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Last edited: July 08, 2020

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Training on ending violence and harassment against women plays a number of roles: it improves understanding about gender inequalities; it helps initiate change at work; and it also relays information on what policies, procedures, recourse mechanisms and support are available to staff.

An increasing number of public and private employers provide training programmes for managers, supervisors and workers on preventing and responding to violence and harassment at work. However, traditional means of training, such as one-off online training or self-paced courses, have been shown to have a limited effect in changing organizational culture, particularly when they are carried out in isolation from other workplace measures (EEOC, 2016). Training methodologies and techniques that ensure ongoing engagement, especially those that are interactive, have the potential to help participants – particularly men workers – to understand important concepts that underpin violence and harassment (Kaufman, 2011 and Kaufman, 2009). This includes gender, masculinities, discrimination, inequality and bias (EEOC, 2016).

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment training does not work when it is carried out as a part of a due diligence formality by human resources officials, and it needs to be focused on prevention (EEOC, 2016). Training also needs to highlight what are acceptable standards of behaviour and expectations in the workplace. In this context, training alone, and if not carried out from a gender and human rights-based perspective, is likely to be insufficient to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment; indeed, it may have the opposite effect, for example, by reinforcing views around victim blaming.

Training of workers, supervisors and managers should be part of a comprehensive approach to preventing violence and harassment.  It should encompass a range of measures, policies and procedures that help to create a positive culture, with appropriate and respectful behaviour. The following are examples of different approaches to training on violence and harassment:

  • Training directed at managers, supervisors and workers, in order to promote a positive organizational culture:  Within this, it is important to cover situations that have the potential to escalate to violence and harassment.
  • Training to change attitudes, stereotypes and social norms: This approach aims at empowering participants to understand gender inequalities and to model appropriate and dignified behaviour at work as a basis for changing social norms.
  • Training on unconscious and implicit bias: This approach addresses the powerful effect biases have, for example, affecting decisions on recruitment and career advancement and harmful attitudes about women and men, resulting in negative behaviour.
  • Civility training: This is a positive and preventative form of training that can help reduce bullying or conflict at work and promote respect and civility in the workplace generally. There is often a strong focus on skills-based training activities, including inter-personal skills, conflict resolution and supervisory techniques.
  • Bystander intervention training: This can enable staff to develop skills to identify inappropriate behaviour at work and attitudes that contribute to a culture of gender inequality.
  • Peer-to-peer training: This can be a way to widely disseminate information throughout the workplace. It places responsibility in the hands of workers’ peers, which can be an empowering way to change culture and practices.
  • Trade union training: This focuses on training for worker representatives to enable them to respond to members’ concerns and experiences of violence and harassment at work, including the processes for supporting members in making complaints and signposting to specialist support services available for victims.

Promising practices on training include:

  • Taking into account workers’ concerns about violence and harassment and their needs when developing training; for example, by carrying out a pre-training survey.
  • Ensuring that management at all levels supports training, which sends a strong message of its relevance.
  • Carrying out and reinforcing training on a regular basis for all workers, and including it in induction sessions for all new staff. 
  • Including interactive and participatory training methods, for example, by making use of case studies, real-life scenarios, group work, videos and role-plays.
  • Ensuring that training challenges stereotypes and encourages participants to address attitudes such as “victim blaming”.
  • Providing participants with guidance to end violence and harassment at work, taking into account what is achievable and relevant in their current roles and responsibilities.
  • Ensuring there is a regular follow-up after training, with regular updates and information.
  • Evaluating the training and its effectiveness, both in the short-term (as more workers feel empowered to report misconduct), and in the long-term (regarding a decrease of incidents).

Training on sexual harassment

Better Work training on sexual harassment for workers, managers and supervisors in Jordan (ILO and IFC Better Work, 2014)

The ILO-IFC Better Work Programme established in 2012 a task force to develop tools and materials to prevent and address sexual harassment. The sexual harassment prevention training provided managers, supervisors and workers with a better understanding of sexual harassment and its impact, as well as practical guidance on how to prevent and deal with sexual harassment. Supervisors were also trained on how to deal with allegations of sexual harassment. According to Better Work, after the implementation of the training in the Jerash Garment & Fashion Manufacturing Co. Ltd., the 80% of workers surveyed indicated having a better understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment and of its different implications.

Unconscious bias training for corporate leaders in Australia: The Gender Equality Project (cited in Powell, Sandy and Findling)

The Australian Gender Equality Project, run by the Centre for Ethical Leadership at the University of Melbourne’s Business School is a participatory action research program.  It works in partnership with senior leaders and corporate executives to raise awareness on gender inequalities. Unconscious bias training is carried out for participants to help them understand how individual and organizational inequalities play out in the workplace and how bias shapes patterns of thinking and behaviour, as well as actions and decision-making in the organization. Specific tools in this training include materials to identify bias and prevent engaging in biased decision-making.

