No Sexual Harassment
The fight against sexual violence at work
India Committee of the Netherlands, January 16, 2017
The battle between the sexes is of all time, and in some species the combat is a bitter one. Take the near-drowning of the female duck when being mounted by a rutting drake, or the female spider that eats the male after mating. We humans do things differently, or so we think. Here and there, the equality of men and women leaves a lot to be desired, but in no country is sexual violence considered normal. Or is it?
Reality is more stubborn. In the garment factories in the South-Indian city of Bangalore, for example, where sexual assault and rape are the order of the day, one in seven female workers is coerced into sexual acts or sexual intercourse. This is just the horrifying tip of the iceberg, though, as has emerged from the report Eliminating violence against women at work: Making sexual harassment laws real for Karnataka’s women garment workers published by the women’s organisations Sisters for Change and Munnade in June 2016. Sexual aggression would appear to be ingrained in a culture of violence against women: one in fourteen female workers in this study experiences physical violence, and being insulted or verbally abused is for everyone the order of the day. In all probability, the reality is even harsher than these figures show, because many women do not dare to speak out or do not see any point in doing so.
In 90 percent of the cases, the perpetrators are male superiors. Where the victims do report them to the factory management, only rarely is any disciplinary action taken. Not a single victim in the study brought a criminal charge.
The factories in Bangalore are no exception. All over the world where women work for low wages and in poor working conditions, they are exposed to the same hazards. ‘They are poor, they are workers and they are women,’ says Nazma Akter, President of a large trade union in Bangladesh, ‘and that explains a great deal’.
Nazma was one of the experts who came to the Netherlands in mid-September to elucidate their views on violence against women in the textile and garment industry.
‘There is a substan¬tial amount of research and theory development being conducted in this area,’ we are told by Wilma Roos of Mondiaal FNV, ‘but too little is going on at company level, and this is what we aim to do something about. Starting in Bangladesh, where we have partners who support the female workers in this industry.’
As a first step, Mondiaal FNV, working jointly with the India Committee of the Netherlands, organised a meeting of international experts. They came from Bangladesh, India, Argentina, Tanzania, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Netherlands and nearly all were women.