Gendered Violence: extending the conversation about harmful behaviour at work

1 October, 2020

Bullying, harassment and violence have no place at work – yet, sadly, evidence shows these behaviours remain a problem in Australian workplaces.

While there are legislative and regulatory frameworks in place that attempt to stamp out these behaviours, research from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has found two in three women and one in three men have experienced one or more forms of harassment at work.

Most commonly, the harassment took the form of crude or offensive behaviour and unwanted sexual attention.

Nearly 8% of workers had experienced serious forms of harassment, including sexual coercion.

The ACTU also found nearly two thirds of workers had witnessed an incident of harassment at work.

Safe Work Australia estimates workplace bullying impacts 10% of Australian workers, while 22% of workers had been physically assaulted or threatened at work.

By design, current legislative and regulatory frameworks place the onus on victims of harassment, bullying and violence to report and pursue complaint avenues.

As a result, many incidents go unreported and victims are likely to deal with the fallout of remaining at work amid unresolved issues or face the personal costs associated with leaving the workplace.

The union movement – beginning with the work of the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) – has developed a new framework to extend the conversation about harmful behaviour at work.

The framework deals with these behaviours as ‘gendered violence’.

What is gendered violence?

Gendered violence is any behaviour, action, system or structure that causes physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm to a worker because of their sex, gender, sexual orientation or because they do not adhere to dominant gender stereotypes or social prescribed gender roles.

Gendered violence includes:

  • violence experienced by women because they are women;
  • violence experienced by a person because they identify as LGBTIQ+;
  • violence experienced by a person because they don’t conform to socially
  • prescribed gender roles or dominant definitions of masculinity or femininity;
  • witnessing gendered violence directed at someone else, such as a co-worker.

The definition is intended to capture a broad spectrum of behaviours that can cause harm in the workplace.

The term ‘violence’ is used for this reason: all gendered violence behaviour, whether it is expressed through physical violence or not, has the potential to cause harm to the victim.

The definition also highlights that gendered violence is underpinned by systems and structures – and is not solely due to the isolated actions of individuals.

Gendered violence can be experienced by any worker, but some workers are more likely to be at risk, including women, First Nations people and those identifying as LGBTIQ+.

Examples of gendered violence include:

  • stalking;
  • intimidation;
  • verbal abuse;
  • rude gestures;
  • offensive language and imagery;
  • sexual harassment;
  • physical assault, including sexual assault and rape;
  • put downs, innuendo and insinuations;
  • ostracism and exclusion; and
  • being undermined in your work or position.

The impacts on victims of gendered violence cannot be understated.

Research found 19% of women have resigned from a workplace because they did not feel safe.

In addition to feeling unsafe at work, those who have experienced gendered violence may also face:

  • physical injury and illness;
  • loss of confidence and withdrawal;
  • suicide;
  • social isolation, family dislocation;
  • feelings of isolation;
  • anxiety; and
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

A framework with collective action at its core

Gendered violence training materials and resources are currently being rolled out across the union movement.

Significantly, these materials support a collective response to gendered violence at the workplace level, which reduces the burden on individuals who are victims of these behaviours.

Our union recently provided gendered violence training to all union staff and hosted an online training session for members in the September school holidays.

The training provided a comprehensive overview of gendered violence, its drivers and risk factors, as well as a framework for preventing and addressing incidents in the workplace. Keep an eye out for future gendered violence training opportunities.

Gendered violence training is an essential resource for employees who are collectively committed to respect and inclusion at work.

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