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China: Tackling Domestic Violence and Its Effects in the Workplace

January 22, 2020

By Yang Hao

The scourge of domestic violence, particularly violence against women, obeys no national boundaries, and its repercussions reach far beyond the individual victim and the walls of the home. Studies have shown that women with a history of domestic violence (DV) have more erratic work histories, have lower personal incomes, change jobs more frequently, and are more likely to rely on casual and part-time work than other women. Estimates in some developing countries have put the cost of DV in lost productivity at 1.2 to 1.4 percent of GDP.

The Third Wave Survey on the Social Status of Women in China, jointly conducted by the All-China Women’s Federation and National Bureau of Statistics in 2011 and repeated every 10 years, found that 24.7 percent of married Chinese women had suffered some form of domestic violence from their husbands. Keeping DV survivors employed is critical to their economic independence, which is a key pathway to escape and recovery from violent relationships.

Keeping DV survivors employed is critical to their economic independence, which is a key pathway to escape and recovery from violent relationships.

China’s national Anti–Domestic Violence Law, which came into effect in March 2016 after more than a decade of advocacy, defines domestic violence as “the inflicting of physical, psychological, or other harm by a family member on another by beating, trussing, injury, restraint and forcible limits on personal freedom, recurring verbal abuse, threats, and other means.” The DV law identifies employers as key actors in combating DV, along with government, the judiciary, women’s federations, medical institutions, and others (article 4). Its provisions require employers to discipline and educate DV perpetrators among their employees (article 11) and to provide support for DV victims (article 13). The DV law also requires trade unions to conduct anti-DV awareness programs and provide psychological counseling to both victims and perpetrators (articles 6 and 22).

In addition to the resulting legal liabilities, enterprises risk economic losses if they do not deal effectively with DV’s impact in the workplace. In China, The Asia Foundation and its local partner, SynTao Co., Ltd., published a study in 2017 on the workplace impact of DV. Based on an online survey of 488 employees and 60 human-resources managers, the study found that 13.3 percent of respondents had experienced DV in the preceding 12 months, and nearly half of these survivors had experienced DV from abusers who pursued them to the workplace. On one hand, the physical and emotional effects of DV on survivors affect their safety, productivity, and career development in the workplace. On the other hand, employers pay significant DV-related costs due to reduced productivity, absence from work, and employee turnover. The study estimated DV’s annual cost to employers at nearly 4 percent of wages.

Workplace interventions could help employers mitigate these costs, and a 2016 study from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work found that the cost of these interventions would be offset by reduced turnover, improved productivity, and other factors. The Asia Foundation’s study found, however, that employers had a very limited understanding of their legal obligations under the DV Law, and that they lacked the knowledge or ability to effectively raise awareness, establish workable grievance procedures for survivors, or admonish perpetrators. As a result, few employers had adopted policies to address the impact of DV in the workplace, and their awareness of possible solutions was quite low.

Training in DV case management for Employee Assistance Program consultants.

Since 2018, the Foundation has been working to change this situation. With our local partners, we have convened a series of workshops and events for enterprises, industry associations, chambers of commerce, women’s federations, and civil society organizations to raise awareness of DV’s impact on employees and employers and devise solutions. We have developed a simple-to-use workplace anti-DV toolkit, the first of its kind in China, for employers, HR managers, employees, and advocates that presents basic information about DV’s effects in the workplace and provides specific guidelines, tips, and resources for each of these four groups.

For example, the toolkit offers guidance to HR managers such as sample workplace policies to prevent and respond to DV, suggestions for anti-DV contact persons, workplace safety plans, strategies for dealing with perpetrators in the workplace, suggested solutions to specific scenarios, and a list of DV service providers across China. The project worked with anti-DV civil society organizations (CSOs) and the Employee Assistance Program, an independent provider of services to increase employee well-being, to build their capacity to provide anti-DV services in the workplace. Foundation programs also connected employers with anti-DV CSOs that offer technical support to help employers address DV more effectively.

Training for anti-DV CSOs to address DV in the workplace.

As stated in the International Labor Organization’s 2019 Violence and Harassment Convention (No. 190), “Domestic violence can affect employment, productivity, and health and safety, and…governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, and labor-market institutions can help, as part of other measures, to recognize, respond to, and address the impacts of domestic violence.” The Asia Foundation currently has pilot programs with enterprises in Beijing, Shanghai, Shandong, and Guangdong to develop policies and interventions to assist DV survivors and admonish perpetrators, and case studies will be forthcoming in 2020.

Yang Hao is a program officer in gender equality for The Asia Foundation’s China office. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation


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