Employers must step up to the plate with training, policies, and support to protect workers from gendered violence and abuse at work, and to support survivors
Edmonton – On the 28th anniversary of the murder of 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, labour leaders are bringing attention to the ongoing physical and sexual violence and abuse facing women in the workplace, and calling upon employers to address these problems with training, policies and support.
“With the re-invigoration of Tarana Burke’s 2006 ‘Me Too’ campaign, women are telling their stories about gendered violence and abuse, especially at work, largely perpetrated by powerful men who are their bosses, their sponsors, their co-workers, or who otherwise have power over them,” said Siobhan Vipond, Secretary-Treasurer of Alberta Federation of Labour. “Many of these women are rich, famous, and powerful in their own right. But what about women without money, fame, or power? What about average working women who don’t have these luxuries – the women who are domestic workers, food service workers, retail workers, nurses, and tradeswomen? We need to pay as much attention to these women’s stories as we do to the women we see on television.”
Vipond added that while the viral “Me Too” campaign has encouraged women to share their experiences with sexual violence and abuse, this attention must extend beyond movie stars and political figures. “Whether these events make the media or not, they’re still important. These stories still matter, and these incidents of gendered violence and abuse are still just as traumatic for working women as for powerful women.”
Better workplace standards, including changes to occupational health and safety, may help to address these ongoing problems. Crucially, employers need to step up to the plate by supporting a much needed workplace culture change. “We need employers to be proactive about these problems. All workplaces should introduce training, policies, and support to prevent incidents from happening in the first place, and to assist women in coming forward with these incidents when they do.”
Unions can also play a key role in preventing gendered workplace violence and in dealing with it when it does occur, said Vipond. “When women have the protection of a union, they have more protections to prevent this type of abuse, more recourse when these incidents happen, and more support to handle the power imbalance inherent in these situations. Unions can be part of the solution by giving women power where they might otherwise feel powerless.”
But the first step in making change is for employers, co-workers, and the general public to believe women who share their stories of gendered workplace violence and abuse, according to Vipond.
“Abuse thrives when people willfully ignore it. Many of the stories being brought to light in the ‘Me Too’ campaign were open secrets. To create a better culture, our first imperative is to refuse to allow our workplaces to protect abusers. We cannot ignore these open secrets anymore.”
Alberta Federation of Labour
780-278-3640 or [email protected]