Stop violence against women at work

ILO Director-General's statement on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2013

A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women. Stop violence against women at work.

Statement | Geneva | 08 March 2013
Workplace violence assumes many forms and women are often particularly vulnerable, especially in the informal economy. Such violence is wrong and is a violation of the most basic human rights. Workplace violence including sexual harassment also represents a significant barrier to women’s access and equitable treatment and opportunities in the labour market.

The ILO’s decent work mandate compels it to act against violence at work and to foster workplace environments founded on gender equality and respect. Gender-based violence is clearly at odds with the meaning of decent work: full and productive employment for women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

Available data point to the extent of the problem at work. For example, between 40 and 50 per cent of women in European Union countries 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. Violence against women comes with a high cost to individuals, families, societies and economies. 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.

The world of work is an excellent context for both prevention and remedial measures. The ILO has had a long engagement in practical action against gender-based violence in work places, both at policy and programme levels. It has developed tools and guides with a strong sectoral approach targeting areas where the labour force is highly feminized, such as the health and services sectors. Moreover, action in support of women’s empowerment whether through business development, management skills, and provision of savings and credit services, as well as through their organization, also renders them less vulnerable to violence.

Tripartite delegates at the ILO’s 2009 International Labour Conference instructed member States to develop policies, programmes, legislation and other measures aimed at combatting gender-based violence. Several international labour standards – including the 2011 Convention on Domestic Workers which covers these highly-vulnerable and predominantly female workers – require ratifying States along with trade unions and employers’ organizations to take action against any form of violence, abuse and harassment at work.

Of the various ways in which sex discrimination manifests itself across the globe, gender based violence is exceptionally dehumanizing, pervasive and oppressive. It can and must be prevented. Wherever invidious discriminatory behaviour such as sexual harassment and bullying at work is tolerated, trivialized or brushed out of sight, it is time to take a stand, join forces and act with determination.

A decent world with social justice upholds equality between women and men, boys and girls and assures all women and girls that gender-based violence will not be tolerated wherever it occurs – from homes to schools and workplaces.

On this International Women’s Day the ILO recommits to doing its part to make this a reality.