It’s Our Day – It’s Our Time: Rising for Equality

photo: Drawing: Shamisa Debroey

On 8 March last year, millions of women took to the streets in protest against rising misogyny, racism and xenophobia, all typified by the tolerance of gender-based violence.

In late 2017, women in the film industry in the United States began to speak out through social media about their experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault. #MeToo has become a worldwide phenomenon, with women across all industries and sectors – from domestic workers to textile and garment workers, from journalists to doctors, from migrant women to disabled women – recounting their personal experiences of gender-based violence at work. All around the world, women are calling time on discrimination, inequality and violence at work and saying, “enough is enough”.

In June 2018, the International Labour Conference will take a huge step towards outlawing gender-based violence by discussing an international labour standard on “violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work”.
Violence – and in particular violence against women – remains one of the most under-reported, yet destructive features of our world of work. It costs lives and livelihoods. It destroys workers and families. It harms the reputation of businesses and costs billions to the economy.

Gender-based violence in the world of work keeps women trapped in poverty, deprives women of their autonomy and collective voice at work and prevents women workers from building power.

The statistics are horrific:

  • Over 60 per cent of female garment workers in Bangladesh have been intimidated or threatened with violence at work.
  • More than 90 per cent of women working in tea growing or processing have experienced or witnessed sexual or physical abuse at their workplace.
  • Ninety per cent of women in Uganda report having been sexually harassed by their male supervisors.
  • Sixty per cent of women working in the catering industry in Nordic countries have experienced sexual harassment.
  • Ninety per cent of waitresses in the US have experienced sexual harassment or violence on the job.

In addition to poverty wages and hazardous working conditions, gender-based violence is common in global supply chains.

Eradicating gender-based violence from our workplaces – and from our own organisations – is the unfinished business of the trade union movement. There can be no decent work with violence at work. As trade unions, we must put the issue of gender-based violence at the front and centre of our organising and collective bargaining agendas, alongside our claims for pay equity, family-friendly workplace policies and non-discrimination.

On 8 March 2018, millions of women around the world will again march for labour rights, equal treatment for all, equal pay for work of equal value, and the right to unionise. They will march because gender-based violence in the workplace is allowed to exist when women anywhere face inequality and discrimination and lack a means of collective defence.