The Convention strengthens the women workers’ hand in the fight against sexual violence and harassment in the workplace. It provides an international assurance. It provides not only a legitimate ground for unions that want to deal with violence and harassment against women in the working life, but also guides them.

An illustration of workers arm-in-arm, writing “The Convention of ILO 190”

Kadınİşçi [WomanWorker] is a self-described feminist online publication reporting on women’s rights in the field of paid and unpaid labor. It was founded with the coming together of women with different feminist approaches. It is completing its first year on November 17. In addition to her reporting on women’s rights in the field of women’s labor, it gives legal support to women in non-unionized workplaces in the field of paid labor, and also organizes panels and open sessions, striving to make women’s rights that are not made a policy issue by the unions. Equal pay for equal work, sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, the history of women workers, women workers’ health and occupational safety are among the issues that the magazine focuses on. We asked Necla Akgökçe and Feryal Saygılıgil from Kadınİşçi about their opinions on ILO 190 and we share their answers.

What is ILO 190 coming into force in 2021? What is its scope? What is the relationship between the prevention of violence with a gender-sensitive approach and working life?

Feryal: As its name signifies, ILO 190 is the Convention Concerning “Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work” and is also the first international convention to eliminate violence and harassment at work life. The terms “violence and harassment” in the convention now have a very broad definition, including a range of unacceptable behaviors and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm. The lines between “violence and harassment” are defined in such a way that they can penetrate each other. Having a single definition in this way allows us to have a tool that can be used against almost all cases. The Convention also imposes responsibilities on the state and the workplace. With this Convention, it becomes obligatory for the state and every workplace to have a policy on violence and harassment. We know that working life, at home or outside the home, makes women more vulnerable to violence and harassment. Moreover, according to Walby, sexual harassment both keeps women under control while working and causes women to be excluded from some professions. The exclusion effect is the most striking. The effect is meant to be used to discourage women from starting work in areas where previously only men worked. This strategy aims to prevent women as a whole from being involved in a particular area of work or fully paid employment. Therefore, it is extremely important in terms of raising awareness that the definitions of violence and sexual harassment in the convention are made with a gender-sensitive approach.

The scope of the Convention includes the entire working life; which means a much broader framework than the actual workplace. Violence and harassment in the working life can occur anywhere. For example, it can be encountered in online services, physical workplaces, commuting, resting, satisfying health or hygiene needs, or gatherings for entertainment purposes. The Convention covers all these places.


The concept of “world of work” is used in the Convention. Is this a new concept, why is there a need for a more inclusive definition like “world of work”?

Feryal: For feminists, I’m not sure if we make a distinction between world of working or working life. Because we use them interchangeably. What is important for us is the disappearance of the unpaid domestic labor, domestic violence, private space/public space dichotomy that we have been struggling with for years, and the visibility of all these and these concepts. The disappearance of looking at work and home separately and evaluating them separately. In other words, the Convention “invites employers to recognize the risks that not only violence in working life but also domestic violence may pose about work, and to take reasonable solutions against them, and to take responsibility for violence against women as a whole.”

It is possible to compare the holistic approach and perspective of the Convention to the Istanbul Convention. Do you agree? In what ways can it be said that it is similar? And do you think it would be right to predict that international regulations on combating gender-based violence will meet these standards from now on?

Feryal: Yes, it is possible. According to Article 49 of the Constitution, “work is everyone’s right and duty. The state takes the necessary measures to increase the living standards of the employees, to protect the employees in order to improve the working life, to support working and to create an economic environment which is suitable for the prevention of unemployment.”

However, we know that there are various obstacles to the right to work for women. One of them is that violence against women, including psychological violence, stalking, physical violence, rape, forced marriage, sexual violence including rape and harassment, which forms the basis of the Istanbul Convention, is one of the most important obstacles to the right to work. Within the framework of the Convention, domestic violence, including all acts of violence between current or former spouses or partners, whether they live in the same house or not, is addressed in the basis of the protection of women. Therefore, it can be said that both conventions contain each other and, as you said, from now on, international regulations on combating gender-based violence cannot be outside these standards.

The Convention gives the employer responsibility for acts such as harassment, referring to its responsibility for workplace safety. Can you clear this?

Feryal: This Convention recognizes that everyone has the right to work in a workplace free from violence and harassment. The Convention will also fill gaps in national legislation.

