To observe the 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), The Daily Star and ILO's Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Sector Programme Phase II (RMGP-II) jointly organised an online discussion titled "International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention C190 and its relevance in Bangladesh". The discussion took place on December 10, 2020, on the International Human Rights Day which was also the last day of the 16 days of activism against GBV. Here we publish a summary of the discussion.
Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director, ILO, Bangladesh
The ILO Convention Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work (C190) and its accompanying Recommendation (R206) went through a long process and it culminated in the adoption of the convention in the ILO Centenary Conference in 2019. The Bangladesh government voted in favour of the adoption of the Convention C190 and Recommendation R206 and we are optimistic about the ratification of C190 by the government of Bangladesh. Workers' and Employers' organisation need to engage to discuss the convention's ratification and figure out how it can be integrated into the national system through legislation to improve practices in addressing workplace violence and harassment.. Without addressing issues around violence and harassment, including GBV in the world of work, it is impossible to achieve the Decent Work Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Shammin Sultana, Programme Officer, Gender Mainstreaming, RMGP-II, ILO, Bangladesh
ILO's C190 and R206 were adopted on June 21, 2019. This is the first-ever convention on eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work. ILO's Dhaka office was actively engaged with stakeholders for the adoption of the convention.
ILO's RMGP-II, funded by the government of the Netherlands, Canada, and the UK, technically supports the Bangladeshi government's efforts to ensure safe and decent working conditions in the garment and other sectors to improve competitiveness in Bangladesh. Women workers make up more than 60 percent of the RMG workforce. Therefore, achieving gender equality and women's empowerment is very crucial. Combating violence and harassment including GBV in the world of work is a major focus of the programme.
Aya Matsuura, Gender Specialist, Decent Work Team (DWT), ILO, New Delhi
C190 recognises everyone's right to a world of work free from violence and harassment. It is critical to define and prohibit violence and harassment in the world of work in the laws and regulations. This convention also talks about the importance of adopting an inclusive, integrated, and gender-responsive approach in efforts to provide protection to everyone, to develop comprehensive frameworks for preventing and addressing violence and harassment, and to address persistent gender inequalities in eliminating violence and harassment, especially GBV.
While disseminating information on C190, it is also essential to be sensitive towards different audiences.
Taslima Yasmin, Assistant Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka
ILO RMGP-II's recent study on "Overview of Laws, Policies and Practices on GBV and Harassment in the World of Work in Bangladesh" suggests that there are some key gaps in our legal framework. The laws defining and criminalising sexual offences are inadequate in Bangladesh. There is also a lack of provision addressing sexual harassment.
The government should emphasise on strengthening the national legal and policy frameworks on violence and harassment in the world of work, reform the Bangladesh Labour Act and the Bangladesh Labour Rule, and reform criminal laws on GBV and harassment. In the absence of specific legislation to address sexual harassment, strengthening the enforcement and monitoring of the 2009 High Court guidelines in workplaces and building awareness among all stakeholders is essential.
Dr. Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)
Sexual harassment and violence in workplaces arise due to power relations, along with certain social, political, and cultural factors.
Women's participation in the labour force is essential, not only for their own development, but also for the society. Bangladesh is expected to graduate from the least developed country (LDC) category in 2024 and ratification of ILO's Convention C190 is an integral part of this graduation.
Humaira Aziz Director, Women and Girls' Empowerment Program, CARE, Bangladesh
In the context of violence against women, social norms play a huge role. These norms can only be changed through laws that deter these harmful practices.
In order to encourage the younger generation of women to participate in the economic realm, it is crucial to create a safe work environment which is monitored and guided by protocol.
Different stakeholders have concerns about committing to an international convention which we may not be able to adhere to due to a lack of resources and we need to identify and address these concerns in order to move forward with the ratification.
Nazma Akter, General Secretary & Executive Director, Awaj Foundation
Awaj Foundation follows the C190 convention in order to eliminate GBV in the RMG sector. We work at the policy and advocacy level with the government and other stakeholders. We also educate and spread awareness among factory-level management, workers, and unions. Our goal is to convince factories in supporting this convention.
Mahjabeen Quader, Senior Advisor, Economic Affairs and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Netherlands Embassy
The role of the stakeholders needs to be given more attention and the recommendation section for C190 should identify what needs to be done at what level. The ratification of this convention is going to be a coordinated effort but the government definitely holds the primary responsibility in moving things forward.
Kohinoor Mahmood, Director, Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS)
BILS has prepared a Bangla draft of the ILO convention. We have distributed this translated version of C190 along with posters and leaflets to create awareness among the workers.
If the government wants to implement all its development agendas, ratification of C190 is crucial.
Naimul Ahsan Jewel, Member Secretary, National Coordination Committee for Workers' Education (NCCWE)
Our request to the government and workers' organisations is to raise their voice in support of the implementation of C190 since its integration is crucial for us.
Tapati Saha, Programme Analyst, Women's Economic Empowerment, United Nations (UN) Women in Bangladesh
It is extremely important for C190 to be ratified and we also have a role to play in assisting the government in the ratification process.
This convention is highly important because it is focused solely on dealing with violence and harassment in the workplace. Our world of work is highly hierarchical with intellectual work being valued the most and work at the service provider level is undermined. Women are usually involved in this service-provider category.
Maheen Sultan, Senior Fellow of Practice, Gender and Social Transformation, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD)
Our research has shown that young women in the workplace have difficulties finding the right language to talk about sexual harassment or protest against it. One of the strengths of C190 is that it deals with both formal and informal sectors.
Fazle Shamim Ehsan, Second Vice President, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BKMEA)
Guidelines need to be provided to the workers and to the employers for establishing a functional complaint mechanism. Otherwise, there will remain misconceptions on both the management's and the workers' side. There are times when we are unaware about what constitutes harassment. A set of guidelines provided for each employee would help them maintain professionalism with each other. We also need to form anti-harassment committees in our industries.
Md. Matiur Rahaman, Deputy Inspector General (Health), Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE)
We have developed the Gender Roadmap with the support of ILO's RMGP-II. This roadmap will make the labour inspectors more capable of monitoring and inspecting the gender issues in workplaces. In order to speed up the whole ratification process, we need to find the key stakeholders.
We also must stop stereotyping and employing women in certain specific positions because of their gender.
George Faller, Chief Technical Adviser, RMGP-II, ILO, Bangladesh
Convention C190 is the first international labour standard which comprehensively addresses violence and harassment in the world of work. ILO is calling for its ratification as a way of implementing and accelerating actions on prevention of violence and harassment in the world of work. Ratification will not be enough; the convention needs to be properly implemented as well.
ILO is in the process of translating the full C190 convention and the recommendations. From ILO's end, we will provide our full support to the government, employers, workers, and other partners to get C190 ratified and implemented in Bangladesh.