Women's News from the Web

Two Years After #MeToo: New Treaty Anchors Workplace Protections

Women's eNews - Thu, 12/19/2019 - 10:12

It’s been over two years since the #MeToo movement erupted, exposing—amid shared stories of abuse from women of all ages, nationalities, and social and economic backgrounds—endemic workplace harassment and abuse. It also revealed the systemic failure to stop it.

For 2020 and beyond, we have a new standard to which we can hold governments and employers around the world accountable for sexual harassment and violence against workers. Fueled by the outpouring of experiences that women articulated in the wake of #MeToo, a new treaty has huge positive potential, not just for women in the workplace, but for all workers.

The 2019 International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Violence and Harassment at Work—which 439 out of 476 governments, employers, and workers from around the world voted to adopt in June at the United Nations in Geneva—sets out key measures to tackle the scourge of harassment at work. These include the adoption of national laws prohibiting workplace violence and taking preventive measures, as well as requiring employers to have workplace policies on violence. The treaty also obligates governments to provide access to remedies through complaint mechanisms and victim services, and to provide measures to protect victims and whistleblowers from retaliation.

The ratification process is just beginning, with at least 10 countries signaling willingness to ratify the new treaty– Argentina, Belgium, France, Iceland, Ireland, Namibia, Philippines, South Africa, Uganda, and Uruguay. With public support and pressure, more are expected to follow suit. We can also expect countries to undertake national reforms even where they do not ratify the treaty.

Workplace sexual harassment isn’t inevitable. It flourishes when governments and employers fail to prevent it, protect survivors, and punish abusers. A 2018 World Bank report found that 59 out of 189 economies—including Guatemala, Iran, and Japan—had no specific legal provisions prohibiting sexual harassment in employment. And the ILO has found that existing laws often exclude those workers most exposed to violence, such as domestic workers, farmworkers, and those in precarious employment.

I have interviewed hundreds of migrant domestic workers in the Middle East, many of whom described being beaten or sexually harassed and assaulted by their employers. They are more at risk of such violence because they are usually excluded from labor laws, and their visas are tied to their employers whom they cannot leave or change jobs without their permission. 

So, what do we hope to change as a result?  

Individual countries should ban violence and harassment, including gender-based violence, at work in their laws and policies. They can mount prevention campaigns, conduct inspections and investigations, and provide ways for victims to make complaints and get remedies, including compensation. They should also protect whistleblowers and victims from retaliation.

Crucially, countries should also ensure that employers have workplace policies addressing violence and harassment, with risk assessments, prevention measures and training.

Having good examples of how to fight workplace violence can have ripple effects. Governments can work with employers and worker organizations to develop information campaigns that can reach the public widely, as well as specific campaigns to highlight how violence and harassment will not be tolerated, how it can be reported, and what will be done about it. Effective and accessible complaints procedures, successful investigations by employers or authorities, as well as sanctions against the abuser or their employer, and remedies for victims will encourage more women to come forward and help deter abuse.

For instance, while clothing brands or factories often bring in social auditors to examine factory working conditions, social audits primarily rely on in-factory interviews with workers who may fear retaliation, often leaving them ineffective for detecting workplace sexual harassment. In contrast, women workers who speak outside factory premises feel less anxious about retaliation. The Worker Rights Consortium, an international labor rights group, found evidence of sexual harassment in three factories in Lesotho after conducting off-site interviews with workers. All three factories had been using routine social audits by third parties.

The factory management signed legally binding agreements with the unions and three brands, promising to carry out  a program designed by factory unions and two prominent local women’s rights organizations. It includes creating an independent investigation body to look into complaints of sexual harassment, and anti-retaliation protections, and provides that factories’ policies against gender-based violence and harassment also apply to its suppliers and third-party contractors.

Workplace violence is not limited to paid workers. Protections against violence should also include people who are often at greater risk: volunteers, interns, job applicants, and job seekers. Dangling the possibility of a job in return for sex to someone looking for a job is known as quid pro quo; many women have highlighted how often this happens. Companies should investigate and sanction such behavior. In December, activists in Japan called on the government, companies, and universities to stamp out sexual harassment of job-hunting students.

