ILO Statement to the Third Committee of the 69th General Assembly

Gender-based violence is a violation of basic human rights

The various manifestations of gender-based violence at work can and must be prevented.

Statement | United Nations HQ, New York | 15 October 2014
Madame Chair,

Gender-based violence, including workplace violence, is exceptionally dehumanizing, pervasive and oppressive representing a clear violation of basic human rights. Gender-based violence sadly reflects and reinforces the wider inequalities between women and men.

Often in the world of work, violence is based on unequal power relations. Such violence is antithetical to the ILO’s primary goal of decent work for all women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

The available data illustrates the extent of this massive and unacceptable problem in the workplace. In the countries of the European Union, for example, between 40 and 50 per cent of women experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace. In Asia and the Pacific, studies indicate that 30 to 40 per cent of women workers report some form of verbal, physical or sexual harassment.

In sectors where the workforce is highly feminized, women are particularly exposed to violence. ILO’s Better Work programme collects enterprise-level data through worker surveys in the women-dominated factories of the textile sector in nine countries. Our baseline data shows that such harassment is a concern for 85 per cent of workers in Indonesia, 26 per cent in Jordan and seven per cent in Vietnam.

The various manifestations of gender-based violence at work – such as sexual harassment, verbal or psychological abuse, intimidation, mobbing and bullying, and domestic violence impacting on the workplace – can and must be prevented.

This severely discriminatory behaviour should not be tolerated, trivialized or brushed-off since it represents not only a clear violation of human rights but presents a significant barrier to women’s access to, equitable treatment and opportunities in the labour market. For workers, violence in the workplace can lead to heightened stress, loss of motivation, increased accidents and disability, and even death.

In addition to the compelling moral imperative, there is also a strong business case for eliminating violence against women. The costs to enterprises include absenteeism, increased turnover, lower job performance and productivity, negative public image, legal/litigation fees, fines or high settlement costs, and rising insurance premiums.

A study in Australia showed an estimated economic cost of some AUS$13.6 billion in 2008-09 while another study published in 2008 estimated that in England and Wales the cost of domestic violence alone was £20 billion per year, of which lost economic output amounted to £2.3 billion. In Canada the cost of domestic violence in the world of work is estimated at $7 billion per year and in the USA it is $5.8 billion per year.

Madame Chair,

The world of work is an excellent entry-point for both prevention and remedial measures in addressing gender-based violence. The ILO has extensive experience and has taken consistent actions to combat gender-based violence in work places, both at policy and programme levels.

The ILO’s international labour standards provide guidance for action to eliminate gender-based violence especially in situations where violence may go unnoticed in circumstances such as domestic workers, indigenous peoples, child labourers, rural workers and migrant workers.

The Convention on Equality in Employment and Occupation (No. 111) has proven useful in improving law and practice on sexual harassment, and the Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (No. 169) requires ratifying governments to adopt special measures to ensure that indigenous workers are protected from sexual harassment.

Furthermore, the landmark Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189) bans all forms of abuse, harassment and violence with respect to this highly vulnerable and highly feminized group of workers. Also, the ILO’s HIV/AIDS Recommendation (No. 200) requires workplace measures to reduce the transmission of HIV and alleviate its impact by actions to prevent and prohibit violence and harassment. Other highly ratified Conventions, like the child labour and occupational safety and health (OSH) Conventions, are also important to combating violence at work.

I would also like to note two important developments that will provide further protection to women who are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and violence: migrant workers and trafficked persons.

In June of this year, ILO Member States and constituents adopted a new Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention and a Recommendation (No. 203) which creates specific obligations to prevent forced labour, to protect its victims and to provide access to remedies.

Additionally, the ILO has launched the Fair Recruitment Initiative, supported by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development and the U.S. Department of State, in collaboration with partner organisations to address regulatory and enforcement gaps, improve mechanisms of complaints and remedy, facilitate social dialogue on these issues and ultimately ensure the implementation of recruitment practices based on international standards.

The ILO’s tripartite structure greatly enhances workplace responses by drawing workers’ and employers’ organisations as well as ministries responsible for labour issues into the discussion. Existing programmes have already supported constituents’ work to end violence where it has proven a factor in HIV infection among women and girls.

ILO’s Better Work programme, which works with international buyers and local suppliers in the textile sector, has provided training for managers, supervisors and workers to prevent and address sexual harassment. Gender-based violence is also being addressed through social dialogue, including collective bargaining, at the enterprise, sectoral or national levels.

On another front, the progressive development of social protection floors, being promoted by the UN System as a whole is an avenue for multi-sectoral remedial action. By guaranteeing basic income in the form of social transfers, and providing universal access to affordable social services like healthcare and housing, such floors address the poverty which underlies many situations of violence against women, reduces their vulnerability and can provide critical assistance directly to victims.

Madame Chair,

As the ILO assesses options in eliminating gender-based violence in the world of work, we have identified four areas for immediate action:
• Coherent and effective labour laws and enforcement mechanisms so that proactive laws as well as individual complaint-based mechanisms discourage violence;
• Consistency between labour codes and criminal, civil or family laws and other bodies of law covering not only sanctions, but also incentives to ‘buy into’ the fight against violence at work;
• Remove obstacles to women’s access to justice, including labour justice; and
• A sharper focus on the informal economy because this is where so many women work, often hidden and unprotected.

The ILO is reinvigorating efforts to improve its data collection and enhance national capacities for an improved, shared knowledge base to inform future action. With sound knowledge to support evidence-based arguments, declaration and policies on gender equality will have far better prospects of translating into real change for better lives of many more working women.

Thank you.