Gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the workplace is a global epidemic, one that both reflects and reinforces patriarchal power hierarchies in the world of work. It is a pernicious barrier and threatens women, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming individuals from fully and freely participating in the economy and in society.
Ten years ago, women trade unionists and allies from around the world came together to organize and demand an international response to eradicate GBVH in the world of work. They called on the International Labor Organization—the U.N. agency where workers, employers and governments come together to determine labor standards and policies—to develop a binding standard to prevent gender-based violence and harassment. That standard, Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work (C190), was overwhelmingly adopted last June by a global delegation of workers, employers and government representatives.
C190 articulates the right of all workers to be free from violence and harassment. This is the first time this right has been recognized in an international instrument, a critical acknowledgement that every worker should be treated with dignity and respect. C190 also explicitly recognizes that the task of ending GBVH requires confronting its root causes—gender-based discrimination, power relationships and precarious working arrangements—to transform workplace culture.
Unions around the world are organizing to demand governments ratify C190 and protect all workers from GBVH, regardless of contractual status. Unfortunately, the United States has a long history of refusing to ratify international standards.
But activists in the United States are using the C190 framework to push for protections through collective bargaining, to build accountability and transformation within our own movement structures, and to press for comprehensive legislation at the federal, state and local levels.
One such piece of legislation introduced last year, the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act, would ensure all workers are legally protected against discrimination and harassment at work. The BE HEARD Act extends legal protections to independent contractors and workers in other non-standard employment arrangements such as unpaid interns, fellows, volunteers and trainees. These insecure forms of work are increasing as employers continue to seek ways to get out of direct employment relationships and decrease their own accountability. Ending GBVH in the United States requires addressing precarious work holistically, and ensuring non-standard forms of work are covered by discrimination laws is a critical first step.
C190 requires governments to protect workers made especially vulnerable to GBVH because of their identity in marginalized groups, including their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ individuals face particularly high rates of GBVH on the job and the BE HEARD Act addresses this as well, and at a critical time. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently set to decide whether our current discrimination laws cover harassment based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. The BE HEARD in the Workplace Act would ensure LGBTQ individuals have these protections by clarifying that unlawful sex discrimination at work includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This International Women’s Day, take action against gender-based violence and harassment. Support the BE Heard Act. Ask your representative to co-sponsor the bill and ensure all workers have the legal protections against discrimination and harassment at work.
The BE HEARD Act fact sheet from National Women's Law Center
Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: There Is Power in My Union