Global trade unions, motivated by the adoption of this new treaty, are planning national campaigns to support ratification. These campaigns will highlight the abuses faced in numerous sectors that have been out of the spotlight. For example, the market traders are organizing in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to stop harassment, and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) opened a global campaign in May 2018 to press the world’s largest hotel company, Marriott, to sign a global framework agreement to protect its workers from sexual harassment across all Marriott hotels globally.

Coming off protests at Marriott hotels worldwide including an event at the International Labour Conference, Marriott did not heed calls to negotiate such a global accord but instead announced in September 2018 that it would continue to roll out alert devices, commonly known as “panic buttons,” for their workers across North America in 2020.

In contrast, earlier this year the IUF successfully negotiated the first global agreement on sexual harassment in the hotel sector with the Spanish multi-national hotel chain Meliá. And in September it  successfully negotiated an agreement with the French multi-national hotel chain AccorInvest on measures to combat sexual harassment at work, including disseminating detailed information relating to the zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.

States should also identify sectors of work and work arrangements that leave workers more vulnerable to violence and harassment. Domestic workers, garment workers—most of them women—and those in precarious employment, like short-term contracts and the increasing gig-economy, can easily become prey to abuse. An employer can put in place complaint mechanisms but making a complaint should not mean the end of their job or career. Tackling these structural issues so that all such workers are protected will be important.

Governments and employers should also address third parties who harass or are harassed. They are the patients who abuse or face abuse by medical staff, the customers and the service staff, the teachers and their students. According to a 2018 survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters / Union of Women Teachers body (NASUWT) in the UK, one in five of their members said they had been sexually harassed at school by a colleague, manager, parent, or pupil since becoming a teacher. Safety at work is not just threatened by colleagues or managers, but by the people with whom we interact with for the purpose of work.

#MeToo helped expose the endemic abuses that women face in the workplace. In 2020, we should see the start of the structural reforms needed to end violence and harassment at work for women, and all workers, on a global scale.

Rothna Begum is a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Two Northern Ireland women to get abortion costs compensation

Women's News from the Web - Thu, 12/19/2019 - 05:56

European court orders UK government to reimburse mother and daughter forced to travel to England for abortion

A mother and daughter from Northern Ireland who were forced to travel to England for an abortion are to be compensated by the government over their costs.

The European court of human rights has instructed the government to reimburse the women for the cost of travel and the termination at a private English clinic seven years ago.

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Will the new Tory intake help to build a more progressive party? Don’t count on it | Tim Bale

Women's News from the Web - Thu, 12/19/2019 - 04:31
Many MPs who have taken over in former Labour strongholds are young, female or gay. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re moderate

Each general election brings with it a bunch of new MPs itching to make their mark – especially if, as in 2019, it results in a big turnover of seats. And this one has given us a new intake of 140, nearly 100 of whom are taking their places on the Conservative benches, a third of them from the so-called “red wall” seats gained from Labour on 12 December.

Related: Who are the Conservatives' most controversial new MPs?

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Low-cost breast cancer drug 'could save lives in low-income countries'

Women's News from the Web - Wed, 12/18/2019 - 08:39

World Health Organization approved cheap version of ‘essential medicine’ Herceptin

A cheap version of the groundbreaking breast cancer drug Herceptin has been approved by the World Health Organization, raising the possibility of lifesaving treatment for the first time for women in low-income countries.

Herceptin is the brand name of trastuzumab, a drug which by 2006 in the UK was the subject of a huge battle for access for the 20% of women with the type of cancer, called HER2+, that it targets. Trial results released at a conference in the United States fired up campaigners. There were marches in the streets, legal actions and an unprecedented political decision by the then UK health secretary Patricia Hewitt to pay for the drug regardless before any cost-effectiveness assessment had been completed.

