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New attack on sexual harassment at work

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Four women’s organisations, one each from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, have come together to collaborate on a project which aims to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.

Funded by Rosa, the UK fund for women and girls, and the Justice and Equality Fund’s ‘Now’s the Time’ programme, their project aims to enable a shift towards a preventative approach, ensuring employers know how to be more proactive in their efforts towards eradicating sexual harassment.

Research in the form of a survey carried out by the TUC and Everyday Sexism in 2016 found that more than half of all women and nearly two-thirds of women aged 18 to 24 in the UK said they have experienced sexual harassment at work.

And sexual harassment was found to be more prevalent for women in precarious forms of work such as zero hours contracts and agency work.

The current approach to dealing with sexual harassment relies on women reporting their experiences. That can be incredibly traumatic, and may well put them in a vulnerable position, personally and in their workplaces.

The four organisations working on this new project are Wales-based Chwarae Teg (FairPlay), the England-based Fawcett Society, Scotland-based Close the Gap and the Women’s Resource and Development Agency, (WRDA), which is based in Northern Ireland.

They want to challenge the power imbalance between women and men which maintains inequality and creates a culture where sexual harassment is normalised and can go unchallenged.

Their project will also take an intersectional approach which analyses and challenge the ways that women in different positions are targeted for sexual harassment – one example being on the basis of their ethnicity.

The project, which will run over two years, will provide evidence of what works in tackling workplace sexual harassment, develop new resources for employers and campaign for change.

It will also involve researching how employers, managers and employees view current experiences and will create employer-focussed resources to promote a proactive, responsive culture, and make workplaces better environments for everyone.

Marai Larasi, Chair of the project’s Steering Committee, said: “I am really pleased that the Justice and Equality Fund is supporting this project which is focussed on addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.

“In the last two years we have seen unprecedented attention being given to violence against women and girls, including sexual harassment. We are determined to not lose that momentum.

“If we are to end sexual harassment, we need widespread cultural change.

“But this initiative is not only about making sure that workplaces are safer and more accountable, ultimately this project is also contributing important building blocks for a more just and equal society.”

And Anne McVicker, Director of the Women’s Resource and Development Agency, said: “The MeToo movement barely scratched the surface of the issue and there are many industries where the problem is even more pervasive.

“Creating a workplace culture which does not tolerate sexual harassment in any form is vital to improving the working conditions of women workers as well as to tackling gender inequality more broadly.

“We also hope,” McVicker continued, “to work with Trade Unions on this, so as to ensure that there is a robust support system for those who have fallen victim to this all too common form of harassment and discrimination.”

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