OPINION | SA must play its part in the prevention of GBV in the workplace, and ratify C190

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Ratifying C190 is key in achieving decent and fair work for all and women’s rights and equality in the workplace, says the writer.  Photo by Hian Oliveira on Unsplash
Ratifying C190 is key in achieving decent and fair work for all and women’s rights and equality in the workplace, says the writer. Photo by Hian Oliveira on Unsplash
Hian Oliveira

Irene Charnley is urging government to ratify Convention 190, a new global International Labour Organisation (ILO) treaty to prevent and curb violence and harassment in the workplace, including gender-based violence and femicide.


On 2 December 2020 a National Dialogue on combatting violence and harassment in the world of takes place, with President Cyril Ramaphosa leading the discussion.

This conversation takes place during the annual 16 Days of Activism campaign against Gender-Based Violence ("GBV"). This campaign was initiated by the United Nations close to three decades ago, yet it is sadly apparent that little progress has been made. Indeed, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic across the globe has seen the level of GBV crimes escalating.

As an organisation, IWFSA urges Parliament and Cabinet to ratify Convention 190 (C190), a new global International Labour Organisation (ILO) treaty to prevent and curb violence and harassment in the work-place, including gender-based violence and femicide.

It has been more than a year since the ILO International Labour Conference in Geneva voted overwhelmingly to adopt the new Convention (C190) and recommendations to end violence and harassment in the world of work. C190 is the first international standard that aims to put an end to violence and harassment in the world of work. As with all international conventions, C190 must be ratified by individual governments before it becomes effective.  We urge the South African government to ratify it as a matter of urgency.

Key to decent and fair work

Ratifying C190 is key in achieving decent and fair work for all and women’s rights and equality in the workplace. In addition to our country’s Gender-Based Violence (GBV) laws, C190 represents an extraordinary opportunity for our government to accelerate the fight against gender-based violence on all fronts, at home and at work.

Violence and harassment at work cannot be tolerated. C190 recognises that everyone has the right to a world of work free from violence and harassment. C190 covers existing gaps in national legislation.

The Convention 190 was adopted in June 2019. In January 2020, Uruguay became the first country in the world to ratify C190. Argentina, Finland, Spain and Uruguay have all formally committed to ratify the ILO’s Convention.

After presentation to Parliament and ratification, we expect the Departments of Employment and Labour, and Justice and Constitutional Development to ensure that all our laws are in compliance with Convention 190 and to provide the necessary amendments where needed to curb the GBV scourge.

An ILO Convention is a legal instrument agreed by governments, employers and workers. The convention defines and sets international standards on freedom of association, right to work, right to collective bargaining and others.

When ratified and adopted as part of the national legislation by a country, it is legally binding. The convention defines and sets international standards on freedom of association, right to work, right to collective bargaining and others.

C190 defines harassment as:

"Violence and harassment directed at persons because of their sex or gender, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, and includes sexual harassment."

The convention protects all workers, irrespective of their contractual status - interns, apprentices, people in training, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers and jobseekers.

Furthermore, we urge that government allocates the R1.6 billion set aside to combat Gender based Violence in a transparent and accountable manner, that the National Council on GBV and Femicide be established as a matter of urgency and that the mandate of the Council be implemented responsibly.

What can we as business leaders in South Africa do? The vicepPresident of International Women’s Forum South Africa ("IWFSA"), Nolitha Fakude, at a recent conference on GBV, so eloquently posed 10 small questions that we should all be asking in the boardroom that can make a big difference.

  • What is our diversity and inclusion strategy? Do we have a focus on women, just as much as we would have a focus on, for example, race and disability?
  • How do our stated values and culture measure up to the realities of women in our workplaces?
  • What do our women employees and stakeholders say about us as a company, through engagement surveys? Are we caring? Respectful? Inclusive? Do we have integrity? If we know their views, do we act on them to change what needs to be changed?
  • Do we know why women leave our organisations through conducting open and honest exit interviews?
  • Does our Employment Equity plan take into consideration women representation at all levels, especially at senior executive levels?
  • How does our company compare to its peers and in the market on gender diversity and inclusion culture?
  • What does our pay parity ratio look like, both in terms of gender and race? Which areas of our business have the biggest discrepancies in this?
  • What is the current status of disciplinary cases? How many are related to sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation? How are these being handled?
  • Do we communicate our stand against GBV to all our employees? Do we help women and men develop the language and skills to express the overt or covert violence that is being perpetrated against them?
  • What support structures do we provide to victims of GBV outside of the workplace? Does our employee wellness programme pay particular attention to GBV? Do we have a hotline to report cases of GBV for our employees, anonymously if needs be? Do our corporate social responsibility efforts include a GBV focus? For example, do we commit resources to shelters for women fleeing GBV at home?

GBV is a profound human rights violation and has significant economic consequences. Let us commit to being accountable to every woman. In a country where women make up over 50% of the population and almost half of the workforce, we have a huge responsibility to represent them properly.

- Irene Charnley is a successful businesswoman and President of the International Women’s Forum, South Africa, a powerful organisation of 7,000 accomplished women from 33 nations on six continents.


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