8 January, 2021An increase in gender-based violence during the Covid-19 crisis has led unions in the region to mobilize at an unprecedented level to demand that governments ratify ILO Convention 190.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has not been spared the growing shadow pandemic of increased violence against women during the coronavirus crisis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines. More than 40 women trade union leaders and activists who met online for the IndustriALL MENA women network in November denounced the increase in violence, expressing concerns about the mental health of many of their women members.
Union representatives from Tunisia and Iraq said that some women had committed suicide after losing their jobs or being left with lower income, while suffering domestic violence and doing additional unpaid work at home, taking care of children with schools closed.
IndustriALL MENA women called for urgent action from their trade unions to respond to the situation. Since 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, unions have intensified their campaign against gender-based violence and in favour of the ratification of the ILO C190.
In Morocco, pictures of workers at their worksites, trade union leaders and parliamentarians holding placards calling for the ratification of ILO C190 were shared on social media. Both the Union Marocaine du travail (UMT) and the Confédération démocratique du travail (CDT) developed materials to raise awareness on C190 and gender-based violence, reached out to parliamentarians and sent letters to the government to lobby for the ratification of C190. They also developed training programmes for their members on working women’s rights and ILO C190.
A delegation representing the 190 Coalition for a World of Work Free of Violence and Harassment filed a request to meet the prime minister. Thuraya Lahrech, parliamentarian, CDT leader and national coordinator of the coalition, says:
“The coalition was formed in 2019 and consists of artists, youth, women and trade unions, including UMT and CDT. We have organized several activities with the government, national institutions and international organizations on the Convention. We have developed a briefing paper on the Convention and we will soon launch an education programme targeting workers.”
Amal el Amri, UMT assistant general secretary, parliamentarian and president of the Union progressiste des femmes du Maroc (UPFM-UMT), said:
“Violence in the workplace has dire effects on women psychologically, socially and professionally due to the absence of legal protection. The pandemic has exposed the extent of domestic violence in our societies, as its percentage increased during quarantine. With the adoption of Convention 190, which recognizes the dangers and effects of domestic violence on working women and outlines many measures of protection, we will not remain victims of double violence. Let us mobilize to demand the ratification of the convention.”
In Jordan, the JTGCU reached out to migrant women workers and distributed leaflets and posters. In Iraq, Hashmeya Al-Saadawi, co-chair of the MENA region for IndustriALL, led a delegation to request the government to ratify C190. Earlier in the year, the UGTT in Tunisia sent a team to parliament to ask for the ratification of C190.
Since the creation of the IndustriALL MENA women network in 2015, women leaders have put the issue of gender-based violence on their unions’ agendas, with significant achievements in Iraq, Tunisia, Jordan and Morocco. The adoption of ILO C190 and continued efforts by women to drive the issue has led it to become less of a taboo. IndustriALL affiliates from CDT and UMT in Morocco and most of the IndustriALL’s Iraqi affiliates have taken IndustriALL’s pledge.