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ILO calls for change in work practices
Saturday 7 May 2005
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AFRICA: ILO calls for change in work practices

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 2 July (PLUSNEWS) - The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is calling on governments, employers and trade unions to recognise their responsibility as leaders to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS by changing attitudes and practices in the workplace.

The epidemic is rapidly changing the labour force. Most of the 40 million people living with HIV globally are men and women in their economically productive years. Women comprise half the population living with HIV and also make up the majority of the world's poor.

Women often carry the twin burdens of care-giving and income generation. "Many women experience sexual and economic subordination in their personal relationships and at work," said the ILO report. "The workplace mirrors and sometimes exacerbates gender inequalities and discrimination present in society as a whole."

Research in Kenya's export industries by the International Labour Rights Fund found that women experienced violence and harassment as a normal part of their working lives, and "over 90 percent of those interviewed had experienced or observed sexual abuse at their workplace."

According to the ILO, women face a gamut of problems that perpetuates gender inequality and increases their vulnerability to HIV infection: discrimination, unequal property and inheritance laws, less access to employment, education and credit than their male counterparts.

The power imbalance in the workplace exposes women to the threat of sexual harassment. Women who travel to work, migrate to find work or whose partners do the same are more at risk of HIV infection.

Women who have lost partners to AIDS, or have been a abandoned because they are HIV-positive, are often deprived of financial security and economic opportunities. In these circumstances, they may resort to sex for survival or turn to relationships in which they are unable to negotiate safe sex or refuse unsafe sex.

Yet women are also at the forefront of community responses notes the report. "Far from being victims, their resilience is inspiring and their efforts should be supported. Action taken to strengthen educational, economic and political opportunities for women, and reduce the obstacles to equality, will also serve to protect them from AIDS and its impact."

The report, 'ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work', suggests that employment policies and practices be reviewed to address gender inequality in the context of HIV/AIDS. Discrimination at work should be opposed and equal opportunities promoted by education for both sexes, including sexual and reproductive health and the economic roles and family responsibilities of men and women.

Employers should avoid creating work patterns that separate workers from their families for prolonged periods and provide facilities for rest and recreation, or family accommodation. Extending workplace medical facilities to the families of workers would go far to change attitudes.

Business practices should not encourage risky behaviour, with "zero tolerance" for violence and harassment against women at work making this a disciplinary offence.

The Code stresses that each part of a comprehensive workplace programme on HIV/AIDS, covering prevention, care and the protection of human rights, must be gender-sensitive and include activities for men and women separately and together. The Code is complemented by an education and training manual that includes case studies, learning activities and examples of nondiscriminatory laws and policies.


Recent AFRICA Reports
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 232, 6 May 2005,  6/May/05
Low marks on report card for global HIV/AIDS commitments ,  4/May/05
Project empowers rural communities to shape own HIV/AIDS programmes,  3/May/05
Clinic tackles urgent need for AIDS/TB treatment,  2/May/05
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 231, 29 April 2005,  29/Apr/05

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