Solidarity Center in Action: Mobilizing for Passage of a Global Standard on Gender-Based Violence at Work

A courtyard meeting in which Solidarity Center and partner organizations hold meetings in villages to provide information on safe migration, and other issues.
Credit: Solidarity Center/Shahjadi Zaman

Long before the #MeToo movement opened a window to the prevalence of sexual harassment, bullying and other forms of gender-based violence at work, the international worker rights organization and GCM member Solidarity Center had begun catalyzing unions, workers and allied organizations to leverage their collective power in a global movement to end gender-based violence and harassment at work.

As a result of this 10-year-long campaign, the International Labor Organization (ILO) is in the final phase of crafting a convention (regulation) that would address violence and harassment at work. In June, workers, employers and governments will negotiate language on a binding convention and recommendation at the ILO’s International Labor Conference in Geneva.

With offices in nearly 30 countries, Solidarity Center works with 400-plus labor unions and allied organizations in garment factories, mining, agriculture, informal marketplaces, the public sector and beyond, supporting workers as they exercise their rights for hazard-free worksites, safe migration, living wages and laws—such as those covering gender-based violence at work—that protect working people.

While gender-based violence and harassment occurs across spaces related to work, such as factories, offices, hospitals, restaurants, on farms and in the home, few national laws cover it, and even those that address it in some way often are not sufficient or are not enforced.

A global ILO regulation would rectify this gap. Throughout the ILO’s multiple year convention-setting process, Solidarity Center has encouraged union partners to participate and ensure the voices of workers are driving the content of the standard. Among them, Rose Omamo, the leader of the Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers.

“We believe we will be able to convince the governments and even some of the employers to support the convention,” says Omamo.

The ILO’s most recent draft of the proposed convention, “Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work,” builds on high-level discussions in spring 2018 among representatives of government, business and workers like Omamo. The ILO is a United Nations-based agency that brings together governments, employers and workers of 187 member states to set labor standards, develop policies and devise programs promoting decent work.

“Gender-based violence affects all workers, but unequal status and power relations in society and at work often result in women being far more exposed to violence and harassment,” says Robin Runge, Solidarity Center acting director of Equality and Inclusion.

Women are socially and culturally trained not to speak about it, and also often are afraid that if they report it, they will be be retaliated against, including more physical abuse or sexual abuse. Migrant workers are especially vulnerable, and in countries like Bangladesh, Solidarity Center partners with local worker right organizations to enable women to collectively join together and demand gender justice, fair migration and dignity on the job. Collective action is key to shifting the power dynamics that fuel labor exploitation and gender-based violence and harassment on the job.

“Workers coming together in unions and other collective worker action provides a mechanism whereby workers can overcome these barriers to preventing and addressing gender-based violence and harassment at work,” says Runge.

Shahida, a migrant domestic worker in Bangladesh who was beaten and abused by her employer, joined with other migrant women workers through the Solidarity Center: “We now feel empowered. Whatever comes our way, good or bad, we can discuss as a group and make decisions together.”
Credit: Solidarity Center
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