Emma Watson, actor and activist, is urging women to understand their rights, with the launch of a free legal advice line on 5 August for women in England and Wales experiencing sexual harassment at work. The helpline, by Rights of Women, a non-profit organization helping women through the law, is funded by TIME’S UP UK’s Justice and Equality Fund, a movement against sexual harassment, and is managed by Rosa, the UK Fund for Women and Girls.
According to the Trade Union Congress, one in two women have experienced sexual harassment at work. The aim of the advice line, started by donations from Watson and others, is to help improve the availability of legal advice so women can get the right help they need to hold their employer and harasser to account. The purpose is to empower women to exercise their legal rights in the workplace.
Emma hopes for more prevention and accountability Watson says it’s staggering to think that this is the only service of its type, given that research has found as many as one in two women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. She says it finally feels like people are realising the scale of the problem and says she is hopeful that with global standards such as the recent International Labour Organization treaty on harassment at work, we’ll start to see a new climate of prevention and accountability on this issue domestically.
“Understanding what your rights are, how you can assert them and the choices you have if you’ve experienced harassment, is such a vital part of creating safe workplaces for everyone. This advice line is a huge development in ensuring that all women are supported, wherever we work,” says Watson.
Callers will learn more about their rights Legal advice is provided by Rights of Women legal staff and volunteer women employment lawyers, through a dedicated telephone line. Women calling can get advice on what behaviour constitutes sexual harassment, how to bring a complaint against their employer, how to make a claim in the Employment Tribunal, Settlement Agreements and Non-Disclosure Agreements, as well as other sexual harassment related legal problems. The advice line helps women make informed choices about next steps including how to navigate the legal system with confidence.
Deeba Syed, senior legal officer at Rights of Women, says evidence shows that sexual harassment in the workplace is at epidemic levels. She says while sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of violence against women, it has remained a hidden issue with many women believing it was an inevitable part of their jobs or that to assert their legal rights would jeopardise their careers.
“For too long there has been a gap in available legal advice in this area for those who need it most. Many women still don’t have access to the right help and support they need to hold their employer and harasser to account. Our advice line will help plug that gap. We know complaints of sexual harassment at work are still frequently responded to in a gendered manner that is negative, undermining or can lead to victimisation. We will also work towards dismantling the underlying structural problems that puts the burden on victims and makes it difficult for women to come forward through its policy work,” she says.
Workplace protections will become more enforceable Dame Heather Rabbatts, Chairperson of TIME’S UP UK, says many forms of sexual harassment are still prevalent across the UK workforce. She says the government is consulting on the introduction of a duty to ensure employers are made legally responsible for following up sexual harassment reporting. Rabbats says she believes this will ensure workplace protections are in place and are enforceable.
Seyi Newell, project director at Rosa, the UK Fund for Women and Girls says by ensuring women have access to the right advice and support, we can create an empowered workforce. She says women will have confidence to call it out and employers will recognize it and take action, so that together we make work and social spaces better for all of us.
The advice line number is 020 7490 0152.