Briefing 8.1 - Social dialogue and working in partnership

5. Working in partnership: employers, trade unions, NGOs and women’s organizations

5.1 Working together to eliminate sexual harassment and violence

Working together, employers, trade unions and global or local NGOs/women’s organizations can bring different perspectives, experiences and roles to eliminating sexual harassment and violence in the world of work. Broad national alliances can be very effective in promoting change.

  • Trade unions have significant experience in gaining access to the workplace but in some cases, male-dominated structures can mean that sexual harassment and violence are not always high on the collective bargaining agenda.
  • Employers can bring a valuable business perspective and through social dialogue make the links between eliminating sexual harassment and improving productivity and competitiveness.
  • NGOs and women’s organizations are often in contact with women in the community and have built trusted relationships with women in the area of gender-based violence but have limited access to the workplace and may not have adequate industrial relations experience.

By representing workers, trade unions can create a dialogue in the workplace about ending violence against women. They have an important role to play in documenting women’s experiences of violence. Trade unions increasingly campaign against violence against women in the workplace.

Wider alliances can also be formed at the national and local level to help change attitudes to develop ideas and strategies to combat sexual harassment and violence. Alliances of organizations can share their knowledge, expertise and resources to establish effective strategies to challenge GBV and sexual harassment.

5.2 The role of NGOs and women’s organizations in addressing gender-based violence

Some NGOs, women’s organizations and advocacy organizations at the local, national and global levels have played an important role in identifying sexual harassment in global supply chains, and in working in partnership with multi-stakeholder initiatives, employers and trade unions. Global NGOs and women’s organizations play a key role in carrying out research, training and advocacy, and informing policy in areas such as women’s poverty, child labour, trafficking for forced labour, abuses of workers’ rights and sexual harassment. In some cases they have played a role in highlighting abuses of workers’ rights in global supply chains and problems in company verification processes.

Global NGOs can work with local NGOs and other organizations, by providing support, training, information dissemination and resources for research and project activities connected to factories and farms in global production.

The following examples illustrate the work of NGOs and women’s organizations in improving women’s working conditions and addressing sexual harassment and violence in global supply chains.

  • Global NGOs such as Oxfam have carried out research on global supply chains and extensive campaigning on gender-based violence (Oxfam 2004), including support to women’s organizations and organizations that focus on the role of men and boys in ending violence against women. (Oxfam, 2012)
  • Action Aid International (2013) has developed a range of practical resources and funding to support country programmes to build an understanding of gender-based violence in the context of an international safe cities programme.
  • The global NGO, Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), has contributed important research perspectives on the prevalence and drivers of contract labour in key sourcing countries of global supply chains. (WEIGO, 2013)
  • Women Working Worldwide (WWW) partners with grassroots organizations to improve capacity and to support women workers in global supply chains supplying European markets to claim their rights, such as improved pay and working conditions. An international campaign to improve the rights of women working on flower farms gained wide international attention and was instrumental in raising issues of discrimination, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in flower farms. (Women Working Worldwide 2014) WWW works with partners in Lesotho and Madagascar to create sustainable improvements to working conditions for women working in the garment industry. Training and working with trade unions and local partners has led to negotiations with employers. For further information see:
  • Banana Link is an NGO working for fair and sustainable banana and pineapple trades, with a focus on raising awareness of the poor living and working conditions faced by plantation workers and small producers in Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. Working in partnership with employers, trade unions and local organizations, Banana Link has carried out campaigns and raised awareness about women’s working conditions, low pay, maternity rights, low union representation and sexual harassment in the sector. For further information see:
  • Fair Wear Foundation developed a Prevention of Violence Programme in garment factories, working with local partners.

5.3 Building alliances

Alliances are important to change attitudes and draw on a range of perspectives, ideas and strategies to combat sexual harassment and violence. At the local level this can include:

  • Women’s organizations and associations
  • Human rights, social justice organizations and civil society organizations
  • Men’s groups and organizations working with men and boys
  • Youth groups and organizations
  • Trade unions
  • Employers
  • Training and education providers
  • Experts, researchers and academics
  • Representatives from local government and local health services

Womankind Worldwide is an international women’s rights charity supporting women and girls to improve their lives and communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The organization partners with women’s rights organizations on the ground. In the Ica Region of Peru, women make up 65 per cent of workers in the agricultural export industry – the majority are younger women. They endure long working hours, suffer from sexual harassment, and are exposed to fertilizers and pesticides, putting their safety and health at risk. Womankind Worldwide works with its Peruvian partner, the Women’s Federation of Peru (FEPROMU) to reduce violence against women working in the agricultural industry. Training and leadership development on women’s rights is designed to strengthen women’s participation in unions and give women the skills to monitor the implementation of gender equality laws. The project led to the creation of the Agro-Industry Women’s Association, enabling women to collectively claim their rights. It has successfully lobbied for a regional by-law on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV for children and adolescents, introduced in June 2008.

“We were the first group of women in the Ica region brave enough to organize ourselves, with the help of FEPROMU…We have been able to change things: we are reporting violations of our rights, we stand up to defend our fellow women workers when they’re being yelled at and we present group claims when our pay is incomplete”. (Juana Perez Ramos, Agro-Industry Women’s Association)

The project has been important in highlighting the harassment and violence faced by women, for example, when commuting to work. One campaign raised awareness about sexism and violence in Peruvian society, with the aim of mobilizing men, women, boys and girls from all walks of life to stand up against it. The campaign Un Hombre No Viola! (A Real Man Doesn’t Rape) has got the public talking about the very high levels of rape and the apparent social tolerance towards it.

For further information see Womankind Worldwide:

5.4 Building the support of men in trade unions, as employers and in community organizations

Men have a vital role in preventing gender based violence, taking responsibility for challenging discriminatory cultural practices and attitudes towards women and in constructing equal gender norms, roles and relations. Men’s involvement is essential if the culture of victim blaming and silence is to be changed. Mobilizing men, for example, through trade unions, community organizations, and through the global White Ribbon Campaign is one way to start this process. The Mariners Union of Australia run a white ribbon campaign and on Human Rights Day, 10 December, trawler ships hoist a white flag.

Refer to Case Study 8.6: The role of men and boys in ending violence against women

5.5 Advocacy and campaigning for change

Advocacy and campaigning can change practices and enable the most vulnerable workers to claim their rights to decent work and a safe working environment free from sexual harassment and violence. Advocacy and campaigning is usually best carried out as a partnership between various organizations in the community, particularly trade unions, NGOs and women’s organizations.

Tool 10: Tips in planning and running advocacy and campaigning activities

  • Start by agreeing the objectives and focus of advocacy.
  • Discuss who needs to be a part of the campaign and the alliances or coalitions that need to be formed that will benefit the campaign.
  • Be clear about the goal(s) and main message for the campaign.
  • Be clear in communicating the intended actions and anticipated outcome.
  • Consider some of these actions:
    • Hold a public forum on a topic to raise awareness in the local community
    • Stage a rally, march or vigil to mark the UN Day to Eliminate Violence against Women, 25 November – invite participation from a wide cross-section of the community, including business associations and faith groups
    • Arrange an eye-catching event – e.g. on a washing-line hang sheets with messages from women and men challenging sexual harassment
    • Organize a speak-out where women or affected vulnerable groups can speak of their experiences
    • Commission a report or a research survey that argues the case against violence and provides an evidence base
    • Hold a press conference and write a press release summarising the survey
    • Make links with local media or arrange a radio debate
    • Organize meetings with local decision-makers, employers, police and community politicians

Carry out a range of lobbying activities such as letters, conversations or meetings with employers or local government officials