By Michelle Petrotta, Program Officer, International Labor Rights Forum
As the world celebrates the 100th International Women's Day, the United Nations Commission on Women is in New York, reviewing progress of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action that was agreed upon in 1995. Fifteen years after the international communities committed to take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and the girl child, women are still not free from discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Women often make up between 70-90 percent of the total work force in export processing zones in developing countries throughout Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. While increased access to employment has provided new economic opportunities for women, the work they perform remains precarious as they are systematically denied rights to regular pay, working hours, equal pay for equal work, safe and non-hazardous work environments, and permanent contracts where their right to organize in labor unions is respected. Sexual harassment in the workplace is especially atrocious and widespread form of discrimination against women that completely impedes their economic empowerment and autonomy. Forced pregnancy tests as a pre-condition for employment are another form of discrimination that reduce a woman's ability to demand a living wage and break out of poverty. Women working in the garments, agricultural, and light manufacturing industries face overwhelming barriers as they attempt to earn a living wage to support themselves and their families.
For years, ILRF's Rights for Working Women campaign has worked to end the abuses women face in the workplace. For example, our Fairness in Flowers campaign focuses on eliminating sexual harassment, forced pregnancy tests, poor occupational health conditions and violations of trade union rights in the production of cut flowers in Ecuador and Colombia. You can learn more about the abuses women face in this industry by reading this report by ILRF and USLEAP. You can find out how to support women workers in the flower industry by reading our Fairness in Flowers Campaign Toolkit. ILRF also has a long history of working with grassroots organizations to document and fight sexual harassment against women in the workplace globally. You can view some of our reports on sexual harassment from Mexico to Kenya to Thailand online here.
Another sector of the economy that includes a large number of exploited women workers is domestic work. Conditions in this sector are often highly abusive and dangerous and many countries exempt domestic workers from labor rights protections. This year, the International Labor Organization (ILO) is making decent work for domestic workers a major focus. The international labor movement, including major international labor confederations like the IUF, are contributing feedback to the process of drafting a potential international convention to protect domestic workers. A new report by the International Trade Union Confederation examines the issue of how inequality in child care and household work affects women's role in the labor market.
One of the tools that can be used to reverse discrimination against women in the workplace -- including in the US -- is ILO Convention 111 which specifically addresses discrimination issues. You can find out more about Convention 111 and how it connects to rights for women on the blog here.
It's often most powerful to hear the voices of working women themselves. You can read stories from working women globally about their struggles on ILRF's website here.
On this International Women's Day, and everyday, we reiterate our support to women workers as they dare to stand up for their rights, and are an inspiration for women and men everywhere who organize against workplace discrimination.