Sexual harassment and violence against women and girls was firmly in the spotlight last week, with TSSA’s members-only event hearing powerful stories from transport workers, experts, and a chilling update on restrictions of freedoms from MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy.
Held during the UN’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, TSSA’s online event explored themes of eliminating violence towards women at home, work and in public.
Executive Committee member Jhaenelle De Souza, who works as station staff, told the meeting that she “had more respect working on the doors as a female bouncer than I ever did working on the railway.” She shared experiences of being threatened by men while at work. “I’ve been threatened just checking tickets” she said. “Even in the ticket office, once I had a man threatening me so strongly I had to pull my curtain down.”
She spoke also of the occupational risks of lone working – either through staff shortages or rostas – and being placed at remote stations “having to walk home late at night in the dark feeling terrified.” Jhaenelle shared that she had experienced violence at work and had to move station as result, but her message to members was “don’t give up. I think now there’s a lot of work being done to support women at work and at home. We need to keep supporting each other.”
Make misogyny a hate crime
“We need to make misogyny a hate crime,” Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy told the meeting, joining to update attendees on the progress of the Police and Crime Bill.
She said the Bill “should have been doing more to tackle the root causes and to prevent and treat violence against women and girls”, explaining that under current laws “you get more time for vandalising a statue than for attacking a woman.”
Bell ran through some shocking statistics relating to rape cases. Only one in 60 ends in a charge while prosecutions have been falling since 2017 and sentences have become lighter.
Bell’s message to members was encouragement to “lobby the government as much as you can on the Police and Crime Bill which is in the Lords at the moment. This Bill is going to crackdown on one of the cornerstones of our democracy which is the right to protest.”
What can we do?
Trade unions have a key role to play in tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) and gender-based violence. This was the rallying message from TUC Women’s Officer Nikki Pound who explained that “members are more likely to trust their rep and disclose abuse.”
This is especially important given that, according to TUC research, over 50% of women surveyed have experienced sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace and yet four out of five women don’t report sexual harassment in the workplace.
“We need to challenge the cultures and power structures in the workplace” said Nikki, singling out management, but also “people who are popular and less likely to be called out.” She explained the legal responsibilities on employers regarding duty of care to take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of staff and ran through they pieces of legislation that underpin this.
Nikki also emphasised that trade unions can put tackling abuse into the bargaining agenda, by demanding a domestic abuse policy, mandatory training, paid leave for victims and survivors and ongoing employer support.
This focus on HR policies was something that University of Central Lancashire academic Tony Bennett also emphasised in his presentation. He told attendees that “if there was one piece of action that you could do it would be go back to your employer and HR team and ask them if they have a domestic violence policy – if not why not, and if they do, how well is it working?”