A Conversation with CARE: How We're Fighting to End Violence & Harassment in the Workplace Globally

A Conversation with CARE: How We're Fighting to End Violence & Harassment in the Workplace Globally


By Margie Lauter

Veronica Burneo from CARE Latin America and Lesley Abraham from CARE Asia recently visited the United States to discuss how they’re working to end violence and harassment in the workplace, from domestic workers in Latin America to women working in the garment sector in Asia.

In 2018, CARE launched #ThisIsNotWorking, a global campaign calling for greater protections in the workplace for women everywhere. More than one third of the world’s countries have no laws prohibiting sexual harassment at work, leaving nearly 235 million vulnerable. As part of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Veronica and Lesley provide an exclusive into their work during this momentous time in history.

Q: You both focus on the issue of fighting violence and harassment in the workplace in two very different parts of the world and with very different groups of women. What is similar and what is different about the work you do?

Lesley: The garment sector in Asia has women who work both in factories and at home, whereas the domestic workers in Latin America work primarily in homes where protections aren’t the same. The big overlapping issue is around how we both focus on the protection against gender-based violence and the recognition that any woman anywhere in the world has the right to feel safe in the workplace and feel like they don’t have to be terrified getting up in the morning and knowing where their livelihood is coming from and if it is secure.

Veronica: The social, political and economic situation is very different from country to country, and especially between Latin America and Asia. Still... we are using some of the same strategies and we’re both fighting for labor rights. There’s a lot we are learning from each other on how different strategies are working well and where we need to improve.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges domestic workers and female garment workers face around ending violence and harassment in the workplace – and how are they overcoming them?

Maria Faustina was photographed in Guatemala City on April 13, 2018, as part of CARE' Domestic Workers Campaign.
"Governments need to recognize that
domestic work is work. And [domestic
workers] should have access to all the
rights that any other worker should have."

Veronica: First, there’s the cultural ideas that people have about domestic work. This work isn’t valued socially because it’s made by women. So, employers don’t put value on their salaries or their working conditions. A lot of the dynamic of this relationship is based on charity or this fake idea that they belong to the family. Most domestic workers – especially those living with their employers inside the house – are not safe. Many are victims of violence, abuse and harassment and it’s also hard for them to report.  When you’re a worker in a formal workplace you might have a colleague or HR to turn to at least to complain about what is happening. But domestic workers are isolated. This isolation puts them in a really vulnerable situation in which they don’t get information about their rights and they don’t know if what is being done to them is legal or illegal. There are also challenges at the level of enforcement.

We put in a lot of effort to advocate and influence and make sure the voices of the domestic workers are heard and that they are present in key decision-making places… instead of being represented by anyone else. The domestic workers movement in [Latin America] is a strong movement. It’s a powerful movement. We are learning constantly from them and are always making sure we are aligned to what they prioritize. We also work together with governments to make sure they are aware of the need to ratify [a global treaty] to protect the rights of domestic workers, which is a priority in the region.

Lesley: The garment industry in Asia is enormous – there are over 40 million people in Asia working in the garment and apparel industry and it’s estimated that 75 percent of those are women. That doesn’t even include the many women who are working in the garment sector from their homes. Unfortunately, women are usually in the roles that are the lowest paid and the most marginalized. One-third of women in Cambodia said they have experienced sexual harassment in their workplace in the last 12 months. We focus on women’s leadership and trying to make sure that women have a seat at the table when they’re discussing wage negotiations. And... we’re also working with management to set up sexual harassment committees so that if women face these challenges in the workplace they know where they can go. 

CARE has almost 20 years of experience working with the garment industry in Cambodia.


Q: Your programs are working to improve the lives of so many millions of people – that can seem so daunting! What’s the key to reaching populations that large?

Lesley: We have a goal of reaching 8 million women by 2021. In Asia we’ve recognized that we can’t have enormous impactful change factory by factory or person by person.  So, looking at policy change at the national and international level is really important.

Veronica: We cannot reach our goals by ourselves. But we use our regional presence to have a more powerful presence in certain places. Having a regional program is not just the sum of some countries. We are a regional initiative, we coordinate, we do multi-country activities. This raises the visibility of the issue.

Q: What inspires you about this work? 

Lesley: My very second day on the job at CARE I went to a factory in Cambodia. There was one woman — she was 18 when she moved to Phnom Penh [Cambodia] to start working in a factory. She was telling her story and sharing these awful experiences she had in the factory – of vulgar things men had said to her that she had been grabbed in the workplace and hadn’t felt safe, but she wasn’t able to quit her job. After CARE came into that factory and helped set up training programs, policies, and procedures around sexual harassment, things started to feel better for her and she [felt] safer.

This year someone went back to the same woman and asked her what had changed. She said there were even more policies and more procedures in place now to help women. But, the phrase that really struck me was, “No one dares to harass women anymore in the workplace.” I thought, one year on – that’s really a sign that CARE can make such a sustainable change.

Veronica: I can name many dozens of things that inspire me about this work. But it’s the domestic women leaders and their strength that inspires me. They are still standing. Not just standing but fighting and they will never stop fighting. That’s their life. It inspires me to know that they not only have the strength to survive, but they have enough strength to create a social movement that is transforming the continent and transforming the world.

The women pictured here are also working to convince Guatemala to ratify the International Labour Organization's Convention 189, which establishes basic rights for domestic workers around the world. "It inspires me to know that
[domestic workers] not only have
the strength to survive, but they
have enough strength to create a
social movement that is transforming
the continent and transforming
the world."


Q: What can people in the U.S. do to help end violence and harassment in the workplace globally?

Veronica: One in three women on the planet will or has experienced some form of gender-based violence. It’s important to know about this and educate yourself about what is happening with women around the world and how normalized gender-based violence has become. After that, it’s important to advocate at the local and national level, wherever you can.

Lesley: Engage with your policymakers. With the #MeToo movement and #TimesUp we’ve really come to recognize that gender-based violence in the workplace is not an issue that happens in one place. It’s an issue that happens everywhere and women who are facing this are not alone. Take that message to your policymakers. Talk with your community talk with your family about this.

"One in three women on the planet will or has experienced some form of gender-based violence. It’s important to know about this and educate yourself about what is happening with women around the world."

Violence and harassment against women and girls is a global issue. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has an opportunity to end this crisis by introducing the first-ever, legally-binding treaty to end violence and harassment in the world of work — a critical step to building accountability on this issue globally. Take action today and urge U.S. leaders to adopt the treaty at the next ILO Conference.  

Take Action with CARE Action

Verónica Burneo is the General Manager of CARE´s regional program “Equal value, equal rights”, our regional domestic work program that is now being implemented in Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Verónica is an Ecuadorian professional (MSc Social and Cultural Anthropology, Bachelor in Sociology and Political Science) with more than 12 years of experience in LAC and Europe, fighting for women´s rights, with a focus on GBV.

Lesley Abraham is the Coordinator for the Made by Women Impact Growth Strategy, a CARE initiative across Asia that works to advance the rights of women working in the garment sector. She has been engaged in the international development sector for nearly 13 years, working with nonprofit and government organizations in Africa, Asia, Canada and the Caribbean. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Alberta and a MA from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.


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