Discuss rights and opportunities for women in the workplace
Women throughout the world confront physical and sexual violence as well as sex discrimination in the workplace. Public and private sector employers discriminate with impunity against women, as women and as mothers or potential mothers. Sex discrimination in the workplace often is motivated by the frequent perception that women are less reliable than men and that women's productive capacity is compromised by their reproductive function. Although discrimination on the grounds of sex or maternity is prohibited under international human rights law and barred by the domestic laws of most countries, it is nonetheless routinely tolerated by many governments. Aside from the problem of nonenforcement of laws against sex and maternity discrimination, the labor statutes and regulations of some countries are themselves discriminatory in that they exclude women from particular job and training opportunities.
Women workers also experience sexual and physical violence at the hands of their employers with little or no legal redress. Human Rights Watch investigations have documented violence against women workers that includes rape and other forms of sexual assault, beating, kicking, slapping and burning. In addition, women workers have reported being subjected to illegal confinement, extremely long working hours and nonpayment of wages. Sex discrimination in the workplace and in the criminal justice system frequently compounds the effects of violence. Numerous women workers, particularly those who are female heads of households, remain silent in the face of abuse by employers. Some fear that by complaining they would lose their jobs in shrinking labor markets that are increasingly hostile to women workers. Other female employees do not report abuse for lack of faith that the criminal justice system will respond to gender-related abuse. Their concerns frequently are borne out by police and judges who dismiss their allegations or, in some cases, even detain the complainants.
Violence and discrimination against women in the workplace, though of long standing, have received little attention in traditional human rights documentation and advocacy, which has focussed on government crackdowns against predominantly male union organizers. Women workers constitute only a small percentage of rank-and-file union membership and an even smaller percentage of union leadership. Yet, governments and human rights groups have directed much less scrutiny and condemnation at abuses that occur on the job than those that happen on the picket line.
The existence of protective legislation for women sometimes exacerbates the problem of sex discrimination. Protective legislation is intended to shield women from hazardous work or to enable women to balance their responsibilities at work and at home. Employers often use it, however, as an excuse to discriminate with impunity against women workers on the grounds that they are too expensive or their rate of absenteeism is too high relative to male workers.