ILO Vietnam training programme on the prevention of sexual harassment for employers and workers

Between 2013 and 2015, over 100 enterprises participated in a training programme to give employers and workers an understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment. The training highlighted the different forms of violence and harassment (physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature) and the impact that it has on workers. It provided tools for protecting workers from sexual harassment and how to avoid inappropriate behaviour themselves. Mechanisms for addressing sexual harassment, including implementing effective complaints procedures and carrying out impartial investigations, were important aspects of the training. Along with the introduction of workplace policies and complaints procedures, the training has helped to significantly reduce the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace.[1]

Peer-to-Peer worker education programmes: examples from Florida and Bangladesh

In Florida, the Fair Food Program, run by the Coalition of Imokalee Workers, has developed educational materials created by farmworkers themselves, with which the Coalition provides worker-to-worker education on workers’ rights at all farms that participate in the Fair Food Program (Human Rights Watch, 2012).[2]

In Bangladesh, the Fair Wear Foundation’s (FWF) peer-to-peer training has proved an excellent way to reach workers in garment factories. Since 2015, FWF has run a peer-to-peer programme in Bangladesh, which enables training in large factories – employing around 3,000 workers. Trainers give each worker in the Programme a booklet and ask them to share what they have learned with ten other workers and to report back about this (Fair Wear Foundation, 2018).

E-learning course on preventing sexual harassment in Georgia[3]

An interactive e-learning course on the prevention of sexual harassment was launched in 2017 for public officials in Georgia. It was developed by UN Women, in partnership with the Civil Service Bureau, the Government Administration, the Gender Equality Council of the Parliament, the Public Defender's Office, trade unions and civil society partners.  The course aims to raise awareness about the incidence, and the effects, of sexual harassment in the workplace, and looks at what employers, managers, workers and bystanders can do to prevent it. Through practical examples, it shows how all workers can contribute to a positive workplace and organizational culture free from sexual harassment. Advice is also given on responding to sexual harassment and making complaints.

The Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees has introduced the course as mandatory learning for all staff, and additional ministries will pilot the online training with staff, prior to it becoming mandatory for all civil servants.

FIU-Equality Denmark - shop stewards training about domestic violence[4]

FIU-Equality, a trade union training organization on equality and diversity, offers regular shop stewards’ training that aims to promote policies and activities to break taboos about domestic violence, to assist victims in seeking help at the workplace and for elected worker representatives and work colleagues to help victims of domestic violence. FIU-Equality has also produced training materials on preventing domestic violence at work, with guidance on implementing workplace policies.

Since 2005, an annual conference on domestic violence has been held to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November), and an annual awards programme showcases innovative workplace policies and initiatives to prevent domestic violence at work from companies and shop stewards. Examples include representing a victim or in persuading an employer to introduce a workplace policy, negotiating with an employer to allow a victim to have temporary leave or flexible working hours, and negotiating a change of job within the company or a job placement in another town or region. Another example is a theatre play commissioned in 2009 from the theatre company “The Travelling Stage” in partnership with the White Ribbon campaign, using theatre to explore the difficulty men have in talking to a male colleague who is perpetrating domestic violence. Theatre was seen as a good way to deal with the taboo of domestic violence.

Training on domestic violence at work, Victorian Trades Hall Council, Australia[5]

The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) provides training for unions and those at the workplace to help implement enterprise agreements that give the right to domestic violence leave and other forms of workplace support. Lessons from the implementation of workplace policies and domestic violence leave is that there have been some instances where a lack of training on family violence in the workplace has caused further distress for a victim.  Therefore, training has been prioritized to cover a range of topics that aim to build understanding of family violence, why it is a workplace issue and what can be done to end and manage it.

One successful part of the training is that it draws on real case studies of how domestic violence has been tackled in the workplace.  The training is supported by a handbook that provides practical resources and information, including a copy of the VTHC model family violence leave clause and a template for a workplace family violence safety plan (The Victorian Trades Hall Council, Undated, currently being updated).

Training for farm workers in Morocco, United States Solidarity Center

In Morocco, a partnership between the United States Solidarity Center and the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) aims to improve worker rights, which is seen as the first step in addressing gender-based violence in the agricultural sector. According to the coordinator of the CDT’s Women Department and part of its executive board, “…when women understand how gender-based violence at work is part of a larger structural system preventing them from attaining better wages and decent working conditions, they can go on to denounce these kind of practices and exercise their rights” (Solidarity Center, 2017).

The gender equality training has helped women to understand their rights and to improve their situation. It relies on creative methods, including role plays. One thousand agricultural workers on five large farms won a landmark agreement (contract) in 2015 that includes the first-ever maternity leave, as well as other improvements on equality, enabling women to have access to higher-paid, traditionally-male jobs. Having better rights at work has been shown to reduce the risk of violence and harassment at work and has helped women to feel safe and be more productive at work (Solidarity Center, 2017).



[1] Information provided in an email by Mai Thi Dieu Huyen, Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

[2] For further information about the CIW see: http://ciw-online.org/about/

[4] Information provided by Susanne Fast Larsen, United Federation of Danish Workers, 3F, and also cited in Pillinger (2017b).

[5] Information provided in an interview by Pia Cerveri, Co-lead Women and Equality Team, Victorian Trades Hall Council.

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