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Gender equality: not just an issue for women

6 December, 2018It’s time to make gender equality a priority 
for the whole trade union movement.

One by one, myths about women working in male dominated industries were addressed and torn apart at a conference held in Cape Town, South Africa in October 2018, attended by women and men from IndustriALL affiliates across the world.

Each of the myths had been told to women at the conference in the course of their working and trade union lives. “Women are too weak to do physical work,” said the statement on the sheet of paper. Vida Brewu of the Ghana Mine Workers’ Union stepped up and neatly tore it in half.

“Women are too emotional to be union leaders.” Rose Omamo, general secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Kenyan Metal Workers, took care of that one.

“Women should stay at home with the children.”

“Women’s brains can’t understand technical issues.”

“Women don’t have the coordination to operate machinery.”

“Women bring bad luck to miners.”

“It is too expensive to provide facilities for women.”

“Women are less flexible, and won’t travel for work.”

“Women don’t want to do these jobs.”

All these myths must be confronted and challenged for women to be treated equally at work and in their unions.

“We have to be twice as good as men to be taken seriously,” said Lena Yuliana of Indonesian cement workers’ union FSP ISI. 
She shared her experience of doing emission monitoring at heights that terrify many men.

Other women shared similar experiences: Rose Omamo was one of the best mechanics in her company before becoming a union leader. Claudia Blanco, branch president at Sintracarbón in Colombia, drives a train to a coal terminal. Many women operate mining trucks, or work underground, or maintain equipment at utility companies.

The mining, base metals, materials and energy sectors provide skilled, well-paid and prestigious work, but the best jobs are dominated by men. Women working in these sectors tend to only have access to the most menial and precarious work, with the lowest wages and status. Unions have very few women in leadership positions, despite their presence in the sector, and consequently have difficulty to recruit women as members.

“Women’s committees have been discussing gender equality in employment and trade unions for decades,” said IndustriALL assistant general secretary Jenny Holdcroft.

“We won’t achieve it until men also get involved in working to remove the barriers to women’s equal participation and representation.

“Instead of expecting women to fit into existing structures, we need to change the way that work is organized, as well as how we look at leadership in our unions, so that women can take their place alongside men. This will benefit everyone, leading to better jobs and stronger unions.”