Violence Against Women: It’s Time to Break the Silence

by | Dec 22, 2021 | Articles, Brazil, Diversity

Although the 20th century inaugurated the modern era of women in the labor market, we are still living a transitional experience as we progress through the 21st century. In general, women continue to earn less than men and face the challenge of balancing their career roles—and goals, with the typical demands and needs of the domestic world, family, and community life, and in ways, which often are not expected of men.

Adding to this, violence against women remains a major public health problem—one that has held steady at the same level worldwide for more than a decade.
Current data from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that an average of one in three women worldwide is subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner in their lifetime. Most prevalent is intimate partner violence, affecting about 641 million women globally.

Of course, those numbers differ from country to country. In the United States, for example, one in four women and one in ten men experience sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

This sobering reality makes this issue one that extends beyond personal relationships and personal space to professional ones. Therefore, as intellectual property (IP) professionals, it is relevant to our everyday workplace experiences whether we realize it or not.

According to the WHO report, the social and economic costs of this violence, whether by an intimate partner or more generally, are enormous and have ripple effects throughout society. Women may suffer isolation, inability to work, loss of wages, lack of participation in regular activities, and limited ability to care for themselves and their children.

As further quantified by UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to global gender equality and the empowerment of women, the economic impact of violence against women is approximately 2 percent to 5 percent of global gross domestic product, according to its Strategic Plan 2018-2021. Inescapable, is the point that if women were not subjected to violence and burdened by taking the lead in domestic and family roles, their “participation in the labor force could raise output by an estimated 25 percent in some countries and sectors.”

A U.S.-focused report, published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), puts it another way: victims of domestic violence lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year, resulting in a $1.8 billion loss in productivity for employers in the United States alone. These are startling numbers.

Further, according to SHRM, 21 percent of full-time employed adults said they had been the victim of domestic violence, with 74 percent of them noting that they had been harassed at work. In addition, 16 percent of the U.S. organizations surveyed have had a domestic violence incident in the past five years. Yet, 65 percent of companies lack a formal workplace domestic violence prevention policy.

The available data seems to be overwhelming. But there are things we, as IP professionals and workplace colleagues, can do, in fact, there are many effective measures that are within our reach. We can make a difference in lockstep with our employers and colleagues:

• Support and encourage the creation of awareness campaigns to stop violence. A very effective way to launch a campaign is embrace existing international days of awareness, for example, the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There is abundant material for this type of campaign. A good example can be accessed here.

• Foster a safe and secure working environment where victims of violence have no fear about their continued employability and have access to the necessary support, so that they are understood, supported, and treated fairly. This includes ensuring that work is a “safe space” especially if a victim’s partner seeks to expand their influence to their abused partner’s workplace. Research has repeatedly confirmed that for victims, there is a direct relationship between domestic violence and employment instability.

• Understand the different types of violence to which women are subjected. In addition to physical and sexual violence, there are various kinds of moral violence that are often practiced in the workplace, such as gaslighting and manterrupting, as well as harassment based on family responsibilities and maternity, among others. Creating awareness of these types of violence and having a policy to fight them can be effective measures.

• Promote professional development and gender equity for women within your organization and encourage and mentor their career advancement. This can generate very positive results as gender violence is often based on the patrimonial dependency of women. UN Women offers tips on workplace mentoring, for one.

• Bring other genders into the conversation. It can be in working groups, roundtables, reverse mentoring, or by other means. Considering that violence against women is predominantly practiced by men, having them as allies and making them intolerant of situations of violence in the workplace and in their family and community relationships can make a big difference. As noted in an article in Forbes, since “men hold most of the decision-making authority in both the public and private sector,” they are a needed ally for gender equity.

• Promote conversations and create incentives for parental and domestic shared responsibilities. Support groups focused on parental responsibility can make a great difference in promoting this agenda.

• Take action to include women in your organization’s supply chains and ensure that your supply chains are free of human exploitation and trafficking. An article in Industry Week discusses women’s role in the supply chain.

Of course, it should also be said that while this article focuses only on women, who by and large, represent the largest proportion of victims, there are many other types of domestic violence where the victims include men, children, seniors, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community to name just a few. Although beyond the scope of this article, groups like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the U.S. provide compelling evidence that sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner are endemic problems.

Organizations can employ many of the same techniques suggested for women victims for other groups of victims as well.

As leaders regardless of gender, we come from a wide range of countries and cultures, and we should be mindful of the staggering percentage of women who are subjected to domestic violence. Statistically, this means that many of these victims are the women within our intimate circles of friends and co-workers. The question to ask is, What would we want done if the person victimized was our mother, daughter, or sister? Working together there is a lot we could achieve.

INTA’s Leadership Development—Leadership Link Project Team

Isabella Cardozo (Daniel Law)—Leadership Link Project Team Chair
Mike Yaghmai (Facebook, Inc.)—Leadership Link Project Team Chair

David Aylen (Gowling WLG Russia)—Communication Subcommittee Chair
Colleen Sarenpa (Polaroid Brand Services)—Communication Subcommittee Chair

David Perry (Blank Rome LLP)—Leadership Development Committee Chair
Christy Susman (Winterfeldt IP)—Leadership Development Committee Vice-Chair

Peg Reardon (INTA)—Leadership Development Committee Staff Liaison
Catherine Shen (INTA)—Leadership Development Committee Staff Liaison

Mary Forbes (Corsearch)
Fred Hathaway (Dickinson Wright PLLC)
Benjamin James (McCarthy Denning)
Cliff Kuehn (Dergosits & Noah LLP) Mary Forbes (Corsearch)

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