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Silenced voices: the impact of workplace mobbing on Latin American women

Workplace mobbing, an insidious form of harassment that erodes the dignity and self-esteem of those who suffer from it, is a heartbreaking reality for many women in the region.

Laura, a young Ecuadorian professional, started working at a technology company in Quito in 2019. From day one, she experienced workplace mobbing. Her male colleagues made derogatory comments about her skills and excluded her from important meetings. Over time, these actions undermined her mental health, leading to anxiety and depression. Despite her efforts to speak out, Laura did not find the necessary support within the company, which eventually forced her to resign. Laura’s story is not an isolated case; it reflects a reality that many women face daily in Latin America.

Workplace mobbing, that insidious form of harassment that eats away at the dignity and self-esteem of those who suffer it, is a heartbreaking reality for many women, not only in Ecuador, but throughout the region. This phenomenon, characterized by hostile behavior and systematic humiliation, has profound repercussions both on the mental and physical health of the victims and on their professional development. Despite existing laws and policies, fear of reprisals and lack of institutional support perpetuate the silence and invisibility of this problem.

A systematic pattern

Workplace mobbing is not just a series of isolated incidents, but a systematic pattern of hostile behavior. Often, this phenomenon has a marked gender focus, as women are the main victims due to cultural, economic and social factors that perpetuate their vulnerability in the work environment. Mobbing includes hurtful comments, humiliation, social exclusion and unreasonable demands, and its impact on women’s lives is devastating.

The figures are clear and alarming: in 2019, 2 out of 10 women in Ecuador experienced some type of workplace violence, and 97% of them did not report for fear of retaliation. These data, provided by the Ministry of Labor and UN Women, are not only fearsome, but underscore the seriousness of the problem and the urgency of addressing it effectively.

At the regional level, the situation is equally worrying. According to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Gallup, one in five employees worldwide has experienced at least one form of workplace violence or harassment during their working lives. More than three out of every five victims of workplace violence and harassment claim to have experienced it several times, and for most of them the most recent incident occurred within the last five years. In fact, Latin America showed the highest prevalence of psychological violence and harassment, with a 29.3% incidence, followed by Africa with 20.2%.

In addition, the study highlights that psychological violence and harassment are the most common forms of workplace violence, affecting 17.9% of employees worldwide, while 8.5% have faced physical violence and 6.3% have been victims of sexual violence, with women being particularly vulnerable to the latter.

The consequences of workplace mobbing for women are multiple and profound. At the psychological and emotional level, it can lead to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. At the workplace level, victims often experience decreased productivity, absenteeism and, often, are forced to resign, impacting their economic stability and career opportunities. In the words of one victim, “workplace mobbing not only takes away your peace, it takes away your future.”

These figures underscore the urgency of addressing the problem effectively and the need to implement public policies and regulatory frameworks that not only punish the harassers, but also protect and support the victims.

Policies to combat harassment

Ecuador has laws and policies aimed at combating workplace harassment. The “Protocol for Prevention and Attention to Cases of Discrimination, Labor Harassment and All Forms of Violence against Women in the Workplace“, implemented by the Ministry of Labor and UN Women, is an important step in this direction. This protocol establishes measures to prevent and address cases of workplace harassment, providing a framework for reporting and intervention in these cases. However, the effectiveness of these policies depends largely on their implementation and institutional support for victims.

In Latin America, several countries have implemented effective policies to combat workplace harassment and protect victims. For example, in Chile, the “Protocol for Action against Workplace Harassment” establishes clear procedures for reporting and handling cases of workplace harassment, and awareness campaigns have been developed to promote a healthy work environment. In addition, Law 1010 of 2006, in Colombia, defines and punishes workplace harassment, establishing prevention and protection mechanisms for victims. This law includes the creation of labor coexistence committees in companies to mediate conflicts and prevent situations of harassment. In Mexico, official norm NOM-035-STPS-2018 is a regulation that obliges employers to identify, analyze and prevent psychosocial risk factors at work, including workplace harassment, and to promote a favorable organizational environment.

These initiatives demonstrate a growing effort in the region to address and reduce workplace harassment by providing a legal framework and support mechanisms that seek to protect workers and promote a safe and respectful work environment.

In addition to Laura’s story, many other women in various employment sectors have shared their experiences of workplace mobbing. These testimonies highlight the diversity of contexts in which harassment occurs and the need for sector-specific strategies. For example, women workers in the healthcare industry in Ecuador report a high incidence of mobbing due to extreme pressure and long working hours, while in the technology sector, harassment is often related to gender stereotypes and the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions.

What is the solution?

Workplace mobbing is a clear manifestation of gender-based violence that perpetuates inequality and the suffering of women in the workplace. It is essential that public policies be implemented and strengthened that not only punish harassers, but also create a safe and supportive environment for victims. Companies must take an active role in preventing harassment by promoting a culture of respect and equality.

To break the silence surrounding workplace mobbing, it is essential to empower victims, allowing them to report without fear of retaliation through anonymous and secure channels. In addition, institutions must ensure an effective and fair response, including staff training and the implementation of zero-tolerance policies on harassment. Governments have a responsibility to strengthen existing laws and create new policies that protect victims and severely punish harassers, ensuring their effective implementation.

It is essential to carry out awareness and education campaigns to change the cultural perception of mobbing and promote an environment of respect and dignity at work. In addition, providing psychological support and legal advice to victims is crucial to help them overcome the trauma and guide them in the reporting process.

In this regard, corporate commitment is vital to promote a culture of respect and equality through ongoing employee training and the creation of an inclusive and safe work environment. This is not only a matter of social justice, but an urgent necessity to ensure that future generations of women can develop professionally in an environment free of harassment and discrimination.
The onus is on governments, business and civil society to build a world of work where dignity and respect are the norm rather than the exception. Only in this way can we move toward a more equitable and just society, where all people can work in an environment free of harassment and discrimination.

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.


Licenciada en relaciones internacionales y ciencia política de la Universidad San Francisco de Quito con Máster en derechos humanos y gobernanza de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.


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