Dear Women MPs of the World,
As you come together in UK Parliament today, for a landmark meeting of the largest ever number of women parliamentarians from around the world, we are writing to ask for your support.
Support to push through legislation to end violence and harassment in the workplace – from the floors of garment factories in South Asia to the corridors of power through which you have risen.
In the centenary year of the first women winning the right to a parliamentary vote in the UK, many, including the Centenary Action Group – a coalition of over 100 women’s rights activists and campaigners – have been considering what we need to do today, to keep progressing women’s rights. The spirit of the suffragettes, their sense of resistance and resilience guides us. We are also alive to the importance of building an inclusive movement across all kinds of divisions in society, and most importantly to look at opportunities for global solidarity.
As women MPs from around the world who are meeting together in Westminster today to share experiences and priorities, we call on you to address the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and to seize a historic opportunity.
A third of countries around the world currently have no legislation to tackle violence and harassment at work. No legislation means that there are few – if any – avenues for employees to speak out about workplace harassment and seek redress. We know that sexual harassment at work is a global problem. It is one that often affects the poorest, least powerful, and least visible who can least afford to speak up.
It is also a story in which the pressure to demand accountability from employers varies considerably across different forms and places of work, but it affects all – including in the political sphere.
This week’s Women MPs of the World event provides a wonderful opportunity for you to send out a collective message. Your legal, political and institutional power, demonstrating support to the global #MeToo movement, in solidarity – would shake foundations.
Earlier this year, thanks to global campaigns from organisations like CARE International, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) agreed to implement a global Convention against sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. This is a major step. If the draft is ratified at the ILO Conference in Geneva next June, with language that includes a wide definition of workplaces and includes informal workers, the self-employed and those in customer-facing sectors, then millions in every country will be safer.
The Centenary Action Group is calling on you to support a progressive ILO Convention that protects workers everywhere. The message should be clear to all potential abusers: there will be no legal loophole to hide behind.
Around the world, women are campaigning every day for policies that deliver change on the ground. Political campaigners like Tran Thi Nga, who risks her life to defend abused workers. Or Nazma Akter, a former child worker from Bangladesh who, in her capacity as an activist and trade unionist, is working to improve the lives for women in the garment industry. Research from CARE International revealed that in just one year, one in three garment workers in Cambodia experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. #MeToo persists, even on the other side of the world, among women whose voices we hear far less than those in Hollywood.
And this abuse is replicated in workplaces the world over, including in political work. One in five people working in the UK Parliament have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment over the previous year, with women reporting twice as much sexual harassment as men.
Globally, a survey by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has found that 65 per cent of women parliamentarians across the world have been repeatedly subjected to humiliating sexual remarks and 21 per cent had been subjected to some form of sexual violence. It is enough to put women off going into politics.
Right now, there is a window of opportunity. Parliamentarians the world over can help draw a line in the sand and make a difference for all – or it can all fall short.
I hope, this time, with the help of women parliamentarians like yourselves, all our governments will vote for a convention that gives protection to all workers in all places of work, globally.
Yours in sisterhood,
Helen Pankhurst and the Centenary Action Group
For more information about the Centenary Action Group, visit their website here