On 25 November – the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-based Violence - we called on governments to immediately ratify ILO Convention 190 on violence and harassment in the world of work. The Convention is the result of 10 years of mobilisation and activism by the global trade union movement. During the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-based Violence (25 November – 10 December), we will feature a series of stories written by education unionists who have been involved in eradicating violence in and around education settings. This is one of their stories.
A female teacher was born and raised in Addis Ababa. She attended primary and secondary schools in Addis Ababa. She completed both her high school and University education with high scores. And because of her excellent achievements in the University, she was hired as a graduate assistant in one of the new Universities located 300 Km away from Addis Ababa. Her story begins here.
She is a very strong, confident and competent teacher. While teaching in the University, the Academic Vice President approached her and told her he is interested in her. As much as she tries to tell him that she is not interested, he kept on insisting and started to harass her. However, for others he started to say that he wants to marry her. If not he would like her to be his girlfriend until they get married. She kept on expressing clearly that she is not interested in either becoming his girlfriend or becoming his wife. She explained that her purpose in the University is not to be married but to continue her education. He never understood her refusal means “NO!”. Rather, the Academic Vice President continued his harassment, to the extent that he started using his position to mobilize his colleagues to force her to accept the request. The colleagues started to push her through phone calls and messages. As she persisted with her position, the messages started to include threats on her life. She never succumbed to all the pressures, rather continued her struggle. In the meantime, she passed the competition to work for her Master’s degree in one of the Universities in the country.
While studying, she was given classes to teach in the summer program in the same University she came from. When teachers are given classes to teach in the summer program, they are given additional payment on their regular salaries. However after completing her assignment, while other teachers like her were paid their salaries, the Administration and Finance Office head, who is a close friend and relative of the Academic Vice President, refused to pay her salary. The situation begin to be more and more difficult for her in the context where other heads of departments remained silent for fear of the consequences of standing up with the truth. She continued fighting for her rights in such unbearable conditions.
After finishing her Master’s degree, she came back to the University and directly reported to the Academic Vice President and requested the renewal of her recruitment and increases her salary scale accordingly. The Academic vice president directed her request to the Finance and Administration department and the Human Resource Departments, while at the same time giving them oral direction to systematically avoid addressing her requests. As a result her formal request was ignored and not included in her personal file. As a result she was forced to work without salary for many months. At some point, she brought the issue to the attention of the University Administration, she was not given any solution. Rather, the number of people pushing and advising her to consider the Vice President’s request in the pretext of supporting her increased. Some even advised her, if she married a Vice President she will gain a type of life and prestige she will not be able to get normally. In the process, she brought her case to the attention of Ethiopian Teacher’s Association.
At that moment, ETA was yet to establish its representative office given the newness of that particular University. Therefore, she came directly to the Office and presented her case with evidences to the ETA President in person. As a member of the change team organized through the EI initiative facilitated by Gender at Work, the President brought the issue to the ETA Gender Office. The change team understood how such a situation affects the national level effort to increase presence of women in the academia and acted quickly with determination. The ETA Gender office wrote a letter to the Ministry of Education Gender Desk demanding immediate solution to the problem. In the middle of delayed response from the Ministry, the ETA Gender Office after compiling all the evidences, directly wrote a second letter to the Minister and State Minster of the Ministry of Education.
The Minister responded by immediately organizing an interim committee with the responsibility of investigating the situation and providing recommendations for action. However, the chairperson of the committee avoided including the representative of ETA as one of the committee members. And directly went to the University to investigate the issue.
At this moment, two mistakes were made in due process of the investigation. The first mistake was that the fact that the investigation took place in the absence of the same teacher whose case is being investigated, and the second mistake was to exclude ETA from the process. When the investigation was completed, ETA requested the Committee to share its report including the recommendations, however the request was rejected by the head of the Committee. ETA, recognizing the gravity of the situation decided to write an additional letter to the Gender Desk at the Ministry of Education. In addition, the ETA president directly discussed the issue with the Minister and State Minister of the Ministry of Education, and told them that if the issue is not resolved immediately ETA will take it to the court on behalf of its member. The victim was transferred to a university of her choice and later on went for her terminal degree. Finally, the Academic Vice President was removed from his position. Here I want to stress the confidence and perseverance that the victim who has suffered the abuse showed. Without her strong will and support from her family and ETA such abuses would have gone unnoticed.
Why do I write this story?
Currently, increased number of female academic staff are joining Universities and higher education institutions in Ethiopia. These young women get into higher institutions without the appropriate information to deal with such abuses. They do not know when and where to go and how to report such cases. I would like to send a message to them that they are not alone and they need to report such abuses. They have to discuss openly and seek support from their students and their family. In addition, female students and lecturers need to be conscious about collecting evidences and know where to bring their cases.
In every higher institutions and schools, there is a committee organized with the aim of preventing Gender Based Violence. The committee is organized based on the guideline called “guideline to prevent Gender Based Violence in schools” that was developed through the collaboration between Ministry of Education and ETA gender representatives. In each school the Committee is organized constituting two representatives of ETA. In high schools, the “gender violence index” is meant to measure levels of violence in schools twice a year with the aim of bringing together teachers, parents, school support staff (PTA) in order to raise awareness and bring SRGBV to their attention.
