The Istanbul Convention has to protect women from violence, particularly at work. How it will affect the business

Business in Ukraine is reluctant to acknowledge the problem of violence in the workplace. Ratification of the Istanbul Convention should change narratives in the business environment and encourage leaders to make fundamental changes to promote gender equality in companies.

The original article by Maryna Saprykina, CEO of CSR Ukraine, published on The Istanbul Convention has to protect women from violence, particularly at work. How it will affect the business

How it’s supposed to work

Approximately 1.1 million women in Ukraine experience physical and sexual abuse each year. The total economic loss of Ukrainian society due to violence against women amounted to $ 208 million in 2017. These UNFPA estimates include losses related to the inability to work, personal losses, and the cost of violence-related services. Before the war, this amount was close to the annual budget of Odessa.

In the context of the EU candidacy, on 20 June, the Parliament of Ukraine ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, or the Istanbul Convention.

Ukraine participated in the drafting and signing of the Convention in 2011, but the path to ratification took 11 years. Some church organizations opposed the Convention and its use of the term “gender” under the guise of supporting family values. The articles of the Convention are mainly aimed at state institutions and non-governmental organizations.

Violence in the workplace

According to statistics from the Ministry of Social Policy, one of five women in Ukraine has experienced some form of violence. Sometimes various forms of violence continue in the workplace by colleagues in the form of micro-aggression (harassment).

In 2022, the number of women who faced this increased by 7% – from 52% (in 2020) to 59%, according to the global report of Deloitte “Women @ Work 2022”. Unfortunately, almost half of such cases are not being reported.

Women report harassment more often than micro-aggression (66% vs. 23%) because they do not feel that such behavior is a serious enough reason to mention it. Another reason for the silence is the fear that the aggressor’s behavior will worsen (this is the answer of one-fifth of harassed women). In addition, 93% of women believe that reporting harassment will negatively affect their careers, and no action will be taken.

The Convention will help women to feel more confident in the workplace and personal lives, because: 

  • it recognizes that violence can be psychological, and it may also be criminally liable;
  • it recognizes the fact that not only victims can report cases of violence;
  • it improves the algorithm of police response to reports.

The Convention mentions business only in the context of implementing policies and principles of self-regulation to prevent violence against women in companies. Socially responsible businesses can quickly develop such policies. Creating the policy, one can focus on the information from female employees, as well as the text of the Convention itself, which states the types of violence and actions against the perpetrator.

Before the war there was only one company in Ukraine, StarLightMedia, which had a policy about combating gender-based violence. After the ratification, many more companies should create such policies, and make them more sound. In the UK, for example, a company must provide such a workplace for a victim of violence so that the perpetrator does not see her in the window from the street.

Also, according to the provisions of the Convention, Ukraine has to criminalize such violations as stalking and psychological violence; and sexual harassment should be a subject to “criminal or other statutory sanctions”.

What business should do

Companies should include information about the Convention and its main provisions in their diversity and inclusion policies. This is primarily implemented by IT companies that have already started training against harassment and violence.

Squad company, for example, had a program to combat harassment in the workplace. They conducted training and formed a network of ambassadors among employees. Squad has taken into consideration a research conducted in Australia. It shows that the cost of  consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace is $2.6 billion in lost productivity and $ 0.9 billion in other financial costs, and the companies bear 70% of financial costs.

Before the war, there was already a coalition of companies in Ukraine that signed the Declaration on Gender Equality and Combating Domestic Violence, initiated by the CSR Development Center and UNFPA. Forty international and Ukrainian companies have signed the declaration. They underwent training and participated in the research. Now the focus of programs has shifted from promoting gender equality to staff support, working with psychologists, and other wartime needs. Therefore, ratifying the Convention will help to bring attention back to the issue of violence against women and the company’s role in preventing violence.

After the ratification of the Convention in Ukraine, awareness-raising campaigns on this issue will be implemented, and thematic surveys will be conducted. Previously, the management of many companies did not want or was not ready to talk about violence against women. Now there will be a transformation: the managers will have to get used to the fact that harassment should not only be discussed, but also opposed.

The corporate sector can engage in and disseminate information on zero tolerance for violence, assistance to victims (crisis rooms and shelters, hotlines, etc.), and participate in the annual global campaign “16 Days Against Violence”.

Ratification of the Istanbul Convention is an impetus to the change of narratives in the business environment and awareness of the problem. It will not be quick, but thanks to the Convention, the efforts of government and civil society, including business, to combat violence against women will be more systematic and coordinated.

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