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We need real, systemic change to stop violence against women and girls

Published date
The 25th of November marks the beginning of the 16 days of international activism focusing on eliminating violence against women and girls.

Led by UN Women and the UN General Secretary since 2008, the campaign aims to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls around the world, calling for global action to promote advocacy, raise awareness and commit to solutions for ending gender-based violence.  

Violence against women and girls is endemic 

Globally, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.  

In the UK, three women a week are killed as a result of domestic homicide, and on average the police receive 100 calls regarding domestic abuse every hour.   

Research also tells us that 97 per cent of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed, and 80 per cent of women of all ages have experienced sexual harassment in public. Half of women have been sexually harassed in the workplace and over a third of girls in mixed schools have been sexually harassed at school. 

In times of crisis violence against women often escalates. This has been evident during the pandemic. Women’s Aid found that 67 per cent of survivors who were experiencing abuse in April 2020 just as the pandemic hit, said the abuse had worsened, with routes to safety closed off.  

Violence against women and girls is in our schools, workplaces and on the street. The evidence is clear, now is the time for real, systemic change.  

Trade unions have a key role to play 

Trade Unions have a key role to play in ending violence against women and girls. We are present in all sectors: in health, in education, in hospitality and retail, in transport, in finance, in entertainment, and in manufacturing. We have a part to play in not only shaping how we talk about the epidemic of male violence against women and girls, but also what we do about it.  

That is why trade unions have campaigned to put domestic abuse as a workplace issue on the agenda, campaigned for the ratification of ILO C190 which recognises the right of all workers to work free from all forms of violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment.  

And unions working alongside charities and VAWG sector specialists as part of the #THISISNOTWORKING alliance campaigned and won a government commitment to strengthen the law on harassment at work. A new preventative duty will require employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure they are preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, including from third parties such as patients or customers.  

What matters now is that government delivers on its commitment to strengthen the law in a way that leads to real action and change for women. that will require resources and robust enforcement, so that employers have to meet their duties to protect women from violence in the workplace.  

What needs to happen in the workplace to tackle sexual harassment 

Our focus for our 16 days of action is on practical steps to respond effectively to sexual harassment and to change workplace cultures and prevent sexual harassment at work. We will launch a toolkit to support reps in identifying and bargaining for the steps employers must take to start building these preventative cultures including tackling the everyday sexism and misogyny that underpins experiences of harassment.  

Tackling and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace and society more broadly can only happen if we challenge the cultures, power dynamics and behaviours that allow sexual harassment to thrive.  

It is vital that when a report of sexual harassment is made employers respond sensitively and effectively. It is also imperative that safe, confidential and independent reporting routes and support are available for victims and witnesses.  

Employers must show zero tolerance of sexual harassment and sexist behaviour. This means adopting and communicating a clear workplace policy to everyone that is expected to comply with it, including employees, clients, contractors and third parties like customers or patients.   

Training for all staff on what sexual harassment is and the power dynamics, cultures and behaviours that enable it will also help challenge attitudes. And employers need to be aware of women’s actual experiences at work. This can be done by running regular anonymous worker surveys and risk assessing the workplace to identify factors that can create or heighten risks of sexual harassment at work.  

Women can only feel safe when the sexist and misogynistic culture in which sexual harassment thrives is stamped out once and for all. 

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