Women have long been at the forefront of the labor rights movements. Yet, in 2023, women still face high rates of gender-based violence in the workforce and are often last considered in labor protections. Due to global gender inequity, workplace gender-based violence is a global problem that is experienced in all fields of work. Despite growing attention and activism around gender-based violence in the workplace, gender discrimination remains a serious problem.
President Biden came into office announcing his intention to address gender-based harassment and discrimination, and to promote gender equity. on March 8th, 2021, the Biden Administration issued the Executive Order on Establishment of the White House Gender Policy Council. Some of the objectives of this council are to coordinate federal government efforts to advance gender equity; to combat systemic biases and discrimination, including sexual harassment; support women’s human rights; increase economic security and opportunity by addressing the structural barriers to women’s participation in the labor force; and prevent and respond to all forms of gender-based violence.
As part of this effort, On May 25th, the White House released The U.S National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence (GBV) developed by the Gender Policy Council. This plan is significant because it is the first of its kind to exist in a federal capacity. It aims to provide a framework and roadmap to build upon existing federal initiatives, inform new research and policies, and prevent gender-based violence in the United States. The seven strategic pillars that the National Plan identifies as essential to combating gender-based violence are:
- Support, healing, safety, and well-being
- Economic security and housing stability
- Online safety
- Legal and justice systems
- Emergency preparedness and crisis response
- Research and data
With an intersectional consideration of economic status and aspects of individual identity, such as race, ability, ethnicity, and age, these seven pillars can potentially support all women in work. But while all women may be subject to gender-based violence in the workplace, women’s experiences vary based on their identity. IWPR reports that Black women are more likely to be the target of sexual harassment than white women and that the economic consequences of sexual harassment are likely to further increase gender and racial inequality in the United States. The National Plan’s emphasis on research and data will be instrumental to dissecting the different experiences of women with consideration to race, ethnicity, socio-economic factors, and gender identity to create tools for prevention and economic security and stability.
Notably, principles from the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work heavily influence the U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. The ILO’s Convention is the first international treaty to recognize the right of everyone to a world free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment. Additionally, the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor has partnered with the International Labour Organization Office for the United States and Canada to help create a world of work free of gender-based violence and harassment.
Moreover, factors such as occupational segregation and domestic violence also increase cases of gender-based violence in the workplace. IWPR studies report that harassment and discrimination are the most prevalent factors driving women out of the trades. Harassment often leads to periods of unemployment or lack of work as the individual tries to recuperate and regain the mental strength to return to work. As a result, sexual harassment contributes to the gender pay gap. IWPR also reports that the lifetime cost of workplace sexual harassment and relation was particularly high for those pushed out of well-paid, men-dominated occupations, reaching $1.3 million for an apprentice in the construction trades. The most conservative estimates suggest that 25 percent of women will experience workplace sexual harassment over their lifetimes. Devastatingly, sexual harassment in the workplace contributes to the gender wage gap.
The U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence is a step in the positive direction toward combatting and eliminating gender-based violence in the workplace. It highlights that gender-based violence is rooted in historical and ongoing structural inequalities, abuse of power, harmful norms and practices, and situational power imbalances. It also asserts that additional intersecting forms of discrimination and bias compound gender-based violence, and that gender-based violence is not only a form of discrimination but also a public health crisis.
The U.S. National Plan provides a national roadmap for policymakers and stakeholders to prevent gender-based violence in the workplace. It is a critical first step, but more action is necessary on both the federal and the state level to protect constituents from the ongoing crisis of gender-based violence in the workplace. The Gender Policy Council should continue to work with stakeholders and activists to ensure that the guidelines within the National Plan are executed in a way that is inclusive to all women.