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Ethiopian textile workers union empowers women

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1 November, 2013The Ethiopian Industrial Federation of Textile, Leather and Garment Workers trained 20 women together with IndustriAll from 22 to 24 October 2013 in Addis Abeba. The workshop mainly focused on empowering women. This is vital for the garment industry where it is estimated that more or less 80 per cent of the workers are women.

Mainly of the textile factories have women’s desks. In their introductions the women stated that they wished to fight to solve women’s problems, they wanted to make the most and upgrade women’s skills and organize them. Organizing women in their communities was also a concern.

The workshop worked on the basis of body mapping, work mapping and life mapping. The body mapping showed that the women suffered from ailments that they developed on the job, such as dust. The dust affects their eyesight and their breathing. The women got headaches from the noise and the chemical fumes. They had trouble picking up heavy loads. The factory union needs to learn to take women’s health issues seriously and find a solution with management.

In most cases men and women work together on the shop floor. In general the machines that are more sophisticated are run by men. The women felt that they were receiving the same pay as the men. The women  accumulated their working skills through training and also experience. Because of this a seniority bonus is paid. Often the women were forced to work overtime. This is more a problem for women since women’s time is hard to break down between working time and family time. The women have the impression that nowadays the husbands are starting to help their wives, for example by taking the children to school or picking them up.

The women did a series of role plays. They learned about negotiations and convincing the husbands to spend more time at home in one role play. Another one focused on sexual harassment. The third one concentrated on how trade unions decide on what to prioritize in negotiations, whether they should go for more maternity pay or for higher wages for the men. In another role play the women acted out how women’s committees work on women’s leadership.

There was an extensive discussion of sexual harassment. This is a rampant problem in the textile industry in Ethiopia. It has to be emphasized that sexual harassment is first and foremost an abuse of power, it has little to do with beauty or attraction. In general the women realized that when they had unity and openness, when they went to the union with their problem, it was easier to come up with a solution. Strength and solidarity are determining factors in overcoming the problem. In certain cases IndustriAll can also put pressure on multinationals to put a stop to harassment throughout the supply chain.

The women committed themselves to passing on what they learned to their work colleagues and to the women around them. They want to agitate and translate what they learned. They understood that solidarity would help them achieve their goals. They appreciated the method because it can be used anywhere and even during power cuts. The women returned to their homes and workplaces feeling more empowered as leaders.