No one should have to risk their safety or dignity to put food on the table. Yet every day, workers around the world are subjected to sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. On Monday, May 28, workers, employers and governments will come together at the International Labor Organization to discuss a new global standard on violence and harassment in the world of work. This is the culmination of more than a decade of advocacy by the global labor movement. It’s an exciting opportunity to create a binding international agreement to end gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace.
The AFL-CIO, together with partners from around the world, will be on the ground pushing for a binding convention that empowers workers to take collective action to build safe, respectful workplaces. You can follow the action on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and check out our partners at the Solidarity Center (@SolidarityCntr) and the International Trade Union Confederation (@ITUC).
Why use the term gender-based violence and harassment?
In the United States, the law protects against sex-based discrimination, including sexual harassment, and public conversations generally use these terms as well. Often, sex and gender are used interchangeably. However, there is an important distinction between the two: a person’s sex is tied to their inherent biological characteristics. Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct built around norms, expectations and stereotypes about what it means to be a man or a woman.
In the U.S., and indeed throughout much of the world, there is an entrenched, gendered power hierarchy that values men and a rigid definition of masculinity. The term gender-based violence and harassment reflects this inherent power imbalance. It recognizes the link between the gendered violence that occurs in society at large and the devaluation of women in the workplace. Both are tied to the way people are socialized, and particularly how men are socialized to feel entitled to women’s bodies and to expect deference and compliance. Every social actor has a role to play in breaking down these harmful stereotypes and creating equitable, respectful communities—and when it comes to addressing how this issue plays out in the workplace, unions have an unique and powerful role to play.
How do unions help stop gender-based violence and harassment?
Unions have a critical role to play in ending gender-based violence and harassment. At base, gender-based violence in the world of work—including unwanted touching, sexual comments, requests for sexual favors and even sexual assault—is not about sex, but about power. Unions are dedicated to shifting power relationships and creating more equitable and fair workplaces. Workers, particularly those who have been subjected to mistreatment, must be empowered to take collective action to enact solutions and demand justice.
Economic insecurity, particularly precarious and low-wage employment, makes workers more vulnerable to harassment. Women comprise the majority of part-time and temporary workers in the United States and most of the world, as well as the majority of low-paid workers and those making minimum wage. Many of these workers live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford even a brief break in employment, making them less likely to report abuse. Precarious work arrangements, like subcontracting or other contingent arrangements, decrease oversight and accountability. Confronting violence and harassment at work requires addressing the underlying conditions that drive abuse—including worker organizing to win living wages, job security and protection from retaliation.
This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on May 25, 2018. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Cassandra Waters is the global worker rights specialist at the AFL-CIO.