In Solidarity with Women for a Future of Fair Work for All

Bama Athreya By Bama Athreya

International Women’s Day is a time of reflection and of renewing our commitment to the cause of gender justice. This year is especially notable for those who, like me, remember our hopes and aspirations at a different time.

This year marks 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, launched by global women’s rights advocates. I can remember my own work as a women’s rights advocate at that time.  I was excited to see tens of thousands of my allies converge in Beijing in 1995 to advance gender equality across the world. Together, we convinced governments to make an ambitious and high-profile commitment to lift up the world’s women.

A quarter of a century later, we have to ask: how much has changed?

I’ve been tracking just one of the sets of commitments – around economic inclusion and equality – for the past 25 years, and sadly, very little progress has been made.  The total share of women in employment worldwide has remained largely static. The number of women advancing in their jobs has barely crept up. And sexual harassment remains a workplace epidemic.

At Laudes Foundation we have launched with a bold and brave commitment to address the root causes of inequality and injustice globally, including a financial system that is motivated by profit, and which benefits from ‘rigged rules’ that have long excluded women and minority communities.

Yet, our investments over the past five years in fashion have supported some important progress on these issues. Most notably, we are proud to have supported grassroots women’s and worker organisations in their historic campaign to win a new international commitment to ending workplace violence, the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 190. This is the first international standard that enshrines the rights of workers to do their jobs without fear of abuse or harassment.

We were there last June to witness that moment – fought for by grassroots women and labour organisations from across the world – and proud to make our own stance public through a joint statement: Our Commitment to a Future with Fair Work

We are continuing to support these organisations as they build effective mechanisms to end harassment in apparel factories. And we look forward to taking the lessons of C&A Foundation and channelling these into a much wider scope as Laudes Foundation, moving into global finance and the built environment, alongside our continuing work in fashion.

But we recognise this will require systems change beyond the individual workplace.  The social exclusion that has been used to reinforce economic exclusion, discrimination and harassment has persisted for generations. And, as we’ve seen in our work in the apparel sector, rooting out the problem requires changing hearts and minds not only within the workplace but in the broader community and society and by changing the rules of our current economy.

This week, we had planned to be at the UN headquarters in New York for an event that launches the ratification process for C190, co-hosted by Croatia, the European Union, the ILO, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Organisation of Employers. We had also hoped to join events hosted by our partners Solidarity Center and Global Fund for Women featuring activists from Cambodia, Honduras, Kenya, Morocco and South Africa discussing how union women are leading, building power and cultivating values of feminism, inclusion and equality.

Unfortunately, the need to contain COVID-19 led to the cancellation of these international events. This public health crisis reinforces our commitment to dealing with gender discrimination at work. The gender division of labour means that women will be disproportionately at risk of disease – because they are on the front lines of care work, as nannies, as teachers, as elder care workers, as nurses. We are reminded that women factory workers will continue to work in crowded factories where they cannot afford to take sick days. We need to keep this in mind as we reflect on both the past and the present reality for women at work.

Yet we remain optimistic. We hope that on this International Women’s Day we will see the first wave of governments stepping forward to ratify C190 so it can finally become part of international and national laws.

We’ll look forward to sitting down with the business community as our partners Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) host a Women’s Day event for business in London, calling for support for the ratification of C190 and launching a Safe Spaces report showcasing how women are accessing their rights and protections across the world.

There has never been a more pressing time to rise to this challenge, which is why

Laudes Foundation will continue to work hand in hand with our partners to combat the underlying causes of discrimination and exclusion – and together accelerate the movement towards a just and regenerative economy.

About the author

By Bama Athreya

Bama Athreya, Gender and Social Inclusion Adviser to Laudes Foundation. She has more than twenty years’ experience on international labor issues, gender and social inclusion, and business and human rights.