For women around the world, employment in farms and factories that supply the global market is a welcome opportunity for a measure of financial and personal independence. But it also provides multiple opportunities for them to be subjected to violence. On this UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, ETI welcomes a new resource kit to prevent violence in the workplace.
Employment is great for women. In countries where women are traditionally expected to be homemakers, it allows them to broaden their horizons, be less isolated, learn new skills and earn an independent income.
Studies show the opportunities and threats that women face
In India, a randomised experiment found that: “an increase in labour market opportunities for women raised their labour force participation and their probability of going to school instead of getting married or having children, along with better nutrition and health investments for school-aged girls.” (Jensen 2012).
In Bangladesh, a study showed that the growth of the garments sector was associated with a 0.27 percentage points increase in girls’ school enrolment between 1983–2000 (Heath and Mobarak 2012).
While another recent study has found that formally employed women have fewer children and possess greater decision-making power over their own health expenses and formal savings (either through insurance or a bank account). (Kabeer et al. 2013) 
Yet work outside the home also provides multiple opportunities for women to be subjected to harassment, abuse and violence.
Research by the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (Bangladesh Women’s Council) found that 23% of women workers said they were subjected to violence by their male colleagues; at least 15% of the abuse was sexual in nature and around 5% were cases of physical violence. 
And in ETI's 2006 impact report, sexual harassment and discrimination emerged as a key issue for agricultural workers.
Some of ETI’s company members sourcing from South Africa also expressed concerns about audits that showed that discrimination and sexual harassment were occurring in their supply chains. This triggered ETI’s Equal Treatment of Workers programme (formerly known as the Supervisor Training Programme).
Encouraging equal treatment of workers in South Africa
When I visited Cape Town in 2013, I met some of the workers and managers who had been involved in ETI's then supervisor training programme.
One worker told me, “You can’t touch a woman – I am careful these days, I keep in my place”. The training had helped him to understand that what he and his male colleagues saw as playful banter or flirtatiousness was often unwelcome to women.
But the unwelcome “touch” is just the beginning of a spectrum which can end with outright violence against women.
On that spectrum lies demanding sex in return for preferential workloads or positions, groping women on crowded transport on the way to or from work, or a husband taking out his work frustrations through physical violence against his wife.
A Cape Town farm manager advised that while his male employees were more respectful to their female colleagues immediately after the training, he still received reports of domestic violence. On being confronted about beating his wife up at the weekend, one employee told him, “I paid for her, I own her, I can beat her if I want to”.
Changing wider workplace attitudes and behaviours
Many brands and suppliers striving to follow the ETI Base Code would love to see changes in attitudes and behaviour. But they often fear that working in cultures where women are viewed as inferior, and hence fair game for violence, will be an insurmountable challenge.
Yet others see the workplace, especially when linked to global supply chains and international labour rights, as an ideal structured environment in which changing minds, hearts and above all, behaviour can begin.
The change in mindset from macho entitlement to respect for fellow workers is key to reducing violence against women in the world of work.
Training for women and men workers, supervisors and managers, strong HR policies on sexual harassment and discrimination, confidential and responsive grievance mechanisms, visible consequences for those that subject women to violence and a general culture of respect for all colleagues can go a long way towards changing cultural norms in and beyond the workplace.
Behavioural change won't happen overnight - as the Cape Town farm manager discovered - but with persistence, it can make a difference.
The ITCILO-Fair Wear Foundation Resource Kit on Preventing and Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Global Supply Chains, out today, provides a wealth of guidance, resources, advice and case studies (including some lessons from ETI’s Equal Treatment of Workers programme) for all companies that are ready to take up the challenge.
 Quoted in Stitches to Riches? Apparel Employment, Trade, and Economic Development in South Asia – World Bank 2016
 “Vulnerable Empowerment - Capabilities and Vulnerabilities of Female Garments Workers in Bangladesh” Bangladesh Mahila Parishad 2016
The image, which is courtesy of Shutterstock, is for illustrative purposes only and does not relate to any known incidence of violence against women.