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Why is Gender-Based Violence a Workplace Issue?

Why is Gender-Based Violence a Workplace Issue?

By Laura Reynolds

The year of 2017 began with the UK’s Office for National Statistics reporting the highest female employment rates since the records began in 1971. Yet it is all too soon to put down our placards. Unfortunately for many women, the workplace represents an additional sphere in which they must battle against inequality and harassment.

Video footage in June this year from the esteemed Oval Office highlights one kind of harassment that women are often forced to endure within the workplace. The footage shows President Trump interrupt a phone call in order to beckon over Irish news reporter Caitriona Perry. Unphased by the cameras, Trump identifies Perry and invites her closer to smarmily remark that she has a ‘nice smile’. Perry is a highly qualified White House Correspondent for leading Irish broadcaster, RTE. Instead of being singled out for her relentless work ethic, Perry attracts comments on her physical appearance. Perhaps such behaviour could be identified as harmless when looked at individually, yet observing wider societal trends can allow us to understand that these scenarios are symptomatic of a wider sense of entitlement over women’s bodies and appearance.

Perry’s treatment symbolises the harassment that women are forced to endure within the workplace, even within some of the highest offices in the land, as we know too well from recent revelations in Westminster. The online backlash to the Perry incident is even more revealing of the intolerant attitudes that exist towards gendered harassment. Some jumped to Perry’s defence, whilst others brazenly asserted that she ought to accept the compliment and move on. The ‘accept it and move on’ attitude is a manifestation of the attempted normalisation of workplace sexism that we simply cannot foster as a society.

A visit to Everyday Sexism’s #work hashtag shows that there are thousands of individuals like Perry made to systematically endure gendered intimidation and harassment at work. Examples could be lewd comments to unwanted physical advances, yet any type of sexual harassment that creates a hostile working environment is unacceptable and unlawful.

No matter how small they may appear, no instance of gendered harassment can be allowed to go unchallenged. Singular instances of gender-based harassment at work are underpinned by deeper, archaic power structures that perpetuate the subjugation of vulnerable groups, using a range of violent, abusive and exploitative tactics. It is essential that no case is overlooked, in order to halt the normalisation of gender-based abuse from the discrete to the extreme. On account of these reasons, Bristol Zero Tolerance is an initiative that aspires to create a city that has a Zero Tolerance attitude for any type of gender-based violence (GBV), abuse, harassment and exploitation. In the workplace and beyond, Bristol Zero Tolerance envisions a city where your gender has no bearing on your capacity to live freely and safely from harm.

Gender-based violence is a public matter and it has a detrimental effect on every person in Bristol, not just the victims who directly experience it. Families, communities and our economy are disrupted by GBV. It is estimated that domestic violence and abuse costs Bristol over £41 million per year, a statistic that does not illustrate the immeasurable psychological impact on its victims/survivors. Whilst GBV has the potential to affect us all, fortunately we can all play an active part in its eradication. This is where Bristol Zero Tolerance finds its motivation, as we believe there is nothing permanent or inherent about the existence of GBV within the private or public sphere.

There are many organizations and individuals that share our belief that gendered harassment, abuse and exploitation in the workplace and beyond must be eliminated. So, what other campaigns are trying to achieve workplace equality and safety?

#ThatsHarassment is a campaign led by Sigal Avin and David Schwimmer, which has produced a series of powerfully incisive short video clips. Many of these feature people in working scenarios. The campaign has an essential goal, that is to put a face on sexual harassment. The normalization of sexual harassment has made it increasingly complex to identify – perhaps even to the victim. The series aims to raise awareness of what constitutes harassment, as without proper identification of sexual harassment, its prevention is impossible. The response to their work has been phenomenal, with Schwimmer’s own mother finding the confidence to admit for the first time that she was sexually harassed by a doctor. Avin and Schwimmer’s work is therefore essential in helping to dishevel the culture of shame which many sexual harassment victims experience.


The Corporate Alliance is an inspiring campaign which helps provide companies with the tools to tackle domestic violence. The campaign recognizes that 75% of people enduring violence are targeted at their workplace, perhaps through social media, site visits or phone calls. As such, it is imperative that employees and employers are equipped with knowledge of the signs that indicate that a fellow colleague is a victim or perpetrator. The campaign provides assistance to over 5,000,000 employees every year, through training, self assessment quizzes, annual seminars, monthly newsletters and much more. The Corporate Alliance shares many core values with the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge, namely that domestic violence is not a private matter. Domestic violence costs our society a lot, in both financial and emotional terms, and we all ought to play a role in its eradication.

Collectively the University of Bristol and The University of the West of England (UWE) employ over 10,000 staff. Between them, the two employers hold a great opportunity to help protect and enhance the wellbeing of a considerable amount of the Bristol population. It is a relief to know that each have respectively signed the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge. Together they established The Joint Forum, which meets quarterly and leads a number of projects within the universities. From two institutions that exert so much influence, it is refreshing to see such an active embrace of the Zero Tolerance approach to sexual violence and harassment.

Instances of gender-based violence are symptomatic of a wider, oppressive structure that subjugates vulnerable groups. Another effect of this subjugating structure is gender discrimination and inequality of opportunity. Our parent organization Bristol Women’s Voice has continued oversight on various campaigns and services that aim to achieve gender equality in Bristol and put women’s talent in the spotlight, showing how underrepresented we are in many aspects of life from political representation to CEO positions. With research exposing that there are more FTSE 100 CEO’s named John than there are women, this work is addressing a crucially important issue. The 50:50 campaign is one of a number of initiatives that has been established in order to achieve equal representation of men and women in Bristol’s public and private industries.

So what can I do?

From universities to multinational corporations, a number of organisations have expressed their solidarity by signing our Zero Tolerance pledge. Either as an individual or as an organization or business, you too can read and sign the pledge. Once an organization signs the pledge, Bristol Zero Tolerance will work with them to develop a tailored action plan. You can find out what some of our partners have already achieved here. Furthermore, if you are part of a business you can access free training for your organization to deepen your understanding of domestic abuse and how it might impact your workplace.

What next?

As an individual, you can help to get our initiative out there by spreading the word in your workplace, place of study or with friends and family. From Facebook to Instagram, there are many ways to keep yourself involved with Bristol Zero Tolerance’s latest activities and ways that you can join us to help make Bristol a Zero Tolerance City. Gender-based violence, harassment, exploitation and abuse happen in many places within Bristol, but the abundance of cases does not mean that it is innate or permanent. We believe that it can be eradicated and that change begins with every single one of us.

You can find out about services and resources relating to violence and abuse on our website and our Signposting Guide has information on local and national services. Whether or not you are located in Bristol, the list includes a range of services to support women experiencing violence and abuse.


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