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Trade unions must act to stop violence against women

21 November 2017 Editorial
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StopViolenceAgainstWomenWomen are constantly exposed to violence in the workplace, ranging from sexual harassment to physical assault. Real and threatened violence underpins the systematic gender discrimination which pervades our workplaces and our societies. The United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women - November 25 - is an opportunity for unions around the world to mobilize for action against all forms of gender-based violence, but particularly at the workplace, where unions can make a difference.

Despite the growing accumulation of evidence attesting to widespread harassment, abuse and violence at work, many governments and employers continue to resist efforts to develop an international Convention against gender-based violence at the workplace, which is up for discussion at the June meeting of the ILO governing body. Unions should be organizing public pressure to ensure this goes forward. But they also need to take the issue to the streets and into the workplace.

The recent IUF 27th World Congress, where male delegates collectively pledged to halt violence against women, unanimously adopted a resolution on halting gender-based violence at the workplace. Unions resolved to give the issue urgency and priority, by working to document and to publicize the full dimension of gender violence, to take the issue into collective bargaining with employers, and through political action, including building support at home for an ILO Convention to establish an international legal framework. The Congress also urged affiliates to follow through with implementation of the international agreements on preventing sexual harassment signed with Unilever and Sodexo, and to work towards similar agreements with other multinational companies in our sectors.

Combating sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence at the workplace has for many years been one of the priority demands of IUF women members worldwide. The IUF gender equality manual from 2007 states: 'Sexual harassment is not a 'personal' issue; nor is it a 'women's' issue; It is abuse and should not be tolerated, whoever does it; combating it is about the right of all workers to be free from harassment, and so it is a union issue.'

November 25, then, is a day on which we urge unions around the world to mobilize and to take the struggle forward on a continuing basis. "We must", emphasizes a Statement on November 25 by the IUF's Asia/Pacific region, "take comprehensive and far-reaching action to compel governments, employers and our own members to stop all forms of violence against women."