The role of unions in challenging violence against women – #IDEVAW 2016
25 November marks the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the European Trades Union Confederation (ETUC) is marking the day by launching a new report mapping union initiatives in eleven European countries, including the UK, to tackle violence against women. The initiatives range from the types of things you might expect (such as awareness raising campaigns and alliances with women’s sector organisations offering support and advice for victims of sexual and domestic violence) to the less predictable (for example, an incredible six months of paid leave for workers experiencing domestic violence in Italy).
The work of UK unions features prominently in the report. The TUC’s ground-breaking research into the extent and impact of workplace sexual harassment published earlier this year is cited, as well as union negotiated policies on sexual harassment, training courses for union reps on sexual harassment, and workplace awareness raising campaigns. The findings of the TUC’s Just a Bit of Banter report that over half of all women and over two thirds of young women had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work certainly helped to focus minds on sexual harassment as a workplace issue with very real repercussions. However, the impact of sexual harassment and violence against women is not just about what takes place in the workplace. It’s also about the very real impact of violence against women in their homes and on the streets too. The reality is that domestic and sexual violence have far-reaching consequences for the working lives survivors.
The scale of the problem should not be underestimated. In the UK, it is estimated that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. In England and Wales it is estimated that 1 in 5 women aged 16 – 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. Similarly, it is estimated that one in five women have experienced stalking.
Can it be any surprise that being subjected to a violent and traumatic crime might have repercussions in other areas of a survivor’s life? Just looking at the case of domestic violence – a crime which is too often seen as a private matter, taking place behind closed doors – in any one year, more than 20% of employed women take time off work because of domestic violence, and 2% lose their jobs as a direct result of the abuse.
A 2014 TUC survey found that domestic violence presented a wide range of different barriers to getting to work. Nearly three quarters of respondents to an online survey who had experienced domestic and had experienced difficulty in getting to work reported that this was due to physical injury or restraint. Over a quarter of those who had experienced difficulty in getting to work due to domestic violence said that this was due to car keys or money for public transport were hidden or stolen by their abuser. Refusal or failure to look after children was cited as a barrier to getting to work for over a quarter of those who reported that the abuse had prevented them from getting to work.
And it’s not just about women not being able to get to work. Domestic violence and stalking often pose very real threats to victims and their colleagues in the workplace.
Over one in ten (12.6%) of those surveyed by the TUC who had experienced domestic violence reported that the violence continued in the workplace, often through abusive emails and phone calls, but also through their partner turning up at their place of work. Many respondents reported that colleagues had been harmed or threatened by their abusive partner.
The National Stalking Advocacy Service (Paladin) cites evidence that 90% of corporate security professionals had handled 3 or more incidents of men stalking women in the workplace and that 75% of domestic violence stalkers will turn up at the workplace.
The ETUC report is a timely reminder that violence against women is a workplace issue, an equality issue, a health and safety issue, and it demands a robust, proactive and collective response from trade unions.