Better Work Jordan’s sexual harassment prevention programme for workers spurs change
Through Better Work Jordan’s culturally sensitive training on sexual harassment prevention in the workplace, female workers are finding their voice.
Amman, Sep 24 – Hana*, a garment factory supervisor, has just attended a Better Work Jordan training session on sexual harassment prevention. “The most important thing for me was that I learned to never stay quiet. If you see something wrong speak up, report it,” she says. Rana*, a factory worker, feels the training will have a real impact. “Personally I learned so much from the training. I think it is useful to have this kind of knowledge. It can help a person in a situation and it can prevent people from committing an offence.”
Jordan is currently home to over 50,000 female workers in the garment industry, many of them migrants. As in other countries, women tend to occupy the lower-ranking positions in the factory, making them more prone to harassment by their superiors. Sexual harassment not only causes physiological and psychological duress to individuals, research has shown it negatively impacts factory productivity and competitiveness. It’s a problem Better Work is addressing through systematically rolling out awareness training to workers in the country, at all levels.
“Our strategy is to make sure to address 100 percent of the factory owners/general managers, 100 percent of middle management, 50 percent of the supervisors and 20 percent of the workers,” explains Ala’a Al-Saifi, Team Leader at Better Work Jordan. The training is a key element of Better Work’s gender strategy, which aims to reduce discrimination, empower women in the workplace, and close the gender pay gap.
Conservative values can make the issues brought up by the training difficult to address, especially for Jordanian women working in the more rural areas of the Kingdom, most of whom have had to seek approval from their families and communities to even join the factory. Some factory managers argue the potential disadvantage of sexual harassment prevention training. “Our situation is different so we are going to (take a) pass on such trainings. Our employees are protected and they work in a polite environment,” says Mazen*, a factory manager.
Clarity about the definition of sexual harassment is another one of the challenges to implementing a shift in attitudes in the country. “Our supervisor will sometimes use words that are inappropriate. But I don’t think that’s sexual harassment,” shares Mahasen*, a factory employee. Mahasen is not alone, “We are still working on defining the term ‘sexual harassment’ as many employees, employers and even government officials still do not fully understand what it means and are not aware of the forms of harassment. Additionally, there is no clear definition in the current Jordanian Labor law and under the ILO’s Pay Equity Project we have been lobbying to amend article 29 to address this issue,” says Reem Aslan, Gender consultant at the International Labour Organization (ILO).
However, for the purposes of the training, the issue is more straightforward: “If a person senses that he or she is on the receiving end of unwelcomed behaviour of a sexual nature, then it is sexual harassment,” explains Zainab Yang, Team Leader at Better Work Jordan. As defined by the United Nations, sexual harassment is the act of imposing a sexual advance in all forms, be it verbal, physical or any other act that may be perceived as offensive or to cause humiliation, from a man or a woman.
Abed Aljwad AlNatsha, Ministry of Labour Inspector on secondment to Better Work Jordan who participated in Better Work Jordan’s training on sexual harassment prevention says, “The training is especially beneficial for labour inspectors. It helps give them a better idea of what constitutes sexual harassment. The training has helped them in their inspection rounds and subsequent investigation into cases.”
On the factory side, the training has been welcomed for its significance during the induction stage of employees. “Workers come from various cultural backgrounds, where some comments or jokes may be acceptable for some individuals but not for others. Thanks to the cooperation of multiple stakeholders such as Better Work Jordan, our team is more aware and cases of sexual harassment have been reduced due to the programme,” explains Amir*, a compliance manager in one of Jordan’s garment factories.
Better Work – a collaboration between the United Nations’ ILO and the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group – brings together all levels of the garment industry to improve working conditions and boost the competitiveness of apparel businesses. Currently active in eight countries reaching more than two million workers, the programme creates lasting change through assessments, training, advocacy and research.
*Names have been changed