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Safe at home, safe at work – zero tolerance of violence

8 March 2013 Feature
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According to UN-Women, country data reveals that as many as 7 in 10 women in the world report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Statistics indicate that violence against women and girls is a universal phenomenon, irrespective of income, class and culture. Forms and manifestations of violence against women and girls include intimate partner violence, early and forced marriage, forced pregnancy, honour crimes, female genital mutilation, femicide, non-partner sexual violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, other institutions and in public spaces, trafficking, violence condoned by the State and violence against women in conflict situations.

Particular groups of women and girls who face multiple forms of discrimination are exposed to increased risk of violence.

(From the Report of the Secretary-General on Prevention of violence against women and girls to the 57th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), March 2013)

This report, “The Prevention of violence against women and girls” reflects the concerns raised by participants at the IUF World Women’s Conference (Geneva, May 2012) over the increase in violence against women at home, at work and in society.

Some of this increase can be linked to the global financial crisis and to the growth of religious fundamentalism and other extremist movements, but it’s the lack of political will to translate basic human rights from declarations, conventions and laws into practice that enables violence against women to grow.

According to a former special rapporteur on violence against women, little work has been done on the obligation of prevention or on addressing the root causes of violence against women. 65 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 34 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), violence against women remains the most brutal expression of the unequal power relationship between men and women.

At the ongoing 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, where the main theme is violence against women, governments such as Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the Vatican, are – again – questioning the most basic human rights for women. Their efforts to weaken and undermine already universally agreed conventions must be vigorously stopped. There can be no excuse for violence based on culture, customs and “traditional” values and practices. Governments and churches with a bad record of violating human rights including sexual violence, should not be allowed to continue their assaults on women’s rights in the UNCSW.

The IUF Action Program for Equality includes a commitment to fight for safe and decent workplaces for women; to ensure that a policy on bullying and sexual harassment is agreed upon at every workplace; continue to address women’s health & safety at work with special emphasis on (..) domestic violence and violence in the workplace.

Trade unions, as one of the most democratic and representative forces in society, have an important role to play in the elimination of gender-based violence. In view of the passivity of many governments in addressing the root causes of violence against women, trade unions must tackle violence, including sexual harassment, in the work place as part of protecting the rights and personal integrity of their members.