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South Asia: increased space for women in unions is needed

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22 June, 2022IndustriALL Global Union organized the South Asia regional women’s meeting in Kathmandu on June 16-17. Around 25 women trade unionists from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka participated.

Women leaders had an engaging discussion on IndustriALL's resolution calling for an end to inequalities, sexism, misogyny and gender-based violence. Leaders reflected on how discrimination against women occurs not only on the shop floor, but also within unions. Participants shared that women are disproportionately underrepresented in unions; even when they are present, they typically serve as members, rather than in leadership roles.

Sectors like steel and mining, with a largely male workforce, see few women union members, let alone women leadership level. The low percentage of women in the workforce will only get worse with the growing digitalization and automation. Some participants suggested an employment quota for women.

The country reports highlighted that women workers throughout the region experience similar problems, like sexual harassment in the workplace, denial of maternity related benefits including day care facility at workplace, neglect of women-specific health and safety concerns and a gender pay gap.


Nazma Akter, president of IndustriALL Bangladeshi affiliate, Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF), said:

“Gender-specific concerns must be discussed at all levels and in all contexts. We must make sure that not only do women unionists become active members of collective bargaining committees, but also that these agreements incorporate gender-specific demands, including those of transgender people in the workforce.”

The gender pay gap and its implications was discussed. Several women leaders decided to raise the issue in their respective countries and link it to the debate on national living wage.

Sanjyot Vadhavkar, co-chair of IndustriALL’s base metals sector and secretary of the Steel, Metal and Engineering Workers’ Federation of India (SMEFI), said:

“The gener pay gap needs to be addressed by unions in their charter of demands, and more women must be represented in the decision-making bodies of the unions.”

The women leaders pledged to address women-specific issues in the unions, including the priorities decided by IndustriALL’s women’s committee:

  • campaign against gender based violence
  • gender responsive approach to health and safety
  • promote women’s leadership in unions
  • address gender discrimination
  • protect and advance women rights
  • address obstacles that prevent equal inclusion of women in unions

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary, said:

“Women’s space in unions, even in male dominated sectors, needs to be recognized by union leadership. Women should be involved in all aspects of trade union work, including strategies, actions and the way forward.”