The Caucus reached out to civil society groups including trade unions from various sectors including the free trade zone workers, plantation sector workers to name a few, to hear their stories and experiences on sexual harassment in the workplace. These members of the diverse communities of women workers provided testimonials that supported a qualitative study on the subject that was spearheaded by the trade unions. Voices of those women told us stories that sounded like these:
“Violence and harassment in the workplace is a grappling issue and is far more grievous than the existing Covid19 virus. This needs to be completely eradicated so that our workforce will be able to fully realize their rights and potential……….”
“There are over 50 women coordinators and around 500 women leaders who operate under my oversight. But we have not been able to effectively find solutions to the issue of violence against women……….”.
“It is time that the government and the employers act as duty bearers to provide a safe and secure working place for the women in the free trade zones as they play a crucial role in our economy……….”.
After listening to the numerous testimonies of the survivors from diverse sectors, and interventions from the employer representative, a consensus was reached by all present and a firm commitment from the Caucus, that the issue will be taken up for serious discussion within Parliament, in the following week, and will be advocated on, for legal reform in line with the plea made by civil society, in a manner that will also resonate ILO C 190, to ensure gender justice in the world of work.
The Women’s Caucus organized a meeting in Matale as well to hear from stakeholders in the plantations and also participated in selected workshops on the same theme, to mark International Women’s Day, choosing to challenge sexual harassment in the workplace and pledging zero tolerance for such behavior.
The Caucus agreed unanimously that they would promote the ratification of ILO Convention 190 to address Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Work Place through strong and immediate policy change and law reform, placing the offense in the context of the labor law regime, complementing attempts to address the issue that currently lie within the criminal law regime under Section 345 of the Penal Code. The next steps are due to be taken to mark International Women’s Day 2021. The Caucus will thus promote the ratification of ILO C 190 through consensus in Parliament on 9th March 2021.