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close this bookABC of Women Workers' Rights and Gender Equality (ILO; 2000; 124 pages)
View the documentThe International Labour Organization
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View the documentPreface to the earlier ABC of women workers' rights
View the documentPreface to the new ABC of women workers' rights and gender equality
Open this folder and view contentsIntroduction: Labour standards promoting women workers' rights and gender equality (Ingeborg Heide1)
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View the documentSelection tests and interviews
View the documentSelf-employment
View the documentSexual harassment
View the documentSickness insurance
View the documentSocial security/social protection
View the documentStructural unemployment
View the documentSurvivors' benefit
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View the documentOther ILO publications
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Sexual harassment

The broad definition of sexual harassment is that of unwelcome sexual advances or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, abusive or offensive working environment. Examples of sexual harassment may include:

• insults, remarks, jokes and insinuations of a sexual nature and inappropriate comments on a person's dress, physique, age or family situation;

• undesired and unnecessary physical contact such as touching, caresses, pinching or assault;

• embarrassing remarks and other verbal harassment;

• lascivious looks and gestures associated with sexuality;

• compromising invitations;

• requests for sexual favours.

Sexual harassment is considered to be a violation of human rights, a discrimination and a safety and health issue. Sexual harassment has been dealt with by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations as a human rights issue, notably as an issue of discrimination against women. Governments, and employers' and workers' organizations have become increasingly active in preventing and combating sexual harassment at work, but it is assumed that there are still many victims. These are often unaware of their rights and afraid of retaliation or of losing their jobs.

Sexual harassment offends the dignity and personal integrity of workers. It should be prevented in the workplace; where it occurs despite all efforts, it should be punished, and the victims protected. Protection against sexual harassment is accorded in many countries under the constitution, equal opportunities or labour law, under the penal code and/or specific legislation. The courts and tribunals at national level attach more and more importance to the issue by further developing the role of employers in the context of the prevention and consequences of harassment through case law (dealing with termination of work contracts, remedies and sanctions, etc.).

Sexual harassment is a potential threat both to workers and to the enterprise. It calls into question the individual integrity and the well-being of workers. It is also widely seen as contrary to the objectives of the employer since it weakens the basis upon which industrial relations are built, and might have a negative effect on productivity. The role of trade unions and employers in creating a healthy environment for the dignity of workers is of vital importance for prevention.

C. 111: Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), 1958
R. 111: Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), 1958
C. 169: Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, 1989

→ see also Discrimination

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