During a campaign for maternity protection in Nigeria, Oluchi Okorie, from IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers union, was asked by employers: “What is your problem? Are you pregnant?” Similar questions, that made fun of organizers, were common to those championing women workers’ rights at the workplace. They were also even ignored when they tried to speak in meetings at work.
Maternity protection is amongst the issues raised at the Sub Saharan Africa women’s executive meeting in Dakar, Senegal April 10 -11 that was attended by delegates from Burkina Faso, Kenya, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The meeting urged unions to adopt policies that ended gender discrimination and sexual harassment at workplaces.
Campaigns on women’s rights at the workplace carried by the IndustriALL affiliates at the meeting focused on physical, emotional and psychological abuses as well as gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The campaigns also took place in communities where the workers lived. For example, in Senegal, gender-based violence included rape, forced marriages, and female genital mutilation.
Says Beauty Zibula, regional chairperson of the IndustriALL women executive committee:
Women are dying from injuries sustained in gender-based violence. To stop this, we must use domestic laws and international conventions to protect women workers and union members.
The meeting encouraged unions to develop gender policies that guided on how to stop sexual harassment and gender-based violence. For instance, affiliates in Ghana and Zimbabwe have already developed gender policies.
Further, the meeting recommended that IndustriALL should support and develop a gender policy which affiliates could use and adapt according to their country contexts. An anti-harassment policy is also needed.
The meeting also agreed on the need to train and include more women in collective bargaining.
Unions should stop excluding trained women negotiators from collective bargaining. This often resulted in the signing of collective bargaining agreements that omitted the specific needs of women workers.
Says Paule-France Ndessomin regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa:
Our affiliates in Sub Saharan Africa have a key responsibility to work towards the elimination of violence against women not only institutionally, but also through educating their members and the wider community, advocacy and collective bargaining. Women should be commended for breaking the silence and being more vocal on how they are being forced into having sex with their superiors.
Government officials including the ministries of trade and mines, and the ministry of labour, and union leaders, signed the IndustriALL pledge on violence and harassment against women.