Wednesday, May 12, 2021

‘Workplace should cover journey to and from work’

In a future where Botswana has adopted an International Labour Organisation (ILO) standard on gender-based violence in the workplace, there would be severe penalties for the lecherous man aboard Mogoditshane Route 4 combi-bus who makes crude sex jokes about fellow women passengers on their way from work.

Those sponsoring the passage of this standard (like Public Service International and the European Economic and Social Committee) stress the need to establish a common definition of what constitutes gender-based violence at work and they are proposing the adoption of a definition of “workplace” that covers the journey to and from work.

“Violence may occur on the way to or from work. It is a frequent occurrence for women to be harassed, assaulted, manhandled and sometimes murdered in the street or on public transport. This kind of harassment, which targets young people in particular, has lasting repercussions: those affected are left feeling unsafe and vulnerable, which can result in an inferiority complex. For some of them, suffering such violence ends up seeming normal,” EESC says.

It conceives gender-based violence in terms of sexist jokes, insults, humiliating jibes, inappropriate gestures, pornographic images displayed on business premises and on the internet (which is a tool used by many workers in their work), psychological and sexual harassment, rape and other types of sexual assault, domestic violence. “What woman can claim that she has never encountered at least one of these forms of sexist behaviour?” EESC asks.

By degrees, Botswana workplaces are incorporating the wellness coordinator position in their structures. The proposed standard envisions a situation where health professionals “become involved in examining all cases of gender-based violence, as this poses a risk to the physical and psychological health of women workers.” It further takes account of the new risks related to use of the internet and new technologies.

“The internet is used by many employees at work and may spread gender-based violence through degrading images being uploaded, including messages posted on social media. An atmosphere of intimidation, hostility and humiliation can be present in on-line as well as in real-life relationships. The new standard would have to cater for the fact that the internet is used in work relationships and that this form of gender-based violence has to be addressed as well.”

While the current framework criminalises gender-based violence, the argument that PSI and EESC are advancing is that this alone doesn’t provide sufficient protection against gender-based violence in the workplace: “An international labour standard could provide guidance on appropriate human resource policies on gender-based violence in a business environment and underpin social dialogue and collective bargaining agreements.”

PSI has formally asked the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) to lobby the Botswana government to adopt this standard.

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