First anniversary of the groundbreaking ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment

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June 21, 2020, marks the first anniversary of the adoption of the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment (Convention 190) and Recommendation No. 206. The adoption of this monumental convention by governments in 2019 was not only a milestone for the ILO in its centennial year, but it was an important step forward for women workers worldwide, the majority of whom are exposed to precarious conditions of work and denied basic legal and social protection.

We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Uruguay for being the first country to ratify Convention 190 and to put it in perspective. As expressed by Cotidano Mujer, a feminist collective based in Uruguay, “This Convention recognizes the feminist struggle to make gender violence and abuse of power visible in the framework of patriarchal relations and obliges states and employers to establish prevention mechanisms. The right to a world free from harassment and violence at work involves legislation, but also the mobilization of trade unions to protect those who file a complaint as well as an increased social rejection of violence.”


Must we wait for ratification to utilize this new framework?

In a global context where many national ratification campaigns have been slowed down by measures that are being enforced to tackle COVID-19, the completion of Uruguay’s ratification process underscores the importance continuing our advocacy. However, as we await the second ratification of Convention 190 for it to come into force, there are important ways in which these new standards are being utilized by advocates to demand legal and policy reform, even prior to ratification. Read here about the novel efforts of faculty and students at the Miami Human Rights Clinic, along with partner organizations based in Southern Florida in the United States, to hold their government accountable for violations of the rights of low-paid migrant farmworkers, plant nursery workers, and domestic care workers facing gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination in the world of work.


The urgency to utilize the groundbreaking C190 and R206 framework

With the onset of COVID-19, the world could not be more different than it was a year ago. The need to ensure that governments do everything possible to respect, protect, and fulfill workers’ rights has assumed a new level of urgency as livelihoods are lost, the demands on certain workers increase, and more homes are transformed into workplaces.  Additionally, many women’s lives are being acutely impacted by the increased burden of unpaid care and domestic work, the demands of home-schooling, and the surge in domestic violence combined with limited legal recourse and access to reproductive health services. There has been a notable increase in online violence, which national legal frameworks are not equipped to address. This is an unprecedented moment that calls for the application of the expansive and forward-looking framework offered by Convention 190 and Recommendation 206 and it must be put to use.


We must act now to resist any further deepening of gendered and racial inequalities

If there’s one thing that most countries have in common, whether rich or poor, it is that the majority of women workers are the least protected, both before and during a crisis. The risk of violence, harassment and other types of abuse, including economic abuse, is heightened by factors including race, immigration status, and type of occupation, making women workers belonging a certain race, ethnicity, legal status or occupation exponentially more vulnerable. These workers are more likely to not have any social protection and to be excluded from relief packages. As noted by human rights experts, pre-existing gender-based inequalities and vulnerabilities are being exacerbated. This portends an array of potentially far-reaching consequences for women, including their permanent expulsion from the workforce.


This is a time to reimagine and rebuild together

If ever there was a time to push the boundaries, it is now. The demand for ratification of Convention 190 must be amplified through the joint efforts of different actors and movements in the countries that adopted it last year. They must demand radical steps to eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work, with an urgent focus on highly feminized sectors where both occur with impunity. The groundbreaking provisions of Convention 190, including the expansive definitions of “worker” and “world of work,” and its recognition of domestic violence as a workplace issue, should be used in conjunction with the useful guidance offered in Recommendation 206 to protect the rights and dignity of workers who are most vulnerable to exclusion and irreparable harm from the pandemic.

Join the Global 16 Days Campaign to amplify the call to governments to #RatifyILO190!


Written by Melissa Upreti, Senior Director, Program and Global Advocacy, at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. Published on June 19, 2020.