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South Asian women unionists promote gender justice

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19 October, 2023As part of the South Asia Building Inclusive Unions project, IndustriALL has been organizing a series of workshops with women trade unionists in the region focused on advancing gender equality in workplaces and in unions.

A workshop with women leaders from IndustriALL’s affiliates in India was conducted on 10 and 11 October; similarly on 21 and 22 September. A workshop with Sri Lankan women unionists, on 16-17 September, and a workshop with women leaders from Pakistan was organized.

During the sessions, women trade unionists shared their practical experiences of gender discrimination in their workplaces. In the discussions that followed, these experiences were connected to unequal power relations in society and gender stereotypes that lead to women workers being assigned low-value work.

Participants expressed that the technological transformations, in the manufacturing sector, will have a bigger impact on women than men if gender inequality is not addressed. 

Women leaders in Sri Lanka emphasized how the country’s deteriorating economic conditions disproportionately affect women workers. They shared that many of the export-oriented garment factories, in the country, have shut down leaving hundreds of women workers jobless. As a result they are forced to deal with lack of income sources and rising cost of fuel and other essential commodities.

The gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) that women workers face was extensively discussed during these workshops.

Leaders shared the need to have a gender policy within unions and that more women need to be part of the decision-making bodies and leadership roles. Participants emphasized that a charter of demands submitted to employers, during collective bargaining processes, must include women workers’ priorities. 

Vidya Tambe, a woman leader from IndustriALL’s affiliate in India, Shramik Ekta Mahasangh, says:

“We resolve to fight gender inequalities, not just in our workplaces but also within our unions. We won’t be able to advance workers’ rights without fighting gender inequalities.”

The necessity for the governments to ratify ILO C190 to mitigate the risks associated with GBVH was also stressed during the meetings.