based violence at work is far more prevalent than reported and ending it will require women coming together to challenge male-dominated structures—whether in corporations, governments or their own unions, according to leaders and experts from a variety of unions and nongovernmental associations (NGOs) speaking yesterday in New York City.
“As prevalent as gender-based violence is in workplace, it goes unrecognized—Solidarity Center Policy Director Molly McCoy. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
“As prevalent as gender-based violence is in workplace, it goes unrecognized,” said Solidarity Center Policy Director Molly McCoy.
McCoy was among participants on two panels Monday that focused on gender-based violence at work, part of events the Solidarity Center and its partners are holding in conjunction with the March 13–24 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Hundreds of high-level government delegates at the CSW will for the first time discuss women’s economic empowerment and the role of labor unions as core to achieving women’s rights—a huge milestone for working women around the globe in achieving recognition of their workplace struggles by the world’s human rights body—and one that worker rights organizations like the ITUC and Solidarity Center have long championed.
Gender-Based Violence Worse without Freedom to Form Unions
Panelists at the Solidarity Center session, “Eliminating Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work,” explored how unions enable workers, especially women workers, to speak up when experiencing sexual harassment and other violence on the job by providing a network of peer support.
“The absolute most important thing is that we organize for worker power”—Julia Rybak. New York Hotel Trades Council. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
“Workers having the resources and the community of support is something most workers don’t have,” said Julia Rybak, director of the New York Hotel Trades Council. “The absolute most important thing is that we organize for worker power.”
“Gender-based violence is always worse when there is no freedom of association,” said McCoy, who moderated the panel. “When workers are not organized (in unions), they don’t have resources to tackle gender-based violence.”
Conversely, McCoy said, “the persistence and prevalence of gender-based violence has an impact on freedom of association. Gender-based violence is very much a tool used to repress worker rights, to silence workers and to isolate workers so they can’t stand up for themselves and fight gender-based violence.”
“There are extraordinarily high rates of gender-based violence against women at the workplace,” said Robin Runge, a lawyer who represented survivors of violence and abuse for more than 20 years. Runge is author of the new report, “Ending Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work in the United States,” written with support from the AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center.
Women Empowering Themselves through Unions
“Only by organizing can we get out of situations I faced when I was 12 and protect other domestic worker”—Ernestina Ochoa Lujan, IDWF. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Several panelists recounted their own experiences with workplace-based violence. Ernestina Ochoa Lujan, a domestic worker and vice president of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), began work as a domestic worker in Peru at age 11. At age 12, she was attacked by her employer.
“I couldn’t call my parents because I didn’t have parents, I couldn’t call authorities because we are not believed. I cry not because I have no hope but because I went on to organize with my union,” she said through a translator.
“Only by organizing can we get out of situations I faced when I was 12 and protect other domestic workers.”
“We have to think about all those workers whose voice is not here”—Kazi Fouzia, DRUM. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Panelists and some of the several dozen audience members who spoke during a question and answer period described widespread violence against women workers—in Algeria, Argentina, Colombia and wherever women work and in whatever sector they are employed.
“We have to think about all those workers whose voice is not here,” said Kazi Fouzia, director of organizing at the New York-based Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) organization, a 4,000-member worker association that includes primarily women in the informal economy.
Join the Stop Gender-Based Violence Campaign
Earlier in the day, 75 participants discussed steps involved in building support for an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on ending gender-based violence.
“It’s important we go to the governments to make sure they support an ILO convention. We need a critical number of governments to move it forward,” said Marieke Koning from the Equality department at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The ITUC sponsored the panel, “Stop Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in the World of Work Campaign: How to Support an ILO Convention.”
Amrita Sietaram, ILO ACTRAV section, described the process of creating and passing a convention to end gender-based violence at work. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Koning was joined by Amrita Sietaram from the ILO ACTRAV section, who described the process of creating and passing a convention to end gender-based violence at work, which she says has moved forward because of the efforts of the ITUC and global union federations. The ILO will discuss a draft text in June 2018 and unions, employers and others have from May to September this year to comment on the draft text.
Sietaram also described significant “employer resistance to a gender-based violence at work convention,” and noted that discussions will determine whether the final product is a “convention”—which governments agree to follow, or a “recommendation,” a weaker outcome that provides direction.
Speaking from the audience, IDWF General Secretary Elizabeth Tang described how domestic workers around the world worked for years to achieve 2011 passage of ILO Convention 189 covering domestic workers—and how the union has begun to reproduce those steps to move passage of a convention to end gender-based violence at work.
Join the ITUC campaign to end gender-based violence at work.
Follow us here, on Facebook and on Twitter @SolidarityCntr for coverage of the following Solidarity Center and partner events:
- March 15, 12:30 ET: “Building Power for Women Workers in the Changing World of Work”—AFL-CIO
- March 16, 12:30 ET: “Impact of Corporate Power to Women’s Economic Empowerment”—Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) & Solidarity Center