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Our future, our union – IndustriALL Women’s Conference demands transformative agenda

21 November, 2019More than 200 women from trade unions in 60 countries met in Geneva, Switzerland, on 18 and 19 November for IndustriALL Global Union’s World Women’s Conference and called for a transformative agenda to achieve gender equality in unions and at work.

The women unanimously passed a resolution demanding radical changes to the way their unions operate to ensure women’s equal representation, participation and leadership.

"We want to change the status quo. We have been making progress but it’s not enough. If we want to transform our unions to be sustainable unions that can recruit and attract women members and members from all diverse groups, we need to change the way we do things,"

said IndustriALL assistant general secretary, Jenny Holdcroft, outlining the goals of the conference.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary, Jenny Holdcroft

The conference took place in a year of historic mobilization in Switzerland. Five hundred thousand women took to the streets on 14 June 2019 to demand equal pay, equal rights and an end to discrimination and violence against women. This has led to a new law that prevents discrimination and a record 40 per cent women elected to parliament.

You strike a woman, you strike a rock

The conference participants endorsed a resolution calling on the IndustriALL Executive Committee to support the joint global union campaign to promote the implementation and ratification of the new ILO Convention 190 on violence and harassment at work. 

The convention, established in June, is a major victory for trade unions. It has given a new impulse to the campaign against violence against women, particularly gender-based violence and sexual harassment, said Armelle Seby, IndustriALL’s gender coordinator.

IndustriALL is now including respect for the convention into its global framework agreements with multinational companies.

More than 100 IndustriALL affiliates have taken The Pledge, making a statutory commitment to take action to stop violence against women in unions and at work.

Ruth Ntlokotse from Pledge signatory, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, said femicide in South Africa is increasing on a daily basis. The union is campaigning for companies to do more to ensure the safety of women at work and is providing training for people handling cases of sexual harassment and violence. She said:

“Women are scared to report for fear of retaliation. So how the cases are handled is problematic.”

Women and the future of work

Industry 4.0 and the changes brought about by automation, digitalization and artificial intelligence is set to particularly impact women who are under- represented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs.

Lina Andersson of Unionen in Sweden added that women employed in STEM are more likely than men to leave the sector because of a macho "brogrammer" culture; competence not being recognized; and accusations of being emotional when raising technical issues.

Jane Ragoo from Mauritius revealed cameras in factories are having a negative psychological impact on workers and called for more research into the impacts of company surveillance on employees.

Jane Ragoo, general secretary, CTSP, Mauritius

Participants called for unions to promote lifelong learning, upskilling and capacity building to protect women’s jobs in the world of work. However, the flexibility offered by new technology can help women in achieving a better work-life balance and offer new opportunities.

It’s our time!

It's our time!


Young women trade unionists demand greater participation in their unions.

Young women at IndustriALL gave rousing and impassioned testimony, and presented five key demands to strengthen young women participation and youth globally.

  1. Training school for young women (18-35) in all regions
  2. Making young women more visible
  3. Guaranteeing and promoting positive youth policies
  4. Strong youth representation at Congress
  5. Representation of youth in IndustriALL structures

The way forward

In concluding the conference, participants unanimously adopted a resolution demanding that IndustriALL’s Action Plan for 2020-2024 integrates gender equality, diversity and the advancement of women rights into all its activities and actions.

“We are motivated to continue our struggle because what we have decided over the past two days will help all those who are not here today,” said IndustriALL Women’s Committee Co-Chair Monica Veloso.

Co-chair, Eva Arcos, added:

“We have provided a safe environment for women to express their experiences and struggles and it has been a very productive conference.”

Myth busting!

Participants at the conference rip up slogans stereotyping women.