My message to the school community
A school community means those who directly or indirectly involve in the learning process. The school community plays important and pivotal role in the prevention of violence and establishing a safe and secured school environment. Therefore
- Education institutions: make sure that the school environment is free of unnecessary influences (bars, nightclubs, drugs…). The schools should be fenced, have appropriate, separate and clean toilets where especially girls use freely. There should be a school compound where students can play, sit freely, read and hold discussions.
- Parents: parents besides buying school supplies have the responsibility to hold free discussions with their children. They have to guide their children on how to deal with gender based violence, peer pressure, etc. They have to understand and support their children.
- Teachers: You are custodians of knowledge. Parents trusted you with their children and hence please count these children as one of your own children, brothers and sisters. It may happen that you may fall in love with one of your student. However, you have to remember that, using your positional power to abuse students will eventually cost you more. Please, respect your profession, be disciplined, and please avoid being a disgrace to this sacred profession.
- Students: Education is your future. Education is meant to capacitate you. You have to know negative influences will interrupt with your education and attainment of your goals. When you join universities there are many challenges. Peer pressure and addiction affect your education. Focus on your goals, deal with the challenges that may pose obstacles on your education. You may feel “free” when you joined University and go to other places where you are not under the direct eyes of your parents. Be careful whatever is being presented by your peers may cost you dearly.
- Support staff: You are essential for the successful achievement of the goals of the teaching learning process. Do not use your positions to ask female students out and abuse them. The study that ETA conducted in 2014 shows that support staff also play roles in SRGBV. You are also responsible in the fight against SRGBV.
- Government: The effort to provide accessible quality education for all is commendable. However, the effort and the attention in providing legal support and coverage to SRGBV is not as strong as it should be. The long time it takes to investigate and the lack of evidence is being wrongly interpreted by some people (perpetrators are not punished for lack of evidence and this makes some people think that they can get away with such violence). The government should come up with a solution that helps victims to get justice timely and include SRGBV in the criminal laws of the country.
- Teacher’s union: The only way to prove that teaching is a sacred profession is when we can be professional enough to respect our code of ethics. Today’s students are tomorrow’s teachers. Our members should be encouraged and supported to fulfill their professional requirements. Unions need to take strict measures, on those who fail to respect the code of ethics.
November 25th of each year is the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Still today, at the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, the world needs a dedicated day to focus minds on the fact that gender-based violence, especially violence experienced by women and girls, remains highly prevalent in our societies. Global estimates show that as many as 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
In recent years, the scale of the violence, abuse and harassment faced by women in all walks of life, and especially in work environments across different sectors, has been brought into focus through global mobilisations by survivors and activists made visible with campaigns including #MeToo, #YoTambien, أنا_كمان#, #BalanceTonPorc, #Niunamenos and #TimesUp. Until June of this year, there was no existing international instrument that covered the scope of violence, abuse and harassment in the workplace. After 10 years of mobilisation and activism, the global trade union movement celebrated the adoption in June of an historical Convention by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its centenary year.
Convention 190 (C190), and its accompanying Recommendation 206 (R206), on violence and harassment in the world of work is a first-of-its-kind global minimum standard on addressing violence and harassment in working life. C190 defines violence and harassment as a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices or threats that can be physical, psychological, sexual or economic (Article 1a). The Convention specifically recognises and defines gender-based violence and harassment (Article 1b), and applies to both the formal and informal sectors, to urban and rural areas and to all sectors. All workers, irrespective of status, are protected by C190: contract workers, job seekers and applicants, apprentices, interns, trainees and volunteers, employers, and workers whose employment has been terminated (Article 2). Significantly, by referring to ‘the world of work’, C190 recognises that ‘work’ does not only happen in a physical ‘work place’; protection, therefore, extends to workers subjected to cyber-bullying and to work-related situations including work-related travel, trips and social activities (Article 3). Violence and harassment by third parties, including clients, customers, patients or members of the public, is also covered by C190 (Article 4). The Convention upholds the principle of ‘leaving no-one behind’ by stating that vulnerable workers who are most likely to be disproportionately subjected to violence and harassment in the world of work, must be protected by laws, regulations and policies ensuring the right to equality and non-discrimination in employment and occupation (Article 6).
The promise of C190 for educators and education support personnel is two-fold: it addresses both the violation of students right to quality education, and education workers’ right to a decent and safe work environment. Education International and its member organisations have been working to eradicate violence in and around education settings, in particular in a number of African countries since 2016.
During the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-based Violence, which runs until International Human Rights Day on December 10th, we will feature a series of stories written by education unionists who have been involved in this work; their stories poignantly reveal the human face and cost of violence and harassment in educational settings from the perspectives of students and educators alike. The stories also show the positive impact that action by education unions can have in the struggle to end gender-based violence and harassment in and around educational settings.