Khaing (33) helps support her family of six by working as a sewing machine operator in a garment factory in Myanmar. She has worked there since 2012 and enjoys the job, but is sick and tired of the harassment that the women workers face on a daily basis.
“Women feel unsafe because the male workers sometimes try to touch and hold them,” she says.
“I feel uncomfortable whenever the supervisor scolds us using rude words, when the mechanics sit and stare at the female workers and tease or make jokes about girls. Especially on Saturdays when they are wearing beautiful dresses.
“I want to continue working in the factory. But sometimes I don’t want to go to work and I am upset by this. I don’t want my wages to be cut off if I don’t go to work.
“I would like to be free from violence and discrimination in my workplace.”
Passionate about improving workplace conditions, Khaing become the trade union leader in her factory, and is now the President of the Women’s Committee within the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM).
“I teach other workers about sexual harassment and violence in the workplace at CTUM Women’s Centre. It is good practice to tell workers that sexual harassment is not acceptable. Women will feel safer in the workplace if managers tell this to the workers.”
Khaing says one of the biggest problems is changing the culture, as protection from harassment at work is not enshrined in law, so perpetrators often face no consequences and survivors receive no justice:
“There are no specific laws addressing sexual harassment and violence in the workplace in our country. Because of a lack of legal protection, there have been negative consequences for survivors of assault and harassment.”
As the workers’ representative, Khaing even travelled to Geneva, Switzerland in June 2018 to attend the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, so she could learn more about improving conditions in her factory, and in her country.
“I am committed, as workers’ representative, to continue my efforts to lobby for the development of specific laws and policies to address violence and sexual harassment in the workplace.”