Tackling domestic violence in the world of work

“I see my colleagues more than my family.” This is true for many working people. Nearly half of our lives is spent in a world called the ‘workplace’. Family and workplace often complement each other, but what should we do when they don’t? What should we do when domestic violence comes into play?

Domestic violence

In China domestic violence has long been deemed a private matter. However, as mentioned before, the awareness on domestic violence is growing and perspectives are shifting. China’s first legislation on domestic violence came into effect in 2016. The Netherlands hopes for full implementation of the legislation, making it the duty and responsibility of all, including employers, to signal and identify domestic violence.

Raising awareness and translating the complex nature of domestic violence into practical advice is one of the focus areas for The Asia Foundation (TAF). One of their projects specifically focuses on the role employers can play in preventing domestic violence and supporting victims. In addition to the ethical responsibility to aid employees who face physical or mental health issues as a result of violence, it is also benefiting for employers to signal domestic violence in an early stage in terms of economic costs. Think for example of manpower loss, reduced efficiency and increased workload for human resources.

“And employers can really make an impact. Right now we see that people are moving around a lot, from the countryside to the city but also within cities. They are renting houses rather than buying them. This means the workplace is often the constant factor in people’s lives, rather than their domestic communities. This makes that employers who offer relevant education about prevention of domestic violence can make a difference,” explains Hao Yang, Project Officer at the Asia Foundation. She’s responsible for the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Program in China and focuses on prevention and response to gender-based violence.

Workplace responsibilities

However, incorporating domestic violence prevention in the workplace is easier said than done. “The starting point is awareness. Apart from employees being aware they can ask for help at work, companies should also take a stance and invest in their expertise to cope with and signal domestic violence,” Hao Yang says. With funding from the Dutch Embassy, The Asia Foundation launched her ‘Engaging Employers to Address Domestic Violence’ project in 2018. Besides public awareness dialogues and media campaigns, the project also entails an anti-domestic violence toolkit.

The toolkit aims to support companies in taking successful anti-domestic violence responses. Hao Yang: “It’s really like a domestic violence prevention guide which includes advice on how to support victims, HR managers, and insiders but also on reaching out to perpetrators. It also aids companies in formulating anti-domestic violence policies, updating working processes and conducting anti-domestic violence training. We’re currently recruiting pilot companies to put the toolkit into practice.”

Joining efforts to signal domestic violence

In the Netherlands, all levels of society are involved in tackling domestic violence. Think of public awareness campaigns for family and neighbors but also of the involvement of for instance municipalities. The Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Protocol Act (2013) obliges organizations in certain sectors, such as health care and education, to have protocol to respond to domestic violence.

Providing a safe place for people who’ve faced domestic violence can be challenging. In the Netherlands, the first ‘blijf van mijn lijf’ (Stay away from my body) shelter for women was opened in 1974, the first male shelter was opened in 2004. These shelters offer safe havens for those who are no longer safe in their own homes. The shelters also help their inhabitants’ to boost their confidence, through counselling and coaching, allowing them to regain their position in society. Last year the delegates participating in the Netherlands-China human rights dialogue visited such a shelter, agreeing to stay in touch for future exchanges on the topic of domestic violence.