Back


Human Rights Council discusses violence against women in the world of work as part of its annual discussion on the human rights of women

Back

27 June 2019

MORNING

GENEVA (27 June 2019) - The Human Rights Council this morning held the first part of its annual discussion on the human rights of women, with a panel on violence against women in the world of work.  Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland, gave keynote statements. 

In her opening remarks, Ms. Bachelet said that widespread violence against women in the world of work was a major impediment to women’s enjoyment of their fundament rights and freedoms.  Failure to pursue career development led many women and girls to be trapped in economic insecurity.  This was a great loss: studies showed that women’s participation in the global economy could add $ 12 trillion to gross domestic product growth by 2025.  A culture of impunity which minimized violence against women exposed women in informal occupations to higher risks of violence and abuse, she said, and stressed that every State, business, factory, community and individual had an interest in addressing these issues.  Guaranteeing access to justice and effective remedies for women and girls was necessary, which could be accomplished through effective labour protection, occupational safety and health policies, and complaint mechanisms that prevented and responded to violence.

Ms. Jakobsdóttir, in her opening remarks, said women were still far from achieving equality in political participation and still distant from vital decision-making processes that heavily impacted their lives.  Previous victories regarding women’s reproductive freedom were under threat in far too many places; women’s bodies were being re-politicized and debates that should have been over decades ago were emerging again.  This came at the same time as the #MeToo movement continued to expose the systematic harassment, violence and everyday sexism that women across various layers of societies were subjected to.  Violence against women was both the cause and consequence of wider gender inequalities, and Iceland was committed to developing a better understanding of the revelations of the #MeToo movement at home and abroad.  The sexist structures could only be dismantled through a large movement, she said, adding “We must do this together”.

Surya Deva, Chairperson of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and panel moderator, said that businesses should work with States and other stakeholders to address the root causes of violence against women in the world of work; try to bring systemic changes to patriarchal power structures, social norms, and gender stereotypes that bred violence; and seek to have more women in senior positions and provide managerial staff with gender-sensitive training. 

The panellists were Maria Luz Vega, Coordinator of the Future of Work Initiative at the International Labour Organization; Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; and Novelita Palisoc, Regional Representative for Asia in the International Domestic Workers Federation and President of the United Domestic Workers of the Philippines.

In the ensuing discussion, delegations welcomed the landmark adoption of the new International Labour Organization Convention on the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, as such violence and harassment was a human rights violation and a threat to equal opportunities.  Violence and harassment in the world of work were incompatible with the ambition to make decent work available to all, an ambition that was further away from being realized for women than for men; more than 250 million women lacked adequate protection at work while a higher proportion of the 40 million people caught in modern slavery were women.  Violence in the workplace – physical, psychological, and social - had devastating consequences: loss of livelihood, silencing women’s voices, and limiting their contributions in the workplace.  This serious challenge was a leadership issue, a legal issue, a cultural issue, and, more than anything else, it was an issue of responsibility, to make violence against women an issue of the past and not a continuous problem for the future.

Speaking in the discussion were the following States: Norway (on behalf of a group of countries); European Union; Bahamas (on behalf of CARICOM); Austria (on behalf of a group of countries); Uruguay (on behalf of a group of countries); Spain; Greece; Israel; France; Philippines; China;; Thailand; Vanuatu; International Development Law Organization; Russian Federation; Tunisia; Australia; Denmark; Bulgaria; Italy; Egypt; United Kingdom; and OIF.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Plan International, Inc. (in a joint statement with Defence for Children International; Terre Des Hommes Federation Internationale; and Foundation ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes); International Catholic Child Bureau; Kayan - Feminist Organization; Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture; World Jewish Congress; Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain Inc.; Iraqi Development Organization; Alsalam Foundation; Association of World Citizens; World Barua Organization (WBO); Global Welfare Association;Federation of Cuban Women; Organisation pour la communication en Afrique et de promotion de la coopération économique internationale OCAPROCE Internationale; Health and Environment Program (HEP); International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; and The International Organisation for LDCs.

The panel discussion was the first part of the Council’s annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women.  The second part will take place on Friday, 28 June, at 9 a.m. and will address the issue of the rights of older women and their economic empowerment.