The ILO 190 places direct responsibility on governments and employers. The Convention is also crucial in formulating national laws to combat violence and harassment in the workplace.

Necla: In the Occupational Health and Safety legislation, the responsibility belongs to the employer anyway. What is new is to approach the workplace violence and sexual harassment as a violation of the right to work, but more importantly, its inclusion in risk analysis. Illnesses and risks related to women are not considered in traditional risk assessment approaches. They are treated as if they were the same for men and women. As a result, we do not have a list of occupational illnesses specific to women. Now that violence and sexual harassment entering the risk assessment system is an infiltration. Therefore, this is important for the trade unions that carry out a daily struggle and do not want to do much in the field of women workers’ health and safety. Here is a Convention that can be shown as a ready-made precedent, take and use it.

Feminists have a point to pay attention to here… Violence in a patriarchal society is structural, not a health issue regarding a single employer and workplace. When we fit it into general occupational health and safety measures such as carpal tunnel syndrome and cervical disc hernia, we will miss the effects of violence on women’s employment, its role in excluding women from a certain sector and imprisoning them in certain sectors, and a state of femininity it creates. They probably won’t listen, but if I were, I would insist on a separate women’s occupational health and safety, and do a separate study for women’s occupational accidents and occupational illnesses…

Does the Convention also cover the prevention of discrimination against LGBTI+s?

Feryal: Although there is a clause in the Convention saying “to employ all multiple and intersecting identities, including sexual preferences and sexual identities…”, it is not sufficient. It needs to be defined more clearly.

When we look at women workers’ organizations and women’s movement in Turkey, what is the importance of the Convention?

Necla: The Convention strengthens women workers’ hand in the fight against sexual violence and harassment in the workplace. It provides an international assurance. It provides not only a legitimate ground for trade unions that want to deal with violence and harassment against women in working life, but also guides them. ILO 190, of course, is of interest to feminists, as the feminist movement is a movement that fights violence both at home and outside of it and in working life and makes its policy.

However, the struggle for feminist rights and the struggle of trade unions for rights have some differences in terms of their starting point, conceptual framework and the tools they use, and their borders. This does not prevent us from acting together, but feminists need to approach the Convention a little more cautiously. The ambiguities about LGBTI+s that Feryal mentioned above are important. In addition, the search for a feminism acceptable to all, seen in the ILO conventions, shows itself in a minor key here as well. But again, it’s a useful text for trade union feminism.

I think the Convention is important for trade unions. Because it can be a guide in the daily struggle of rights for unionized women. New articles can be added such as founding units to combat violence, which is already in ILO, and we can check it.  For this reason, first of all, the trade unions need to come together and create pressure by organizing a wide campaign. I think the trade unions are not very silent about the ILO 190 issue. In particular, DİSK and the unions affiliated with this confederation discussed ILO 190 depending on the 25 November and 8 March agendas, and wrote brochures and leaflets declaring that it should be approved. Meanwhile, Industriall (Federation of Global Manufacturing Unions) held meetings with women who run the women’s affairs of trade unions in Turkey. There is a brochure prepared by them, that brochure has been translated into Turkish. It tells the content of the Convention briefly. I think some unions have distributed them within their own body.

In addition, the women of the social democratic trade unions within Türk-İş did not remain unfamiliar with the event. From the very beginning, KESK has been working on this subject within a certain program. The existence and active working of a women’s organization there leads to the creation of a common mind in policies about women, which is certainly desirable. But the reflexes of trade unions to come together and create a common pressure are very weak, and sometimes even different unions of the same confederation cannot come together due to the power struggles between men. Unfortunately, this also reflects on women within the unions. Women cannot come together and do something together. Most importantly, the unionized women and the whole of the feminist movement that will produce the politics of these affairs cannot come together. I’m talking about getting involved as a movement, not Necla getting together with Hülya. Recently, at the Kadınİşçi’s ILO 190 meeting, we discussed the importance of the Convention in combating violence in the areas of paid and unpaid labor. Turkey must recognize the Convention. DİSK President Arzu Çerkezoğlu and KESK Co-Chair Şükran Kablan Yeşil both welcomed the common struggle of trade unions, women’s organizations and feminists regarding the ILO 190 issue. I hope this attitude will lead to new alliances and collaborations in practice as well.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: Gülcan Ergün

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan


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