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Driving the women’s agenda in MENA

29 January, 2015IndustriALL has set up a number of women’s networks in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region; so far in Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon and Egypt. The women have identified challenges and opportunities for more women participation in unions.

In Egypt, the participants selected coordinators and created a national women’s network. According to the independent unions there is a need for more education for women and women’s structures at workplaces would be useful.

The Lebanese women identified the challenges as being low participation on the part of working women in union work and low awareness and knowledge about what unions do. They intend to overcome these by improving communication with working women, networking with civil society organizations and launching a national campaign to promote women’s participation in union work.

Next will be the women’s turn in Iraq and Kuwait. In connection with Iraq, IndustriALL nominated Hashmeya Muhsin al-Saadawi, the President of the Electric Power Workers Union of Basra and member of the Executive Committee of IndustriALL Global Union for the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights. Since her election as union president, she has faced constant harassment and attacks from the government, politicians and employers alike. Even more worrisome, on numerous occasions she has been subjected to serious threats from armed militia groups in Basra.

Hashmeya Muhsin al-Saadawi ran for office in the recent parliamentary elections, receiving several death threats. Seeing that the acts of aggression would not deter her from keeping her promise to run for office, the death threats were extended to members of her family, including her son. Although not obtaining a seat in the parliament, she finished the election campaign unscathed.

Hashmeya Muhsin al-Saadawi is also an effective trade union leader. A woman leader at the helm of a union in the Middle East is an accomplishment to be celebrated and replicated. It is of fundamental importance to promote women to leadership positions as part of a much larger process of empowerment of women.

IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina calls Hashmeya Muhsin al-Saadawi “one of the bravest persons I have ever met in my many years’ experience in the international labour movement.”

Trade unions are working to put an end to violence and all kinds of discrimination against women and demand the full respect of their human and trade union rights. One of them is the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI). They published a special edition end of last year in which they asked the following questions:

“Is it not violence, when Reyhaneh Jabbari is executed for defending her honour by killing her rapist? Is it not inflicting violence when Nasrin Sotoudeh is arrested and jailed for protesting in defense of her rights? Aren’t the cases in Esfahan of women victims of acid attacks violence against women? Is it not violence when the wives of striking Bafgh coalminers are threatened by the security forces because of supporting their husband’s actions? Is it not violence against women when trade union activists are arrested in front of their wives and children in the early hours of the morning? Is it not violence when women are killed or raped in Iraq, Syria and Kobane by those mercenaries that have been parachuted into the war in the Middle East? Aren’t the commercialization of women and the sex trade the largest form of profiteering and violence against women?”

The MENA region will be a priority for IndustriALL in 2015, we will continue to support women’s structures.