The Human Rights Council will next continue its clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Groups on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, and on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Panel Discussion on Violence against Women in the World of Work

Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that violence against women in the world of work was a widespread and major impediment to women’s enjoyment of their fundament rights and freedoms.  Failure to pursue career development led many women and girls to be trapped in economic insecurity.  This was a great loss: studies showed that women’s participation in the global economy could add $ 12 trillion to gross domestic product growth by 2025.  A culture of impunity which minimized violence against women exposed women in informal occupations to higher risks of violence and abuse.  Every State, business, factory, community and individual had an interest in addressing these issues.  The impact on the rights and freedoms of the individuals concerned was severe, and damage was also being done to productivity, business revenue, and to the growth and sustainability of national economies.  Over the years, countries had sought to provide protection and prevention responses through various means, but laws were often limited in scope, excluding those working in less protected areas, such as domestic workers, including migrant domestic workers, and others working in the informal sector.  Ms. Bachelet stressed the need to guarantee access to justice and effective remedies for women and girls.  This could be accomplished through effective labour protection, occupational safety and health policies, and complaint mechanisms that prevented and responded to violence.

Statement by the Prime Minister of Iceland

KATRÍN JAKOBSDÓTTIR, Prime Minister of Iceland, said women were still far from achieving equality in political participation, and were still distant from vital decision-making processes that heavily impacted their lives.  There were constant reminders that human rights had not followed a linear path, and the backlashes had been far too many.  Previous victories regarding women’s reproductive freedom were under threat in far too many places; women’s bodies were being re-politicized and debates that should have been over decades ago were emerging again.  This came at the same time as the #MeToo movement continued to expose the systematic harassment, violence and everyday sexism that women across various layers of societies were subjected to.  Violence against women was both the cause and consequence of wider gender inequalities, and Iceland was committed to developing a better understanding of the revelations of the #MeToo movement at home and abroad.  The sexist structures could only be dismantled through a large movement, she said, adding “We must do this together”.  Last week, the International Labour Organization had ratified a historic convention and recommendations on violence and harassment in the world of work.  The convention was an important step for creating a sound base in the support for human dignity and a decent working environment for both men and women.  In consultation with the organizations of social partners, the Government of Iceland would aim at the ratification of this instrument as soon as possible.

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

SURYA DEVA, Chairperson, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Moderator of the Panel, said businesses should work with States and other stakeholders to address the root causes of violence against women in the world of work; try to bring systemic changes to patriarchal power structures, social norms, and gender stereotypes that bred violence; and seek to have more women in senior positions and provide managerial staff with gender-sensitive training, as it should help in combatting violence against women.  Businesses should consider that women experienced violence in the world of work in diverse ways and different women may experience it differently because of the intersectional nature of discrimination faced by them.  While conducting human rights due diligence regarding violence against women, businesses should use sex-disaggregated data, engage gender-sensitive experts, and consult women’s organizations as well as women human rights defenders.  As freedom of association could play a critical role in combatting violence against women, in the world of work, businesses should also take steps to support women workers in forming trade unions and taking up leadership positions in them.

MARIA LUZ VEGA, Coordinator of the Future of Work Initiative at the International Labour Organization, recalled that the Declaration of Philadelphia stipulated that human beings had the right “to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity”.  It followed that violence and harassment at work was the anti-thesis of decent work.  The International Labour Organization’s new convention was an important step to foster a more equal world of work for men and women, and to prevent, identify and address violence, including gendered violence.  It reflected an awareness that certain practices and some kinds of behaviour were damaging not only for individuals but also for the working environment, productivity, and business reputation.  The International Labour Organization had touched on this issue, including in conventions that focused on specific groups of workers.  Without respect, there was no dignity at work; and without dignity, there was no social justice at work, she stated.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, recalled that this year marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of her mandate and noted with concern that the reason that had led to its establishment, namely violence against women, remained widespread, including in the world of work.  As an independent mechanism for the elimination of violence against women, the mandate had addressed all its forms, including sexual harassment, as a human rights violation, with a particular focus on States’ obligations to adhere to a standard of due diligence when addressing the issue of violence against women.  Systemic gender-based violence against women persisted in all societies and women around the world were disproportionately impacted by gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

The Special Rapporteur drew attention to the compatibilities between the new International Labour Organization Convention on the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work and the existing human rights instruments that prohibited harassment, discrimination and violence against women, including in the workplace, notably the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention, the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, the Protocol to the African Charter to Human Rights, and the Beijing Platform for Action.  The new Convention, a new addition to this framework, provided a uniform set of minimum standards to prevent, identify and provide redress in the world of work; if properly applied, it would certainly contribute to the elimination of violence against women and harassment in the world of work.
NOVELITA PALISOC, Regional Representative for Asia in the International Domestic Workers Federation and President of the United Domestic Workers of the Philippines, said that she had been a domestic worker for 19 years in the Philippines and in Qatar and that during this time, she had been treated poorly.  She had earned very little, had had no social benefits, and had experienced sexual violence and sexual harassment.  Until joining the union in 2014, she had kept silent, thinking that she had no rights and that she had owed everything to her employers.  Trainings and seminars in the union had educated and empowered her, she had learned that as a domestic worker, she had rights, her employers had responsibilities, and above all, she deserved respect and dignity.  Today Ms. Palisoc said she was a member of the International Domestic Workers Federation Executive Committee and continued to support the implementation of the Kasambahay Law and the International Labour Organization Convention 189 on domestic workers, as well as to represent the interest of every domestic worker in the country and the world.

