Let us make the workplace safer for women

June 17, 2019

By Virginia Munyua, Regional Program Manager East Africa for the Women@Work Campaign. This article was first published on the website of the Daily Nation.

Out of 83 governments, 79 voted in 2018 to adopt the International Labour Conference (ILO) instruments on violence and harassment in the workplace. This March, the ILO released the latest draft of the proposed convention, “Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work”, which consists of observations made by governments, as well as employers’ and workers’ organisations at the 107th ILC.

The convention will form the basis for the second discussion at the 108th ILC on June 10-21 in Geneva after almost all governments and workers’ organisations and a simple majority of employers’ organisations adopted it.

The majority of governments and workers’ organisations were in favour of a convention supplemented by a recommendation whereas the employers’ organisations wanted a recommendation.

A convention is legally binding — requiring member states to ratify and domesticate it and regularly report on its implementation — but a recommendation is not. A convention supplemented by a recommendation gives detailed guidelines on its application.


Adoption of the proposed instrument will be the fifth item on the agenda this year.

It seeks to identify the steps that governments, employers and workers must take to prevent, address and redress violence and harassment at the workplace. None of the international labour standards addresses that comprehensively.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is not about an individual — it’s systemic. It is an ever-present collaborator to subjugation and power imbalances.

Victims can be targeted for reasons including their gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, class or race.

GBV undermines workers and makes the targets fearful of speaking out as they find themselves in a dilemma — to keep their job or speak out against violence.

The targets, mostly women, are afraid of losing the sole source of their family sustenance and likely retaliation from employers.


If workers feel powerless, the power imbalance enables employers to pay wages that do not support families, get away with unsafe work spaces and ignore dangerous working conditions and engage in violence on the job.

Statistics show 35 per cent of women over 15 — 818 million — have experienced sexual or physical violence at home, in their communities or at work.

Only few countries’ laws cover some form of GBV at work. Even then, they are often neither sufficient, nor enforced.

In Kenya, for instance, the Sexual Offences Act was adopted into law in 2006. The Employment Act obliges enterprises with 20 or more employees to formulate a statement on sexual harassment.

The Constitution, under the Bill of Rights, guarantees freedom and security, including protection from any form of violence.

Speak out

But how GBV is handled usually makes it seem as if there is no protection or ways to be heard at the workplace and harassment persists.

The proposed global rule, coming after years of campaigning by workers, trade unions and human rights organisations, provides strong protection.

It would support and encourage workers to speak out, work with employers to craft polices to prevent and address GBV and provide governments with critical guidance in creating national legal frameworks that prevent and redress the vice.