A statement from Monika Kemperle, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, on International Women's Day.
Today IndustriALL Global Union affiliates around the world are celebrating International Women’s Day by highlighting key issues affecting women.
This landmark day is rooted in the struggles of garment workers in the United States, who in March 1908 took to the streets of New York City in their thousands to demand better pay, shorter working hours and voting rights. IndustriALL is proud to represent millions of garment workers, and women workers, around the world.
While voting rights for women have been achieved in most countries, the struggle for equal pay and equal representation continues.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is gender parity. It follows predictions by the World Economic Forum that it will take 117 years to close the gender gap.
While gender parity is enshrined in law in many nations, the reality for women is drastically different. In virtually every society in the world, women are underrepresented in positions of leadership and power, and wage levels for women are all too often lower than their male counterparts.
Trade unions have a responsibility to address these issues, to promote women, to engage women. Women themselves need to take action and above all must be encouraged and given the opportunity to participate in union activities. We must be at the forefront in promoting policies that really represent women’s needs.
IndustriALL affiliates in the Philippines, Myanmar and Cambodia are marking 8 March by demanding improved maternity protection for all women.
They are calling for safe and healthy pregnancies; longer breastfeeding periods; increased maternity leave; protection from work discrimination; and job security.
Like many of our affiliates they are also calling on their countries to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention (No. 183).
We are proud too of the women at our Indonesian affiliate FSPMI who have successfully campaigned for 40 per cent representation of women in the union’s leadership structures. It is a victory we will take forward to Congress in October to push for the same ruling in IndustriALL’s own structures.
Gender equality is at the heart of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals for 2030. Goal number 5 of 17 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. In addition to calling for an end to discrimination, the goal also underlines the urgent need to stop all forms of violence against women and girls.
Women working in IndustriALL sectors are sometimes subject to deadly violence, as witnessed in South African mines. Unions cannot shy away from the fact that sexual, physical and domestic abuse is a far too frequent reality for many women, which is why IndustriALL campaigns to stop violence against all women.
However, International Women’s Day is a celebration of everything women have achieved, economically, socially and politically. We see the energy our women members bring. We see their potential. We see what they have achieved.
Just as trade unions paved the way for improvements in working hours, wages, and health and safety, they must now put women’s rights and equal representation at the heart of the union agenda.