In the framework of the IndustriALL Global Union MENA conference on "Building Union Power through Organizing" some 15 women from Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt from the petrochemical, auto parts, oil and gas, and textile sectors met in Beirut to form a women’s regional network.
Women in the region have many achievements, but they have not been championed by trade unions. Nevertheless civil society associations seem to be more conducive to women’s participation.
Some of the meeting’s highlights were the following:
In Tunisia women get involved in trade unions at the expense of the family. In Iraq the women say they need their parents’ consent to attend union activities, even though they work side by side with men at the factory.
In Morocco two thirds of the 8000 people who work in the electric cable parts sector are women. The women suffer a lot, also for health reasons. They are forced to work very fast and then suffer from muscular stress injury or repetitive strain. It is a health hazard.
In Morocco there are improvements in legislation and codes, but there is a gap between laws and what happens on the ground. Some women do not get paid, laws are not implemented in industry, pregnant women have no access to work, and marriage and children limit career development. “Women have unpaid work, unequal pay, no work-life balance.” Family responsibilities affect women’s future. Women working in the informal sector are the most vulnerable. Little attention is paid to women’s issues in negotiations, and their needs are not reflected in actions and demands. Sexual harassment is not taken seriously.
In Tunisia 85 percent of the textile industry is made up of women, and it is growing. Nevertheless hygiene and the lack of toilets is serious. The issues on the spot need to be addressed. Women need to aspire to higher positions, but they don’t do it because they are shackled by their daily lives.
Involvement of women in Egypt in the oil sector is practically nil. In time the men are becoming more supportive, but still the women are reluctant to participate.
In Jordan in the textile industry 60 percent of the workforce are women. Maternity leave is a burden to the employer. Now social security covers it. There are many language and cultural barriers in the textile industry in Jordan because nine nationalities work there. Working hours are long, between 8 and 10 hours a day. The productivity targets are high and leave no time for toilet breaks. Thus the Jordanian women prefer to stay home or to look for another job. Sexual harassment is one more reason why some women quit.
Violence against women was addressed as a priority theme. There are multiple types of violence at work. Sexual harassment is rampant in the textile sector. However it is difficult to prove. In addition women work far away from home, and transport arrangements are not safe. Women need someone to go to because men rarely consider it to be a problem.
In different countries wars and religious conflicts limit women’s participation.
Let the women break down the wall, let the women impose themselves,
Hashmeya Muhsin demanded.
Despite the serious challenges facing women at work and in union work, good practices in the region also show how far these women have come. The IndustriALL women’s network in Morocco was presented. The network meets regularly, conducts activities and education activities bringing women from different union national centers to work together on the key issues and to promote working women’s union participation.
Participants emphasized that women need training to overcome psychological barriers, training on ILO conventions for example and training to upgrade their skills, also in reporting.
The women worked out the following objectives for the regional network:
- Complete the establishment of women’s networks at the national level for the affiliates – the regional network must be linked to national level networks
- Take measures to ensure access of women to leadership positions
- Increase training sessions for capacity building of female unionists, provided that men are involved and engaged – what is needed is capacity development on gender for union leaders
- Conduct workshops and training for women only – it would be good to organize an exchange so that women leaders from other Arab countries can attend these sessions each time
- Make affiliates engage women and promote their participation at events
- Urge affiliates to celebrate International Women’s Day
- Ensure media focus on women’s affairs
- Launch campaigns in order to enforce women-related laws – the laws that are there are not enforced, and where there is no law, it needs to be passed
- Agree on a strategy to combat violence against women at work through campaigns, training, laws, advocacy
- Organize the unorganized sectors in order to expand membership and create awareness.
Monika Kemperle concluded the meeting by praising the women’s good work:
IndustriALL will definitely give support to this women’s network. These women are an example to everyone on how to meet challenges and keep on fighting.