ILO convention key weapon against domestic violence in the time of COVID-19

BY  · MAY 18, 2020

As COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, an increasing number of people have been forced to work from home to stem the spread of the pandemic.

But an upsurge in domestic and sexual violence is weighing heavily on women as families confront the extreme social and economic stress of the pandemic.

According to Veronica Fernandez Mendez, Head of UNI Equal Opportunities, the COVID-19 lockdowns have trapped women victims of domestic violence in their homes with their abusers. They are isolated from the networks of support that could assist them.

Statistics in Kenya indicate that cases of domestic violence have gone up across the country. Over the past few weeks, more than a third of all criminal matters reported to the authorities have been sexual in nature.

In March alone, 106 cases were reported through the Gender ministry’s toll free sexual and gender-based violence helpline (1195). This is 56 more cases than were reported in January before COVID-19 hit Kenya.

In China, February saw a threefold increase in reported cases of domestic violenceFrance experienced an increase of 32 percent while in the UK, domestic abuse calls rose by 25 percent since the start of the lockdown. In Turkey, 29 women were killed by men in March. Twenty-one of the killings happened in the 20-day period from March 11, when the government advised people to stay at home.

Mendez says shelters are already struggling to attend to the increasing number of people—mostly women—seeking refuge from abuse. Experts estimate one in four women and one in seven men face physical violence by a partner at some point in their lifetime.

In a time of crisis, this violence becomes worse. While steps have been taken to curb violence in the world of work, the lack of political will appears to have derailed the adoption of measures to guarantee the security of the survivors whether that workplace is a living room, office, or a shop.

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For instance, the ILO convention that was supposed to be the silver bullet in addressing violence at the workplace has only been ratified by one country, Uruguay.

And although the Convention beamed a ray of hope when it was unanimously adopted by states on 21st June 2019 at the 108th International Labour Conference, its implementation has been dogged by lack of commitment by member states to ratify it.

This is despite the fact that it provides a uniform set of minimum standards to prevent, identify and provide redress in cases of gender-based violence in the world of work.

The question that lingers now in the minds of many people is: What solutions exist both at the local, national and global level to curb domestic violence which has a profound impact on the workplace and productivity?

There have been renewed calls across the globe to ratify International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment in the world of work.

The relevance of tools such as Convention 190 and Recommendation 206 is stronger now than ever, according to UNI Equal Opportunities.

These two international instruments include, for the first time, domestic violence as an element impacting employment and the health and safety of workers.

As established in article 18 of Recommendation 206 in relation to article 10 of Convention 190, appropriate measures to mitigate the impacts of domestic violence in the world of work could include:

“…c) temporary protection against dismissal for victims of domestic violence…

  1. d) the inclusion of domestic violence in workplace risk assessments
  2. e) a referral system to public mitigation measures for domestic violence, where they exist; and
  3. f) awareness-raising about the effects of domestic violence.”

“These are essential tools for unions. They allow us to protect our workers throughout the workplace — whether that workplace is their living room, their office or a shop,” said Mendez.

“We need to push – now more than ever – for their ratification and make sure that unions are including them in their collective agreements and negotiations. We urge unions around the world to include strong provisions in their current negotiations with employers to ensure that workers suffering domestic abuse are supported during the lockdown period.”


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