Power of a picture: Art activism on violence against women

BWI, together with Australian affiliate, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), invite unions across the globe to participate in the adaptation of artwork and messages for trade union activism on violence against women. 

For this year’s 16 days of activism campaign on violence against women, BWI has supported affiliates to develop and implement national level campaigns, which will be showcased over the next 16 days. Our affiliates have welcomed this initiative and worked with us to make this campaign a success. CFMEU has played a leading role in extending international solidarity on these efforts by promoting the end of gender-based violence in the home and at work, through art. 

Like the rest of the world, violence against women in Australia skyrocketed during the pandemic. CFMEU responded by stepping up education to their members on gender-based violence, occupational health and safety as well as the ILO Convention 190 on eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work. They have also negotiated with employers for clauses in bargaining agreements on family violence leave and safe and respectful workplace education. CFMEU has also been lobbying for the ratification of Convention 190 to the Australian Attorney General, Federal Minister of Women and petitioning the Conservation Liberal Federal Government.

CFMEU’s educational approach has been to address gender-based violence as an occupational health and safety issue and is aimed at changing the mindsets of union members, primarily men with the message that ‘men have a choice other than violence’ as a basis upon which efforts to end violence against women can take hold. To channel this effort and message, CFMEU commissioned artist Sam Wallman to promote safety and harmony in the world of work and at home,  global solidarity in this time of crisis, and the vast diversity of experiences being lived by trade union members, everywhere. 

The caricature we see in the artwork are workers from different cultures and realities, all of whom deserve to be free from violence and harassment. When we ponder upon the fluidity of the “everyday actions” imagery, we are guided to think about the union as a positive force present in both the public and personal sphere. Strong unions can win better protection for workers and influence law, which in turn improves the lives of their members beyond bread and butter issues. In the case of gender-based violence, influence comes not only from the union’s efforts in the workplace and policy environment, but internally, through the values of respect and dignity between workers. 

Originally, CFMEU intended to sponsor women workers from the construction sector to attend the BWI Madrid Women’s Conference 2020, but this was hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic.  CFMEU quickly innovated their solidarity approach, shifting focus of their support to produce this artwork to share with other trade unions in recognition of  the growing need to address violence against women as a workplace issue, with the message that ratification of ILO C190 ultimately improves the safety of women workers and girls. 

“A picture is worth a thousand words, and this approach also allows us at CFMEU to invite sisters and brothers in other unions to join in our efforts by utilizing the campaign imagery, while at the same time, saving important resources that they will need to continue organizing and campaigning during this pandemic period. We believe that this imagery is diverse enough to allow various sectors to join in on this campaign and use it freely, by localizing it and retaining it for future campaigns to end violence against women”, says Lisa Zanatta, CFMEU Organizer and Women’s Officer.

to access the high-resolution versions of the graphics, please contact our BWI staff in your region. Together, let’s be creative in promoting the message of “ Safe At Work, Safe At Home.”