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Conference discusses feminist ideas on building union power in Africa


18 August, 2022Why is it important for trade unions in Sub Saharan Africa to adopt feminist approaches to their campaigns and activities? A regional conference in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 17-18 August, discussed some possible strategies for gender integration and gender equity and equality in trade union activities using feminist ideas.

The issues discussed included how to develop a feminist trade union agenda, building alliances and networks with other feminists and civil society organizations, ending toxic hierarchies that block women’s participation, and abandoning patriarchy and gender oppression structures including unequal power relations.

Rose Omamo, IndustriALL vice president, said:

“Union work is not detached from the feminist fight for equality. Unions must build alliances with women’s rights organisations to challenge oppressive systems. Gender quality underpins many problems including the lack of adequate health care, education, decent work deficits, and promoting gender equality and social inclusion.”

The conference discussed how feminism can be used to promote social justice and sustainable development. These issues were identified as key to developing a network of gender champions at workplaces and in communities as part of a trade union transformative agenda. The conference stressed the ratification of International Labour Organization Convention 190 to eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work. Storytelling sessions discussed experiences of sexual harassment at workplaces, body shaming, harmful cultural practices, and how these can be fought by trade unions.

Margaret Ndagile, from IndustriALL affiliate Tanzania Union of Industrial and Commercial Workers (TUICO) said:

“In the union, we usually talk of gender, but feminism promotes more action. However, we need more awareness and education at the factory level on how we can use feminist thinking in ways that include both genders.”

Neema Lugangira, a Tanzanian member of parliament, said the conference discussions were relevant to her work in championing for land rights for women, child support, and guaranteeing decent work in the oil and gas and mining sectors.

Bärbel Kofler, the German deputy minister for economic cooperation and development, and a trade unionist highlighted Germany’s feminist development policy, which focuses on rights, resources, and representation, and the importance of young women activism in fighting for workers’ rights. She was accompanied by Tina Rudolph and Dagmar Schmidt, both members of the German parliament, and Emilio Rossetti, head of political section EU delegation in Tanzania.

A feminist approach is one of the ways that unions can use for dealing with the violence of the patriarchy’s supremacy and impunity, which leads to gender-based violence and harassment, argued Patricia McFadden, an expert on feminism from Eswatini.

“The systems of gender oppression that are rooted in patriarchy must be rejected in homes and workplace,”

said Bashiratu Kamal, a gender and labour specialist from Ghana.

“The conference has been a valuable space to address the many ways that patriarchy works in the trade unions to maintain existing power structures. Feminism is a powerful tool to push for the needed transformative change in the labour movement,”

said Kathrin Meissner, director of the FES Trade Union Competence Centre (FES-TUCC) for Sub Saharan Africa.
About 30 participants from IndustriALL Global Union affiliates in Sub Saharan Africa, civil society organizations, and Members of parliament from Germany and Tanzania, attended the conference. The regional feminist conference drew participants from Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The meeting was held with support from the FES TUCC, and the IndustriALL Sub Saharan Africa Regional Office.