The ILO’s #MeToo Moment

After two years of negotiations, the International Labor Organization (ILO) passed its Convention on Violence and Harassment earlier this month—with governments, employers and trade unions adopting the global treaty in a groundbreaking vote.

(Left to Right) Jacqueline MUGO (Kenya), Employer Vice-President of the 108th (Centenary) Session of the International Labour Conference; Rakesh Patry, Government Delegates, Director-General, International and Intergovernmental Labour Affairs, Labour Program, ESDC; Mthunzi MDWABA (South Africa), Employer Vice-Chairperson of the Governing Body; H.E. Secretary of State Jean-Jacques Elmiger (Switzerland), President of the 108th (Centenary) Session of the International Labour Conference; Marie Clarke-Walker, Workers’ Delegate, Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress. Alana Matheson, Employers’ Delegate, Associate Director, People and Change, KPMG. Hon. Colin E. Jordan, Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations; Plamen Dimitrov (Bulgaria), Worker Vice-President of the 108th (Centenary) Session of the International Labour Conference; H.E. Ambassador Margarida Rosa Da Silva IZATA (Angola), Government Vice-President of the 108th (Centenary) Session of the International Labour Conference; and Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, celebrate after the final record vote on the Convention concerning the elimination of violence and
harassment at work. (© Crozet / Pouteau)

439 votes were cast in favor of the treaty on June 21 from the body of 476 governments convening in Geneva. The governments who signed the binding treaty will now be required to develop national laws prohibiting workplace violence, establish preventative measures against such behavior, monitor the issue and provide access to remedies and measures to protect victims from retaliation.

Though steps need to continue to be taken as these governments must now adopt and enforce these laws, this is a monumental victory. The treaty has put the gendered nature of workplace violence and harassment at the forefront of the discussion—explicitly defining it as “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, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.”

In 2018, the World Health Organization estimated that two billion women have experienced workplace harassment. The sheer magnitude of the occurrence of workplace harassment put it at risk of being normalized; addressing the issue at this global scale creates a strong international standard to challenge that notion.

“This is the first time that a Convention and Recommendation on violence and harassment in the world of work have been adopted,” Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Workquality Department, explained in a statement. “We now have an agreed definition of violence and harassment. We know what needs to be done to prevent and address it, and by whom. We hope these new standards will lead us into the future of work we want to see.”

In the midst of the #MeToo movement, this landmark victory for women workers around the world is a powerful reminder that justice is possible—and that culture change is coming.

“This is the power of #MeToo,” Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, declared via Twitter shortly after the vote, “and this day belongs to every brave woman that spoke about the abuse they have faced.”


Greta Baxter is currently working as a summer editorial intern at Ms. Magazine. While majoring in Political Science and Law at Sciences Po Paris she was the anglophone culture section editor of her schools newspaper, The Sundial Press, and the head of editing and visuals of HeforShe Sciences Po. As a passionate intersectional feminist, she is especially interested in the relationship between gender and health as well as how gender bias and discrimination is embedded in political and legal systems. When she is not talking about gender and looking at what steps forward and backward are being made around the world, she is probably arguing about why sweet breakfast foods are superior to savory breakfast foods. You can follow her on Twitter!