Two Years After #MeToo: New Treaty Anchors Workplace Protections

Original Article: Rothna Begum, Women's News | December 19, 2019

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.

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