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Tackling domestic violence and its workplace effects in China
The first and only piece of research in China on the impact of domestic violence in the workplace was recently conducted by The Asia Foundation. It comes ahead of a second national survey of Chinese women. The first, in 2011, found a staggering 25% of married women reported experience of domestic violence. The Foundation is also carrying out programs to help employers pilot policies and actions at the work place to mitigate such impact.
The scourge of domestic violence obeys no national boundaries. 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 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 in lost productivity at 1.2-1.4% 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, was first held in 2011 and will be repeated every 10 years. It found that 24.7% of married Chinese women had suffered some form of domestic violence from their husbands. Keeping 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 domestic violence law also requires trade unions to conduct awareness programs and provide psychological counselling to both victims and perpetrators.
The law identifies employers as key actors in combating domestic violence, along with government, the judiciary, women’s federations, medical institutions, and others. Its provisions require employers to discipline and educate perpetrators and to provide support for victims. The domestic violence law also requires trade unions to conduct awareness programs and provide psychological counselling to both victims and perpetrators.
In addition to the resulting legal liabilities, enterprises risk economic losses if they do not deal effectively with the impact of domestic violence in the workplace. In China, The Asia Foundation and its local partner, SynTao, published a study in 2017. Based on an online survey of 488 employees and 60 human resources managers, the study found that 13.3% of respondents had experienced domestic violence in the preceding 12 months, and nearly half had experienced domestic violence from abusers who pursued them to the workplace.
Not only are there big physical and emotional impacts on survivors that affects their safety, productivity and career development, but employers also pay significant related costs due to reduced productivity, absence from work and employee turnover. The study estimated the annual cost to employers at nearly 4% of wages.
Workplace interventions could help employers mitigate these costs. 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.
Employers had a very limited understanding of their legal obligations under the law and they lacked the knowledge or ability to raise awareness, establish workable grievance procedures for survivors or admonish perpetrators.
The Asia Foundation’s study found, however, that employers had a very limited understanding of their legal obligations under the 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 domestic violence in the workplace, and their awareness of possible solutions was quite low.
Since 2018, the Asia Foundation has been working with local partners to convene workshops and events to raise awareness of the impact of domestic violence on employees and employers and to devise solutions. We have developed a toolkit, the first of its kind in China, for employers, HR managers, employees, and advocates that presents basic information about the effects of domestic violence in the workplace and provides specific guidelines, tips, and resources for each of these four groups.
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.
This article originally appeared originally in InAsia, the official blog of The Asia Foundation.