Sexual harassment is a global issue. It is a form of gender-based violence, and one of the most serious violations of workers’ rights experienced by women across the Mekong.
It is a deeply sensitive issue. Rooted in unequal power and gender relations it disproportionately affects women and girls. Across the Mekong, existing sexual harassment legislation is weak, or non existent and poorly implemented. In Cambodia, research by CARE in 2016 found nearly one in three female garment factory workers had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the previous year.
CARE Australia’s Enhancing Women’s Voice to STOP Sexual Harassment (STOP) project is working in four countries in the Mekong region to address sexual harassment in the garment industry. The project is seeking to improve the workplace for women and men by introducing sexual harassment prevention policies, supporting factories to implement these policies, and providing training to staff to help them prevent and report sexual harassment. This project is educating employers in the ways to effectively intervene and tackle workplace harassment.
18-year-old Bopha in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is one woman who has already benefited from the training. She was subjected to verbal and physical harassment at the factory she works in.
“[A colleague] said to me, ‘Why do you dress like this?’ I don’t like being questioned like this. He said, ‘You are already ugly. Trying to be pretty is futile… Nobody will love you.’ I was very upset by that comment.”
Bopha didn’t say anything though, because she was uncertain of what support existed in the factory for women who were being harassed.
“I didn’t know about sexual harassment, and I was new to the workplace. I didn’t know there could be sexual harassment in the factory.”
“I joined training from CARE about sexual harassment. They came to the factory and asked me to join. I learned that there are many forms of sexual harassment. It includes touching, talking, and other actions.”
Thanks to the training, the women in Bopha’s factory now know who to talk to and what will happen when they report harassment and abuse.
CARE is not just working within factories, but also at government level and with civil society, to inform advocacy efforts. In this way we help to influence reforms and regulations to create change at a national level.