Collective action needed to challenge sexual harassment

Kate Ramsden
Kate Ramsden

Sexual harassment at work can only be effectively tackled by the collective action of employers, trade unions and policy makers, the STUC Congress was told today.

The TUC study, ‘Still just a bit of banter?’ shows 52% of all women and nearly two thirds of women between 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment at work.

The motion made the point that the fact that union membership amongst women is at an all-time high, gives unions an opportunity to make real progress in tackling sexual harassment at work.

As part of a range of strategies, it called for the Scottish Government to make good on the promise of facility time for equality reps, sexual harassment training and seek to establish a zero-tolerance policy on violence and harassment.

UNISON Scotland’s Kate Ramsden, supporting the motion, said: “When I think back over the years I often wonder what has changed in terms of the way women are viewed in society.

“We still have a huge gender pay gap, and although women are better represented in politics and management, we still see significant under-representation

“And we still hear about the abuse, harassment and bullying of women at work.”

Kate noted that there are excellent trade union guides on harassment and bullying, great policies on dealing with it and laws on equalities which outlaw discrimination.

But, she said, despite these and the best efforts of trade unions, the women’s movement, and the setting up of Women’s Committees in most of the major unions, we still see the harassment and abuse of women at all levels of society.

Kate told delegates: “The problem is that we still live in a society dominated by male power and male privilege. The exploitation and abuse of women is, in my view, one example of a power imbalance that has never changed over the years despite our best efforts.

“The sexual harassment of women in the film industry is part of the same problem as the sexual harassment of women in the workplace; the undervaluing of women in the media; the gender pay gap which has changed little despite our best efforts.”

“And we live in a society where these abusive power imbalances can be seen everywhere – between the bosses and the workers; in the demonization by this Tory government of the poorest and most vulnerable, including those with disabilities, the rise of racism, the lack of compassion for refugees and asylum seekers and the targeting of LGBT people.

“The whole culture of our society has made it hugely difficult to challenge these power imbalances, because the power rests primarily with men of privilege.

“This is not to say that all men abuse their power. That’s clearly not true. And men can also be the victims of sexual harassment and abuse.”

Kate acknowledged some things have improved. There is a greater awareness of the problem now and some successes in promoting greater equality

“But it’s the attitudes that don’t change”, she warned: “The casual sexism, the put downs of women by men and in many cases, as we’ve seen, the view that it’s okay to see women as sex objects or somehow less valuable than themselves. That’s what we all need to tackle.”

Genuine change will only come “if we all recognise and challenge sexism wherever it raises its head. And reflect on our own behaviour to make sure we are not part of the problem”. added Kate.

“We need to make sure that women who are the victims of harassment and abuse can speak out and have support structures around them to help them to deal with it and challenge (or charge) the perpetrators.

“Fundamentally we need to use our collective powers to end male privilege. We need to find ways for women and the men who support us, to speak with one voice across society and demand an end to sexism and all other forms of discrimination.”

The STUC will now develop a strategy to create safer work environments for
women, which:
– supports women workers who have experienced sexual harassment;
– enables women workers and their colleagues to challenge such behaviour;
– helps TU representatives to work with employers to create culture, policy and practice designed to
deliver safe working environments for women and workplaces that simply do not tolerate intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive treatment of women.

It will encourage all funders and promoters of entertainment industries (including the Scottish Government), to ensure that adequate resources are put into the recruiting/casting process, to ensure a more deliberate and fairer outcome for all.

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