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workplace harassment and violence

On December 7, 2017,  Efti Simha, ICJW representative at the UN in Geneva, attended a lecture at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies of Geneva, entitled: “Workplace Harassment and Violence: A call to action”.

The event was organised by the Gender Centre, the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN, and the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN. After a welcome speech from the director of the Gender Centre, Elisabeth Prugl and an introduction speech by Ambassador Chefna from Canada, the Moderator, Jan Dirk Herbermann, introduced the subjects under discussion:

1. Rising awareness.
2. Strategies to combat sexual harassment and violence at the workplace.

and the 3 panel speakers:
1. Professor Nicole Bourbonnais, Assistant Professor of International History, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies 
2. Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Vice-Chair of the CEDAW Committee 
3. Ms Shauna Olney, Chief of the Gender Equality and Diversity Branch at ILO

Professor Nicole Bourbonnais (Graduate institute Geneva) started by giving a definition of what sexual harassment is. She pointed out that there is no simple definition, a definition can be narrow or broader. She described the results of sexual harassment such as: humiliation, depression, loss of job. She added that finally more and more women were denouncing this problem and that social media was a great tool enabling transparency.

Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari (Law professor at Bar-Ilan University, specialist in family law, and vice-president of the CEDAW) stressed the legal challenge regarding sexual harassment which had been defined, as a form of discrimination against women, only in the 70’s. She also explained the role of CEDAW (Convention on the elimination of

Mrs Shauna Olney (ILO) said that even though women fear losing their jobs, being targeted, they do nowadays speak out trying to break the culture of silence as we observe from the recent global campaigns.  She briefly described the purpose of ILO (the International Labour Organisation)  and she introduced us to the New ILO Treaty on Violence and Harassment in the Workplace; an important instrument to combat abuses at the workplace.

QUESTIONS ASKED AND ANSWERS

1. What triggered the discussions all over the world? Why now?

The panelists replied that the spark came from the recent scandals and the Hashtag activism. That’s the reason why the discussion became global.

2. What do we consider as a dangerous workplace for women and which
world regions are more prone to this phenomenon?

The panellists answered that there is danger in a workplace mainly when women work in isolation, during difficult hours, in difficult areas (eg. social workers), in insecure work (often without contracts). They pointed out the difficulty for women when they are a minority at the workplace and that danger is greater when the general culture permits such behaviours against women. They concluded by saying that the phenomenon is everywhere!

3. Victims and Perpetrators: repercussions on the economy

The panellists replied that a women victim of sexual harassment will be prone to absenteeism. Then her productivity will slow down and finally she will most probably quit her workplace, facing both social isolation and depression. So long term we have to consider the impact on the business world and the economy as a whole and that sexual harassment is not only a Human Rights issue! Ruth Halperin-Kaddari added that sexual harassment is an issue of discrimination: it is an obstacle for women to climb the ladder.

4. Can we prevent and eventually eradicate sexual harassment and
violence in the workplace?

All three panellists agreed that it is possible to prevent and eradicate such
behaviours. They insisted that education is the key element and pointed out
that there is no satisfactory gender education anywhere in the world. Ruth
Halperin-Kaddari added that the idea that sexual harassment is part of human
nature is an unacceptable notion.

Conclusions:

When Suzan Fowler used to spend part of her day in her village’s library in
Arizona USA, she never imagined that one day, she would become personality
of the year 2017 for the Financial Times and that on December 18, 2017 she
would appear among the “Silent Breakers” on the front page of Time’s
magazine. Why? Mainly because on February 19, 2017, Suzan Fowler, a young
data engineer working at UBER company, published on her blog, an article of
2.916 words. She had the courage to reveal that she was being
sexually harassed by another executive member of UBER. She also revealed
that the Human Resources department had tried to cover up the despicable
behaviour.

2017 will remain in History as the year of thousands of revelations regarding
sexual harassment and violence at workplace.

It’s also important to underline that we cannot only be focused on the legal
procedures, which can be intimidating and very expensive. Extra-legal
procedures fair and confidential must be an alternative for both victims and
perpetrators. State leaders have to make the message of protection clear: in
order to help and protect the victims from all kinds of violence they need to be
provided with a variety of options for actions.

Individuals shouldn’t forget that real changes come from our day-to-day life. We
shouldn’t be bystanders. We mustn’t keep silent when we see something. That
has to stop.

Finally let us not forget that in this effort to eradicate sexual harassment and
violence at workplace men and women have to work together. They have to be
allies.