The astounding speed and force with which the #MeToo movement has entered popular discourse and consciousness can make it seem as if it was a spontaneous uprising. But the foundational work that exposed workplace sexual harassment and held space for the much needed change we are beginning to see has been going on for a long time. In 1979 Catherine MacKinnon wrote Sexual Harassment of Working Women in the U.S. and Constance Backhouse and Leah Cohen wrote The Secret Oppression: Sexual Harassment of Working Women in Canada. These first books about workplace sexual harassment were ground-breaking because they gave us language to describe distressing behaviours that had been happening in the workplace but which all too often were considered “part of the job.” Not having language to talk about a problem is a very effective strategy to make it invisible. The gift of language started us on a journey to the #MeToo movement.
“That is personal, it’s none of your business.” “What if I’m wrong?” These are familiar statements we hear in the workplace, especially when staff do not have the knowledge and tools to recognize and respond to domestic violence in the workplace. Tragedies like those of Theresa Vince and Lori Dupont have shown us that domestic violence is occurring in workplaces. The workplace is not immune to domestic violence; this is not a private issue. It is often difficult to overcome the hesitation to act and the misconception that domestic violence is a private issue; however, it is imperative that when warning signs or risk factors are identified, we act.
National Day of Mourning, April 28th, commemorates workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace related hazards and incidents. Mourn for the dead. Fight for Living! Even if it takes twenty years, change is possible.
Domestic violence (DV) has significant impacts on workers and workplaces. In a recent pan-Canadian survey, we documented, for the first time, rates and impacts of DV on victims and their co-workers, including how health and life quality are affected, and supports offered by the workplace (see Further Readings). We were very grateful to have 37 people identifying as a gender minority (GM) respond to the survey – a small group compared to the overall sample of about 8500 people, but a large group when we consider how little we know about the experiences of gender minorities in this context.
We’ve come a long way with equality in the past few decades, both gender and racial equality. Yet, discrimination still exists on many levels for many different groups. In North America, there is a rising trend of black women being killed by their intimate partners, and many times, these murders are under-reported. In Canada in particular, a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days on average. Violence experienced by Indigenous women in Canada is especially concerning, with 15% of Indigenous women having reported being abused by a current or former spouse. This number is staggering compared to the overall percentage of Canadian women who report violence at the hand of a partner - 6%. Violence against women is an ongoing problem, but it’s compounded for both indigenous and black women. This is why addressing this violence and racism at every level is vital to helping better the province for everyone.
The Ontario Government passed Occupational Health and Safety legislation in 2010 to explicitly include domestic violence as a form of workplace violence. Legislating employers to protect workers from domestic violence at work is a progressive act of leadership on a complex social issue. As such, Ontario is the first jurisdiction in the world to take this step. It is a good news story for those working to protect jobs and increase safety for victims. That said; challenges inevitably follow complexity. Unintended and unanticipated consequences emerge with any system change that requires ongoing willingness on the part of leadership to learn and adapt – and to remain committed to the learning process when things go wrong. This past month a story unfolded in the U.S. sports world to underscore the complexity in addressing domestic violence in the workplace and the need for clear and unwavering leadership.
Join us in celebrating International Women's Day on March 8th! We've prepared a fun and informative video all about the amazing and inspirational Canadian women who have helped fight for women's rights and against injustice. We hope you take the time to watch it and share with others.
On January 1st this year, the Fair and Family Workplaces Act took effect in Alberta. Labour Minister Christina Gray spoke about the importance of the legislation as the first step in updating labour laws after nearly 30 years of inaction. She went on to say “Albertans deserve fair and family-friendly workplaces that support a strong economy and ensure they can take care of their loved ones.” Key changes include domestic violence leave. Providing leave allows workers who are experiencing violence to deal with related issues such as attending court, counselling or in finding housing without fear of losing their employment. Remaining employed is a key pathway out of domestic violence.
Science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over the past 15 years, the global community has made a lot of effort in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. In order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/70/212 declared February 11th as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Through Make It Our Business (MIOB), we have been teaching bystanders – who are often co-workers – how to recognize and respond to warning signs of domestic violence in the workplace for almost ten years. While sexual harassment is a different but related issue, the idea to engage and mobilize the majority of workers who do not engage in abusive or harassing behaviour creates a common focus. What do bystanders need to move from passive observation to pro-social activity?