On the eve of the Congress to found the Arab Trade Union Confederation ATUC, a new regional organization belonging to the ITUC, the Arab Women’s Network met in Amman on 27 and 28 September 2014. The meeting discussed ATUC gender policy and passed in review women’s rights in the Arab world.
According to the ATUC gender policy “women’s participation in Arab trade unions, federations and confederations does not exceed 25%”. This is the issue that will need to be addressed by the ATUC women’s committee which will be formed by the ATUC Congress on 1 and 2 October.
In addition the gender policy contained chapters on consolidating and activating the principles of equality and non-discrimination, empowering women to reach decision-making and leadership positions, political participation and decent work. Women’s right to peace and security and combating all forms of violence is one more chapter. The meeting devoted time to this issue because of the current threats to women in the region from terrorism and ISIS.
IndustriALL’s own Hashmeya Muhsin Alsaadawi presented a paper on violence from conflict as it affects women. Reporting on the situation in her home country Iraq, the inspirational trade union leader Hashmeya reported:
“Iraq lives in a state of endless war, starting with the dictatorship, wars with neighbours, destruction of infrastructure, embargoes. 95% of the budget went to the military. The wars led to instability and regression, including jihadi marriages and marrying young women off. Iraq has depleted uranium and weapons from the Americans from 1991, which cause cancer cases. In the meantime 15% of women are widows, amounting to 1.5 million widows. It can be considered that because of that 3 million children are on the streets, and 9 million people live in poverty. The women need to be empowered to earn money to support their children. The governments established after 2003 were based on ethnic pillars. Corruption was high. No one cared about citizens. There is no security; no health, paramilitary groups and gangs are rampant. Yazidis and Christians have fled to escape ISIS. Because of the corruption and mismanagement in Iraq it was easy for them to take over. Other countries also intervene in Iraq. There are women who struggle for peace. What is needed is cooperation with civil society organizations. For trade unions the dilemma is that with the millions of unemployed, how can trade unions represent them? The international community needs to create a program to support women refugees. IndustriALL could play a vocal role in getting such a program together.”
The meeting adopted statements on violence, women refugees in Syria and women’s participation which were passed on to the Congress. It was decided that all Arab unions should take one hour of action in support of the fight against violence on 30 October from 11 am to 12 noon. “The increase in violence throws us back to the dark ages.” The resolution calls on the international community to do its best to stop the human tragedy and to enable people to go back to their home countries.
The gains that were expected in 2010 when the Arab Women’s Network was created have not come to pass, on the contrary, most countries have regressed. Hashmeya’s opinion on this regression: “Labour, students and communities played a role in the uprisings, but they were not well organized. This was abused by the Islamists.” Women are abused, “because they are a commodity, a tool to have fun, but not important members of society.”