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Shiori Ito, symbol of Japan's MeToo movement, wins rape lawsuit damages

Women's News from the Web - Tue, 12/17/2019 - 19:09

Civil court rules in favour of reporter, two years after she alleged a bureau chief date-raped her

A Japanese woman whose rape accusations against a prominent TV journalist turned her into a symbol of the country’s fledgling #MeToo movement has been awarded 3.3m yen [$30,000] in damages.

Shiori Ito went public in 2017 with allegations that Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a former Washington bureau chief for the TBS network with close ties to the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, had raped her two years earlier.

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Little Miss Period: the manga character challenging Japan's menstruation taboos

Women's News from the Web - Tue, 12/17/2019 - 13:51

Film praised by women in Japan where talking about periods in public is considered dirty or embarrassing

A manga character shaped like a pink blob with bright red lips and leggings is challenging taboos surrounding menstruation in Japan, but not everyone is convinced that Seiri-chan – Little Miss Period – is a force for good.

The anthropomorphised period, now the star of an anime movie of the same name, has received a largely positive response from women in Japan where talking in public about menstruation is often seen as dirty or embarrassing.

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Trans reforms will not diminish cis women's rights, says Holyrood

Women's News from the Web - Tue, 12/17/2019 - 06:14

Draft bill would make it simpler for trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate

Reforms aimed at simplifying how transgender people change the sex on their birth certificates will not diminish the rights of cis women, the Scottish government has pledged as it seeks to strike a balance on an issue that has polarised opinion and divided the Scottish National party.

Holyrood’s social security secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, acknowledged in her opening remarks to the draft bill, which opened for consultation on Tuesday, that some organisations have made cis women feel “uncomfortable and less safe” in their attempts to be trans-inclusive.

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In Case You Missed It: TEDWomen 2019

Women's eNews - Tue, 12/17/2019 - 06:03

Held in a posh resort in Palm Springs, California, TEDWomen 2019 attracted 900 people who came to network with people in their field and to hear talks by innovators and risk-takers.

Since it was founded in 1984, TED has become an idea machine. Originally, the conferences focused on the fields of technology, entertainment and design before branching out to include topics that range from science to business to global issues.  And those who didn’t hear the talks in person looked for them online. TED talks have hit an impressive number: 1 billion views.

TEDWomen began 10 years ago when Pat Mitchell approached TED’s chief curator with the seed of an idea that she and the TED team developed into a conference focusing on the power of women and girls to be creators and change makers. Mitchell herself is a star when it comes to making inroads for women in the world of media. She was the first woman to head the documentary unit when Ted Turner started CNN, the first female President of the Public Broadcasting System and author of the book “Becoming a Dangerous Woman.”  

The opening session featured well-known personalities like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her efforts to bring women into the peacekeeping process. Wearing a traditional long wrap skirt and a purple satin top and turban, Johnson strode onto a stage lit with colorful circles of neon light and told the packed audience about her 12-year tenure as the first democratically elected female head of state in Africa. Sirleaf became the leader of Liberia in 2006, inheriting a country devastated by more than a decade of civil war. Among the challenges she faced: rebuilding the country’s crumbling roads, putting economic policies in place that would lift the population out of poverty and creating an adequate health care and education system.

Sirleaf said she’s proud of what she was able to do like appointing women to important government positions. She also admitted she didn’t accomplish as much as she’d hoped as the country battled an Ebola outbreak that killed 5,000 people and an economy that contracted when prices for commodities like iron ore and rubber collapsed.  

Her remarks about the future drew cheers. She has no plans to retire and she’s putting her energy into developing a center dedicated to the empowerment of women.

Eve Ensler speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, December 4-6, 2019, Palm Springs, California. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

Then another well-known performer took the stage. Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues, held the audience rapt with a harrowing story about her childhood that’s the theme of her book “The Apology.” Ensler talked about growing up in a well-to-do family in Westchester where her father sexually abused her from the time she was 5 and then inflicted physical punishment after she began to refuse his sexual advances. During his lifetime, Ensler’s father never apologized for his actions so Ensler said she decided to write an apology in his name as a way to be finally be free of what he had done. Ensler said abused women want the profound power of an authentic apology. The way she put it, “We don’t want men to be destroyed, we don’t want them to only be punished. We want them to see us, the victims that they have harmed, and we want them to repent and change.”

