International Women's Day

ILO Director-General calls for end to gender-based violence at work

The ILO marked International Women’s day with calls for action to combat violence against women in the workplace.

Press release | 08 March 2013
Video highlights
ILO panel for International Women's Day 2013
GENEVA – ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, has called for an end to gender-based violence at work, in an event organized to mark International Women’s Day.

In a speech delivered at the ILO’s headquarters in Geneva, Mr. Ryder described gender-based violence as “exceptionally dehumanizing, pervasive and oppressive.”

“Putting an end to gender-based violence at work is integral to the ILO’s objective of promoting decent work for all women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity,” he stressed.

Mr. Ryder said that violence in the workplace is “deeply injurious” to individuals but also has consequences for their families, for societies and also for enterprises. He outlined ILO Conventions that include guidance on addressing violence in the workplace as well as practical tools that had been developed but noted that there were still major gaps to be addressed including the fact that there is still no explicit international human rights treaty prohibition on violence against women and the need to focus on the informal economy where many women are working hidden and unprotected.

“These represent avenues for future work by the ILO and other agencies,” he said.

Dr Charlotte Harland Scott
In a keynote speech, Dr. Charlotte Harland Scott described the struggle for equality of women in Zambia. Dr. Harland Scott, an economic and social policy expert, said that although there had been some gains in areas such as maternal mortality and access to primary education, many challenges remain – including violence at work, particularly in the informal sector, which is “fraught with risks of violence and abuse.”

“Domestic workers report regular abuse in the form of bullying, humiliation, sexual harassment and assault – girls are often preferred in these jobs, deemed less likely to complain.” said Dr. Harland Scott, who is the wife of Zambia’s Vice President.

The rights of all workers, she said, should be ensured through legislation and regulations. Job creation is also an important way to tackle workplace violence, Dr Harland Scott stressed. “Poorly educated, unskilled or under-skilled youth, particularly girls, will remain vulnerable to violence. In contrast, the development of skills, opportunities and choices will enable them to transform their experience of work into one that allows them to use their true potential, developing careers that enable them to pursue their aspirations.”

The problem of domestic violence spilling over into the workplace was highlighted by Ms Sarah Fox, workers’ representative of The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO). Between 1997 and 2009 in the United States, 321 women were killed at work by their spouse or partner, she said.

“It is a grim fact that in the US on average, four to five women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day. Two million are injured each year. Domestic violence doesn’t stop when the victims go to work.” The incidence of violence in the United States has decreased since the “Violence against Women” Act was passed, but more needs to be done, said Sarah Fox.

Ms Brenda Cuthbert, CEO of the Jamaica Employers Federation, said workers, employers and government need to work together to tackle the issue. “Violence affects both men and women. It affects work and it affects productivity, creating tension and uncertainty.”

It is important, she said, to have awareness of the issue, calculate the risks of potential violence in the workplace and put in place preventative policies.