Engender calls for integrated approach to tackle sexual harassment

11/08/2016
Nathanael Williams

Survey shows more than half of UK women have faced sexual harassment at work

SCOTTISH feminist organisation Engender has said that Scotland's businesses and institutions need a greater variety of tools to address the sexual harassment that occurs on a daily basis in Scotland.

In comments to CommonSpace, the organisation responded to a Trades Union Congress (TUC) survey which showed that 52 per cent women said they have suffered some form of sexual harassment at work.

One third of the women surveyed who faced sexual harassment at work were between 18 and 24 years old, and nearly one in five women said they were abused by their line managers or someone with direct authority over them.

"We are concerned that employers in Scotland don't have the tools to encourage women to report harassment, and then respond effectively to those reports." Emma Ritch

Commenting on the findings of the report, Emma Ritch, executive director of Engender, said: "These horrifying figures are the latest in a sequence that confirms that sexual harassment is the backdrop to girls and women's lives. Whether at school, in public spaces, online, or at work, girls and women are routinely the subject of unwanted sexualised commentary, touching, and even assault. 

"It will be almost impossible for Scotland to realise its ambitions for women's equality when harassment persists in being unseen, uncounted, and unacknowledged. Harassment and fear of harassment has a chilling effect on women's speech, ambitions, and work. 

"We are concerned that employers in Scotland don't have the tools to encourage women to report harassment, and then respond effectively to those reports."

Ritch added that it is necessary to make a connection between tackling sexual harassment in the workplace, society outside work and education in school. Her comment referred to the need to integrate it into strategies on VAW and on women and work, around which we work with a whole range of partners from the women’s sector.

"We want to see sexual harassment integrated into work to tackle violence against women, and included in work to advance women's equality in school, further and higher education, apprenticeships, and the workplace," she said.

"If harassment is everywhere then it's everyone's problem."

Twenty per cent said they were 'too embarrassed' to talk about it, while 24 per cent of women surveyed said they did not report the incidents because they felt they would not be believed or taken seriously.

Furthermore the survey also revealed that four out of five women who were sexually harassed at work did not report it out of shame or fear.

About 28 per cent of the women who did not report the harassment cases said they refrained from complaining as they feared the move could "negatively impact their relationships" at work, while 15 per cent thought it could have a "negative impact on their career prospects".

More than half of the women surveyed said they had suffered some form of abuse ranging from unwanted touching and physical advances to demeaning commenting or jokes. 

The study was conducted by TUC in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project and also found that in about 88 per cent of the cases, the perpetrators were male.

Twenty per cent of the women surveyed said they were "too embarrassed" to talk about it, while 24 per cent said they did not report the incidents because they felt they would not be believed or taken seriously.

Another 20 per cent of those who were surveyed said they had experienced unwanted verbal sexual advances at work, while 12 per cent women said they had experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss at their workplaces.

"It will be almost impossible for Scotland to realise its ambitions for women's equality when harassment persists in being unseen, uncounted, and unacknowledged." Emma Ritch

The TUC said in a statement that the survey, carried out by YouGov, covered 1,533 adult British women who are either working, or have been in some paid work in the past and also included women from ethnic minority backgrounds.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Let's be clear — sexual harassment is undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health. Victims are often left feeling ashamed and frightened. It has no place in a modern workplace, or in wider society.

"Employers must be clear they have a zero tolerance attitude to sexual harassment and treat any complaint seriously. It's a scandal that so few women feel their bosses are dealing with the issue properly.

"Anyone worried about inappropriate behaviour at work should join a union to make sure they are protected and respected at work," O'Grady added.

Online campaigners and writers additionally connected the importance of tribunal fees in helping women to report harassment and for business, institutions and bodies to address it. 

The introduction of tribunal fees in 2013 to UK law, dramatically reduced the volume of tribunal claims and raised concerns about access to justice.

The Scottish government has proposed an abolition of the fees as a result of new powers it has received through the Scotland Act 2016.

Picture courtesy of Corinne PW

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