16 Days of Activism: Call out gender-based violence at home and work

December 2, 2020

Day 8 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence

By Rachael Mackay, WHGNE Regional Change Coordinator

Imagine you are 15 years of age and you are about to begin your first job.

You are slightly nervous and excited; the uniform is a bit uncomfortable and you are thinking, “Should I get there 10 minutes before I start or is five minutes acceptable?” You are wondering if you will be able to learn all the new information and how you will communicate with customers. 

When many young people begin their working life at age 15 in Australia, the last thing they are thinking about is any harm or abuse they may experience from colleagues, customers and management. Yet all indications are that while anyone can experience work-related gendered violence, certain conditions make some groups of people more likely to experience it. In a Victorian survey, more than 60% of women reported they had experienced some form of gendered violence at work and have felt at risk in their workplaces (VTHC). In addition, almost two-thirds of victims of sexual harassment were under 40 years of age. 

It is a serious occupational health and safety issue impacting many people across all occupations and workplaces. So what is work-related gendered violence and who is at risk? 

Workrelated violence is any behaviour, directed at a person, or that affects a person, because of their sex, gender or sexual orientation, or because they do not adhere to socially prescribed gender roles.

This includes violence targeted directly at someone specifically because they are a woman, they identify as LGBTIQA+ or they simply don’t follow socially prescribed gender roles and stereotypes.  

While we think the behaviours are often overt and easily identifiable, work-related gendered violence can also be experienced indirectly. A person may experience gendered violence not targeted specifically at them (such as overhearing a conversation that affects them) or witness violence directed at someone else. Sexual harassment is a common form of gendered violence. 

People can be exposed to work-related gendered violence from managers, co-workers, contractors, site visitors, clients, customers or members of the public. Gendered violence can be perpetrated by anyone regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity however the evidence shows that men are more likely to commit gendered violence.  

An Australian Human Rights Commission survey on sexual harassment found that women were more likely than men to experience sexual harassment in the workplace, and more likely to experience sexual harassment that caused ‘extreme offence’ or ‘extreme intimidation’. 

So, what of that young person, starting their first job, feeling that nervous excitement at the thought of learning new things, and earning their first pay? How do we prevent work-related gendered violence? There are numerous ways we can act to prevent gendered harassment and violence including training, policies, clear reporting guidelines and responses, bystander action techniques and workplace reviews.   

But if we genuinely want to shift workplace cultures, we need to get comfortable having honest conversations with young people as they begin their working careers.

We need young people to have an innate understanding that they have every right to work in safe and inclusive environments and cultures. And on the flip side, they – alongside their co-workers, employers and the community at large – have a responsibility to play their part in creating safe workplaces and cultures.

Inclusive, safe, and respectful workplaces and environments can be the norm, not the exception.  

It also needs to be clear that this expectation comes with the responsibility to report any behaviours towards themselves or others, and to have an expectation that this will be addressed promptly and safely 

After all, these young people who are just starting their first job, are the future business owners, employers, workmates, customers, and managers.