By Faith Muiruri
Civil society organizations have intensified calls on African governments to ratify the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment in the world of work. The CSOs want the member states to ratify the Convention to achieve the decent work agenda.
According to Dorothy Otieno, who is project coordinator attached to the Women Leadership Program at African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), violence in the world of work disproportionately affects women and plays a critical role in excluding and driving women out of the labor force. Otieno noted that violence fundamentally impacts every aspect of women’s lives and their ability to participate on an equal basis in society. “African leaders must therefore demonstrate political will by ratifying the Convention which seeks to protect scores of women and other vulnerable groups from sexual violence and harassment in the world of work.”
Otieno spoke at a side event on Gender Equality for Africa’s Economic Growth organized by Hivos during the just concluded African Regional Forum for Sustainable Development Goals in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. She said governments must find ways to improve their policies and implementation, so that their commitment to combat violence and harassment in the workplace is ongoing, not just one-off or occasional activity.
The ILO Convention 190 was unanimously adopted on 21st June, 2019 at the 108th International Labour Conference and can only become operational one year after at least two states have ratified it. At the moment only Uruguay has ratified the Convention which establishes a uniform set of minimum standards to prevent, identify and provide redress in cases of gender based violence in the world of work. This is despite the fact that the Convention garnered 439 votes out the possible 476 votes cast during the International Labour Conference.
The Convention provides an array of proposals that include the expansion of the world of work. According to the law this includes public and private spaces where they are a place of work; in places where the worker is paid, takes a rest break or a meal, or uses sanitary, washing and changing facilities; during work-related trips, travel, training, events or social activities; through work-related communications, including those enabled by information and communication technologies; in employer-provided accommodation; and when commuting to and from work.
The new law offers a major relief to all workers irrespective of their contractual status, persons in training, including interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated. Further, the law covers volunteers, job seekers and job applicants, in all sectors, both in the formal and informal economy, and whether in urban or rural areas. “Members should provide resources and assistance for informal economy workers and employers, and their associations, to prevent and address violence and harassment in the informal economy.”
During the side event Leah Eryenyu who is a Research, Advocacy and Movement Building Manager at Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), provided insights on measures that can help accelerate the implementation process. “We need an action plan for the ratification of C 190 which can include identification of strategic partners, conducting of gap analysis between C 190 and the laws/policies in place, conduct awareness creation to different organizations, policy makers, Parliamentarians, councilors, women parliamentarians and other influential people.”
She proposed the formation of a working group that ropes in Trade Unions, Human rights organizations, Women group representatives, Media, Youth, Informal workers representatives as key leaders towards ratification of ILO C190. She at the same time called for the development of simplified materials on C190 to be distributed to the strategic groups. “We can also hold consultative meetings with respective ministries of labour, parliamentary committees, legal institutions, strategic partners to seek their views and opinions.”
She said that currently, many trade unions around the world are already active in educating their members on questions of violence and harassment in the workplace. “However, more needs to be done, and especially to focus on gender-based violence, and to include marginalized workers who are at most risk such as domestic workers, informal workers. Radio and social media have, for example, proved very useful techniques for reaching live-in domestic workers who are otherwise isolated.”
A prominent theme that emerged during the plenary included the need to name and shame countries that have not ratified the convention to push them to act. “We need to find out how many have ratified the ILO Convention, have they started domesticating it in their countries, which countries are rolling out timely surveys in their national bureau of statistics,” advised Helen Apila who is the African Regional Coordinator, Equality Measures 2030. “We need to be very creative in terms of domestication, implementation, and allocation of resources because without a national timely survey for unpaid care work, we cannot justify the burden of care on women,” added Apila. She said that the only way to move is to ensure governments release timely surveys that support creation of policies and then we can hold them accountable.
Naome Chakanya, Senior Researcher from the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) concluded the discussions by stating that decent work is possible if workers, employers and the government come together to discuss issues that help to progressively realize workers’ rights.