Alice Sheppard speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant, December 4-6, 2019, Palm Springs, California. Photo: Stacie McChesney / TED

There was also irreverence, fun and wonder. Comedian Gina Brillion drew laughs with her stories about the tyranny of Spanx. And the audience sat mesmerized as disabled dancers Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson performed a sequence of movements that included lifting and embracing while one dancer was strapped to her wheel chair.

 During breaks between sessions, people wandered over to a patio area where you could order a latte with soy, almond or oat milk and hang out in comfortable chairs that invited conversation.  

That’s where I met attorney Abeer Abu Judeh,  Judeh, who came to the conference from Denver, is the founder and CEO of a startup called Lexdock which allows clients to manage their own legal affairs. Judeh said she decided to spend the $3,000 to attend the conference sometimes referred to as the ultimate schmooze fest, for the opportunity to meet new people and to make connections to potential funders. She said she’d also come for a little inspiration and she got it from hearing Rayma Suprani, a political cartoonist from Venezuela. Judeh, a  Muslim who grew up in a refugee camp in Palestine, said she could relate to a feeling that Surprani expressed in her talk. When the cartoonist first emigrated to the U.S. she felt like she was an alien on another planet. “At times,” Judeh said, “I still feel like an alien.”

Not everyone who attended pays out of pocket. For many conference goers, their company foots the bill.  Kathryn Jacob is President and CEO of SafeHaven, an agency that operates domestic violence centers in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. Jacob says she and her team have been trying to think out of the box, experimenting with different systems to better protect women who are in danger of being attacked by abusive husbands or partners. She came to the conference to meet new people and hear new ideas about what works in her field.

Still others, like Trillion Small came to Palm Springs to learn more about the TED brand and how the non-profit puts together its conferences. Trillion is a TEDx leader ho has signed on as a volunteer to organize the events that some people think of as baby TEDS. These are TED-like talks and performances that take place in local communities. Trillion has put together a January event in Frisco, Texas. She and a staff of volunteers have recruited the speakers, chosen the venue and are selling tickets for $100 each.

A mystery guest was announced for the closing session. In the darkened theater, a familiar face appeared on a video screen onstage. It was Jane Fonda speaking from the Greenpeace offices in Washington, D.C. Fonda has taken up residence in the nation’s capital where she’s been arrested several times for acts of civil disobedience in protests meant to highlight the climate crisis. Wearing a black tee shirt with the slogan “Fire Drill Fridays,” Fonda urged grandmas to unite and said, “We do have to build an army. To stave off depression is to do something active.”

Fonda explained that as a healthy 81-year old person with a well-known name, she feels it’s her responsibility to take a stand. And she said she knows she’s not alone. She left the audience with this thought. “There are 25 million people in the U.S. who are scared and want to do something about the climate crisis. I feel very hopeful.”

After a standing ovation, people trickled out of the theater and headed for a farewell lunch of tacos with mango salsa and little cups of flan. Before saying good-bye to new-found friends, they tapped contact information into their phones and posed for photos. Some said they’d had a good time in a pretty place, enjoying a break from the stresses of daily life. Others said they were leaving with renewed energy, ready to go home and tackle the tough issues that threaten the planet.

About the Author: Carole Zimmer is the host of the award-winning podcast “Now What?” Curated conversations with people you want to know on Apple Podcasts and wherever you listen to your podcasts. She’s a journalist with more than 30 years of experience working in radio, television and digital media including Bloomberg News, NPR and NBC. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, New York Magazine and other publications. Zimmer has received numerous awards including an Edward M. Murrow award for her radio documentary, “Stalking a Silent Killer.” You can find more of her work at www.carolezimmer.com.

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