Gender-based violence and sexual harassment in the workplace and women’s economic empowerment

16 Days of Activism


Article 23 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states unequivocally that everyone has the right to work in just and favorable conditions. But globally, our culture’s perpetuation of gender stereotypes, discrimination, and unequal power relations enables gender based violence (GBV) and sexual harassment in the workplace. 

When the proper legal protections aren’t in place, women suffer. Workplace harassment and violence spans anywhere from swallowing inappropriate jokes to being asked for sexual favors or suffering unwanted physical contact. And despite the fact that one in every five people have experienced some form of violence at work, these abuses continue to go critically unreported.

Violence and harassment kill productivity, too; on top of the actual abuse experienced, women enduring GBV and workplace harassment often have trouble with work attendance, can’t advance at their jobs, or see their overall earning capacity hindered. The economic costs associated with GBV and workplace harassment is estimated at $1.5 trillion lost annually (USD). That amounts to roughly 2% of the world’s gross domestic product.

A beacon of hope was the Violence and Harassment Convention (ILO 190) treaty adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) four years ago, which set global legal norms for how to handle GBV in the workplace. Domestically, we know that the United States needs to ratify ILO 190. Ratification would mandate the passage of necessary laws to adequately address violence and harassment at work. As for the rest of the world, only 31 states have ratified ILO 190 – we need to up the ante. 

That means supporting NGOs like the International Center for Research on Women and CARE, who are doing the work to encourage states all over the world to ratify ILO 190. ILO 190 needs to be ratified everywhere, because women should only have to focus on one thing at work – work.

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Authored by Annabel Gregg, NGO CSW/NY Advocacy Intern