Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women


27 June 2019

Panel 1: Violence against women in the world of work

41st session of the Human Rights Council

Opening statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

27 June 2019

Distinguished President,
Colleagues, Friends,

Violence against women in the world of work is a widespread and major impediment to women’s enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms. I am glad to see this Council giving its full consideration to this important topic, and I commend and welcome the International Labour Organisation's adoption last week of a new Convention concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work.

Behaviours and practices which result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm to women and girls damage their health –physical and mental – and harm the likelihood that they will enter into, or remain in, the labour market.

Failure to pursue career development leads many women and girls to becoming trapped in economic insecurity, unable to generate income or access social protections.

Clearly, violence in the world of work may affect both men and women, yet women are more likely to be targeted for these abuses. This is clearly rooted in structural, and very pervasive, gender-based stereotypes and discrimination. A culture of impunity which minimises or trivialises violence against women, along with the failure to ensure equal access to justice, exposes women and girls in the informal and often more precarious, occupations to higher risks of violence and abuse.

Multiple forms of discrimination mean that women are often obliged to take jobs in industries or jobs offering less pay, low payment, low social status, and no access to trade unions or labour rights. These high-risk sectors for violence against women include agriculture; labour-intensive manufacturing; hotels, restaurants and retail; domestic work; and public services such as transport and health-care.

Surveys in Ecuador’s flower growing industry; the garment industry in Bangladesh, Cambodia and India; and women transport workers in 24 European countries find that between 25 and 60% report physical assault, verbal abuse or sexual harrassment in the context of their jobs.

Every State, every business, every factory, and every community, family and individual has an interest in addressing this issue. The impact on the rights and freedoms of the individuals concerned is severe; but damage is also being done to productivity, business revenue, and to the growth and sustainability of national economies.

Over the years, countries have sought to provide prevention and protection responses to violence in the world of work through various means – including social, labour, criminal and administrative regulatory frameworks.

However, laws addressing violence against women and girls are often limited in scope. They may not cover the full spectrum of work, excluding those working in less protected areas, such as domestic workers – including migrant domestic workers– and others working in the informal sector. As with many other forms of violence, women who experience these abuses often fear being stigmatised, fired or socially ostracised – at work or at home – if they speak out. And when they do report violence, they are often ignored or blamed.

We need to guarantee access to justice and effective remedies for women and girls. States have the primary responsibility to protect people from abuses, but both public and private employers have a duty to protect workers. This may be accomplished through effective labour protection, occupational safety and health policies, and complaint mechanisms which prevent and respond to violence – including protecting victims from reprisals. It is essential that companies, social partners and trade unions undertake measures to prevent violence against women in the workplace.

The new binding instrument put forward by the ILO seeks to establish an integrated and gender-responsive approach to ending violence and harassment against women workers, regardless of their contractual status and context. It tackles underlying causes and risk factors, including gender stereotypes, discrimination, and unequal gender-based power relations. It also acknowledges the continuum of violence, such as the impact of domestic violence on workers.

I cannot think of a better way to mark the ILO's centenary of vital efforts at the forefront of labour rights and social justice than this essential initiative to promote the rights of women.

Thank you.