Why tackling violence at work will empower more women and help deliver the SDGs

by 31st Aug 2017
Sharmin Akhter, a garment worker in Gazipur, Bangladesh Sharmin Akhter, a garment worker in Gazipur, Bangladesh

There is currently a great opportunity for everyone who is interested in women’s economic empowerment to push forward a key initiative to tackle the gender-based violence which plays a key role in the workplace in continuing oppressive working conditions, in diminishing women’s voices, and in breaching women’s rights. Achieving an ILO Convention on ending violence and harassment in the workplace will support the empowerment of millions of women.

As the UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment (HLP-WEE) has recognised, one of the major barriers to achieving women’s economic empowerment is the entrenched social and cultural norms that prevent women from reaching their full potential. Violence and sexual harassment in the workplace is one of the most serious and challenging obstacles. However, there is a major window of opportunity to change the global legal framework on this within the next few years, and governments, trade unions and companies need to get on board.

The elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls is a key recommendation in the HLP-WEE Toolkit on How to change norms in support of women’s economic empowerment. While the toolkit references a number of international conventions on women and violence (eg the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions concerning decent work for vulnerable women workers), it does not refer to the current ILO process of considering whether to establish a new instrument or instruments on Ending violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work.

This is unfortunate since, as my recent blog highlights, this is a great opportunity to reduce the prevalence of the violence and harassment which faces the women workers around the world whom CARE tries to support on issues of Dignified Work. And it is one which all of those committed to tackling violence and harassment against women can act on now. The immediate opportunity is to influence the ILO in its thinking as the ILO are seeking replies by 22 September 2017 to their Questionnaire (issued in May this year) on the Convention. Replies are submitted by ILO member States in line with a protocol that requires States to consult with employers’ and workers’ representatives.

We are therefore asking everyone interested in women’s rights to support the ILO Convention.

All of us can take a major step to “change norms in support of women’s economic empowerment” by requesting that those positioned to engage in the consultations that form a key part of the ILO process support a strong and comprehensive new Convention against violence and harassment in the world of work.

If you work in the private sector, you can contact your national employers’ federation and check whether it supports the ILO Convention, and if it does so, ask them to communi¬cate their support to the International Organization of Employers (IOE). If the federation has not yet considered the issue, encourage them to do so as soon as possible. If your company supports the Convention, publicise this fact and let your corporate peers know, eg through existing responsible business networks.

We ask you to take an immediate positive step to deliver the aspirations of the High Level Panel by tackling violence and harassment at work through supporting the ILO Convention.

Gerry Boyle

Gerry led CARE International UK’s policy analysis and advocacy around value chains and dignified work. He originally joined CARE as the Senior Policy Adviser on Private Sector Engagement. With the advent of our new Global Programme Strategy which put a particular emphasis on women’s economic empowerment, his focus changed a little.

Gerry co-chaired the Bond Private Sector Working Group. Immediately before he joined CARE he worked for Oxfam as Head of Business Relations for about three years, but the vast majority of his career was spent as a management consultant including being a consulting Partner at Deloitte, where for a time he led Deloitte UK’s Consumer Business consulting practice, serving many major multinationals. Gerry's original degree was in Law from Oxford University, and in 2008 when he left Deloitte he did an MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy at LSE.

One good thing I've read

Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom. It provides a framework for many people’s modern understanding of what is development, based on a profoundly human-centred approach rather than anything instrumental. And to check whether one personally is doing enough to fight poverty, I recommend Peter Singer’s The life you can save: Acting now to end world poverty – it’s very clear and easy to read but very challenging! Finally, Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans: Rich nations, poor policies, and the threat to the developing world is a very readable guide to economic development which argues strongly against many of the prevailing orthodoxies.

Twitter: @gerryboyle10