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Eliminate violence against women

16 November, 201225 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. 2012 marks the 13th year that world civil society has commemorated this day, with the UN General Assembly designating the day at its 54th session.

The day is designated in memory of three political activists in the Dominican Republican – the Mirabal sisters – who were brutally assassinated by the regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo on 25 November 1960.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women also marks 25 November to 10 December, to emphasize the connection between women, violence and human rights, which encompasses 25 November, the 1 December World Aids Day, the Montreal Massacre of 6 December 1989, when 14 female engineering students were gunned down in Canada for being feminists, and 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Violence against women is an act that results in or may result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women. Violence against women can occur in private, such as in the home, or in public. These forms of violence can be rape, domestic violence, trafficking, forced prostitution, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, an arm of warfare and murder, inexorably linked to the problem of HIV-AIDS and gravely impacting on women’s rights. Prevention activities need to take place alongside efforts to reduce violence against women and girls. These programs must address the interconnection between gender and socioeconomic inequality and vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.

Gender-based violence is due to the pervasive system of injustice that perpetuates the dominance of men and the subordination of women and is the most glaring example of gender inequality. Gender-based violence adversely affects the world of work. It is described by many as the world’s worst human rights violation. At least one in three women worldwide are estimated to have been forced to have sex, physically beaten or otherwise abused. Apart from the human suffering, there is an economic efficiency argument to eliminating violence against women. Due to life-long discrimination and job stereotyping, most women work in low-paid and low-status jobs with little control or decision-making power or scope for bargaining. They are over-represented in atypical and precarious jobs which are risk factors for gender-based violence including sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Moreover workplace violence can take the form of bullying and mobbing.

The economic crisis is likely to have exacerbated violence against women. Women’s situation is more precarious and thus more vulnerable, which increases the likelihood of violence.

The interplay between domestic violence and gender-based violence at work has become increasingly clear. The victim may even be stalked by the abuser at work, with all the ramifications that this would have for the other employees. The poor job performance by the person concerned affects the whole workplace and decreases everyone’s productivity. The victim suffers from low self-esteem and stops interacting with the outside world. Absenteeism goes up, poor staff relations ensue.

A recent UK study estimates that domestic violence costs the economy 2.7 billion pounds (4.2 billion USD) a year in reduced productivity, lost wages and sick pay. In the United States in 2011 The Novartis Pharmaceuticals Company was found liable in one of the biggest-ever sexual harassment and discrimination cases and ordered to pay 3.3 million USD in compensation and 250 million USD in damages to 5,600 women who were also entitled to seek additional awards of up to 0.3 million USD each.

Unions in male-dominated industries should lead the campaign to stop violence against women. Partnership between women and men must be fostered in order to create an environment which nurtures peace and development. Unions should fight gender-based violence through collective action of men portraying this as a sign of strength and not of weakness. Working with men to eliminate violence against women will be a giant step on the way to gender equality.

Many countries have passed stronger laws to tackle the problem of violence against women. There are a number of regional treaties that have enshrined laws to stop the violence. Nevertheless the workplace itself can be a platform for the prevention of violence. Collective bargaining can be a basis for tackling violence. Equality agreements which provide for transfers and monetary compensation for victims of domestic violence are one more tool.