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Why ending violence and harassment at work must be a priority for the next government

Published date
On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we want the next government to do more to tackle gender-based violence and harassment at work.

Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread and endemic forms of human rights abuse in the world today.

One in three women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, two women are killed by their partner each week, and one in two women are sexually harassed in the workplace.

Women’s experience of violence is interlinked with the economic and social inequalities we face.

All women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence, but women and girls who face multiple forms of discrimination and inequality are particularly vulnerable to violence and harassment in the workplace.

This means younger and older women, disabled women, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual or transgender and ethnic minority women.

Violence against women and girls is a systemic issue.

We need collective solutions that recognise the intersectionality of women’s experience and drive lasting systemic changes.

Eliminating gender-based violence and harassment at work

Back in June, the International Labour Organisation adopted Convention No.190 at its centenury conference.

This landmark convention is the strongest international legal standard we have to protect women from violence and harassment at work.

The convention is strong and practical, providing a framework for workplaces free from gender-based violence and harassment.

It protects every worker, irrespective of contractual status and whether they are in the formal or informal economy, as many women are.

The convention recognises that some women are particularly vulnerable to violence and harassment in the workplace, such as those working in health, transport, education and domestic work.

It's clear that women must be protected from all forms of violence and harassment whether that’s from a colleague, manager or third party such as clients, customers, service providers and patients.

Ending the culture of silence

TUC research uncovered the horrifying scale of gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work.

One in two women experience sexual harassment at work, 70% of young workers have faced harassment from a third-party at least three times and one in eight LGBT BME women have been seriously sexually assaulted or raped at work.

Sexual harassment in the workplace does not take place in a vacuum.

Toxic workplace cultures stigmatise, silence and shame those who experience sexual harassment

When employers fail to take the necessary steps to prevent sexual harassment from happening, women do not feel safe and perpetrators feel they can act with impunity.

There are many ways in which women are silenced at work, from colleagues turning a blind-eye to managers treating it as just a bit of banter.

There's also a big problem with employers silencing women with watertight non-disclosure agreements that stop them from even telling their partner, best friend, GP or therapist about their sexual harassment.

80% of women who experience workplace sexual harassment told us they did not feel able to tell their employer. They fear hostile and defensive reactions, or that coming forward will harm their career.

That’s why we need to change the status quo and focus on prevention.

Collective action, systemic change

Collective action is needed. Action that matches the scale of the problem.

That is why the TUC and our affiliates have led the #ThisIsNotWorking alliance in calling for a change in the law.

We government to introduce a new, easily enforceable preventative duty that would require employers to maintain workplaces free of harassment, including harassment by third parties.

This would shift the responsibility for managing and preventing sexual harassment away from the individual onto the organisation.

Employers would be required to take action such as:

  • Developing a sexual harassment policy
    To establish the organisation’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment.
  • Providing mandatory sexual harassment training
    On an annual basis so that staff understand what sexual harassment is and how they can challenge it.
  • Designing safe reporting mechanisms
    Bypassing toxic workplace environments that leave victims unable to speak out.

A new preventative duty will drive the wholescale, organisational culture change we need to truly tackle sexual harassment.

Time’s Up, Act Now

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we're calling for the next government to:

  1. Ratify ILO Convention No.190
    So that employers, government and trade unions can work together to eliminate gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace.
  1. Implement a new preventative duty
    That ensures employers see it as their responsibility to create safe workplaces for women. You can read our plans for it here.
  1. Recognise domestic abuse as a workplace issue
    By providing ten days paid leave for survivors, employers and the government can play a vital role in supporting women fleeing domestic violence, protecting them from further harm and ensuring they remain economically secure.
  1. Bring back the Domestic Abuse Bill
    Ensure this landmark bill passes in the next parliament and recognises all women’s right to safety, regardless of their immigration status.
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