Discussion

In the discussion, speakers welcomed the landmark adoption of the new International Labour Organization Convention on the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, as such violence and harassment represented a human rights violation and a threat to equal opportunities.  It was a great concern that half of the world’s population feared violence and abuse at work, they said, and firmly reiterated that women should be able to go to work every day without fear of becoming victims of sexual violence and harassment, or verbal and physical abuse.  Speakers emphasized the links between this issue and the deceleration in the progress on the implementation of women’s fundamental rights and even their very questioning, and underlined the importance of dismantling the structural inequalities and social norms that underpinned gender-based violence.  Violence and harassment in the world of work were incompatible with the ambition to make decent work available to all, an ambition that was further away from being realized for women than for men; more than 250 million women lacked adequate protection at work while a higher proportion of the 40 million people caught in modern slavery were women. 

Violence in the workplace – physical, psychological, and social - had devastating consequences: loss of livelihood, silencing women’s voices, and limiting their contributions in the workplace.  This serious challenge was a leadership issue, a legal issue, a cultural issue, and, more than anything else, it was an issue of responsibility, to make violence against women an issue of the past and not a continuous problem for the future.  It required taking firm steps to ensure zero tolerance environments against those acts and strengthening both the fight against it as well as its prevention.  A delegate spoke of a ground-breaking national experience which had demonstrated that even in the most challenging settings, violence could be halved in a relatively short time-span.

Speakers asked how to create a space in which it was possible for both men and women to speak up against abuse and violence at work; what must be done to fight impunity for the offenders; the role of employers in breaking the cycle of violence; what capacity-building programmes could be put in place to support States in fighting violence against women and their harassment in the world of work; and how to raise awareness among young women about challenges they would face in the world of work and equip them to deal with those challenges.

Concluding Remarks

KATRÍN JAKOBSDÓTTIR, Prime Minister of Iceland, said in concluding remarks that globally, only 50 per cent of women participated in the labour force and that one of the reasons was violence, harassment and abuse against women in the workplace.  This situation was not acceptable for many of the States sitting in this Council.  This was a structural problem that needed structural solutions and those called for the question of responsibility, which was not with individual women, but with Governments, employers and perpetrators.  The Prime Minister spoke of the actions taken in Iceland in the wake of the #MeToo movement, when the Government had convened all employers and businesses to come up with the plan of action to address this deeply rooted phenomenon in the Icelandic society.  Addressing violence against women in the workplace was not only the right thing to do, but was economically sound since in many countries high economic growth required the participation of both women and men.  The participation of women in the workforce transformed societies and brought benefits to all; for example, the institution of paid parental leave had led to more fathers spending more time with their children.

SURYA DEVA, Chairperson, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Moderator of the Panel, noted in concluding remarks that broad themes raised in the discussion were those of best practices and what worked and what did not, the role of international cooperation in addressing the issue, engaging men in the action, accountability, and the role of employers.  It was necessary to change the mindset of employers because for many, gender was just a box to tick and very few had an understanding of how it linked to structural inequalities.  Thus, much remained to be done to raise awareness about this issue.  Secondly, he said, trade unions were mostly male dominated, and there was indeed a need to increase women’s participation therein.

MARIA LUZ VEGA, Coordinator of the Future of Work Initiative at the International Labour Organization, said in concluding remarks that the International Labour Organization was looking for ways to implement the Convention, in cooperation with Governments and trade unions.  Article 9 of the Convention provided guidance on what employers could do to address violence against women in the workplace.  Labour inspections had an important role to play in strengthening accountability for acts of violence and harassment in the workplace.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, reiterated in concluding remarks that violence against women in the workplace was a human rights violation, and outlined the role of the platform of seven independent mechanisms which worked to address violence against women globally and at the regional level.  A system-wide approach to eliminating violence against women was needed, and States were called upon to ratify the new International Labour Organization Convention and integrate it into national legal systems, together with other important human rights instruments, to enable them to produce results.  The mandate of the Special Rapporteur to receive individual complaints was another mechanism that women could use to seek greater protection from violence.

NOVELITA PALISOC, Regional Representative for Asia in the International Domestic Workers Federation and President of the United Domestic Workers of the Philippines, in concluding remarks urged States to read and adopt the Convention, as well as to respond more effectively to complaints, since in many instances, perpetrators were still walking free.

__________

For use of the information media; not an official record

Back

Back

No