AS we approach the end of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, I’m quietly reflecting that during those 384 hours – according to 2021 United Nations data – 1920 women and girls will have been killed in an act of femicide. Five souls per hour. Each with a name. A voice. Ambitions. Dreams. Hopes. Wiped out in a senseless act of gender-based violence.

The figure was “alarmingly high” according to the UN. In reality, as the UN admits, this is a total underestimate.

Launched last year, the Scottish Trades Union Congress report Silence is Compliance revealed that 45% of women had experienced sexual harassment at work, with 85% of women saying their experience was not taken seriously or handled appropriately.

Some 70% of women felt unsupported within their workplace when they reported their incident. That’s only the percentages that we know about. These are only the ones who had the bravery to report. Not only are workplaces, employers and statutory bodies failing them, they’re failing the survivors who haven’t yet, if able, chosen to report their abuse.

We know fine well that structural inequalities within the workplace, propped up and re-inforced by power dynamics that help stop women speaking out against harassment, lead to chronic under-reporting.

Enough with the statistics though. People can get lost within them and desensitised. For every single percentage point increase we see, that’s yet another worker – often a woman – experiencing trauma and abuse. Another worker who has the sickening dilemma of whether to report the violence inflicted on them or stay silent for fear of repercussions.

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Another person who agonises over whether they were to blame, a sickening and false moral conundrum inflicted on women by the hands of, predominantly, men with power.

Sexual harassment isn’t just confined to 16 days of activism. This is a year-long, endemic problem, 365 days a year. As much as 16 days of attention on gender-based violence is welcome, let’s not kid ourselves that the problem goes away after December 10.

I’ve spoken before about my experience in my first full-time job. Seventeen years old, eyes wide, enthusiastic and determined to please. All until an older senior manager abused his power. Now, I’d react differently, be emboldened enough to call out the abuse, experienced enough to stand up against such low behaviour.

But let’s face it, now it wouldn’t happen to me, because bullies and sexual predators in the workplace prefer to target those they have power over. At the time, I shock followed by shame and the feeling that I was to blame for letting it happen, for not standing up for myself and for not calling it out there and then. I was the one who had to adapt.

Not him. Not the boss. It was me who was left to deal with the lost confidence and panic attacks. It was me who had to move to a new employer, to alter my career path – my life choices – because a bloke in a suit thought he was untouchable.

In my new job, the trade union movement was there for me. It sparked my activism. I joined the union. I put myself forward to be workplace rep and sexual harassment support officer.

The National: All women in Scotland deserve to feel safe at workAll women in Scotland deserve to feel safe at work

But wherever abuse of power exists in the workplace – and our movement isn’t exactly a paragon of virtue either – we cannot rest. The sad fact is most women are not in a position to feel confident and safe about making a complaint as they worry, quite rightly, that it could result in further detriment to them.

That applies to all bodies throughout the UK. We must see much stronger action taken against those who choose to abuse and take advantage of the lack of safeguarding within workplaces that allow the abuse to continue. It cannot be right that in 2023 women may still have to be within the vicinity of their abuser while at their work.

This means stronger action from the Equality and Human Rights Commission to hold rogue employers to account when they breach the Equality Act. It means accurate reporting and analysis from Police Scotland so that, collectively, we can uncover the true picture of sexual abuse linked to the workplace.

It means the Health and Safety Executive listening to the concerns of our STUC Women’s Committee that every worker has the right to be safe and secure in their work.

I cannot make it any plainer – sexual harassment is a workplace issue. Yes, it absolutely permeates more widely. It exists outwith the boardroom and the office blocks. It rears its shameful head on the streets, in clubs and pubs or, as we’ve seen, within our political system.

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But until we educate, agitate and organise within our workplaces with a zero-tolerance approach to harassment, we will continue to see abuse. The solution? It certainly will take longer than 16 days.

Both governments – UK and Scottish – must treat sexual harassment with the seriousness it deserves. There is much to welcome within the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe strategy. But we know we can do more.

The Scottish Government must give sexual harassment at work a greater focus and more distinct place in the vision and work of becoming a Fair Work Nation by 2025. We firmly believe this should be done through a preventative approach, ensuring harassment is treated as a workplace, health and safety issue in addition to a criminal matter.

For the UK Government, the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill received Royal Assent on October 2026. In effect, is there is now a legal duty on employers to take “reasonable steps” to prevent harassment. Your guess is as good as mine as to what exactly that means but a poster on the staff noticeboard absolutely won’t cut it.

Our report discovered that, worryingly, 50% of younger respondents – those under 30 – said they wouldn’t be able to identify workplace-based harassment. We need to support our young people to have the confidence to be able identify illicit, abusive behaviours and ensure they feel able to do something about it.

Education is important but we need real culture change and real respect for women in our workplaces. That means men, because it is predominantly men, changing their own behaviours and calling out their peers. Only when the abusive behaviour by those in positions of power stops, will we see real progress.