Jump to main content
IndustriALL logotype
Article placeholder image

Trade unions are battling in New York for the status of women

7 March, 2013Union women from around the world are gathered in New York for the United Nations’ 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW57), starting on 4 March 2013.

Focusing on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, the trade union delegation to UNCSW57 will call on all member states to take all necessary measures to immediately and without further delay prevent and remedy violence against women and girls.

More than 6,000 representatives of civil society have registered at this annual event organized by the United Nations in New York to examine the status of women.  Global Union Federations such as PSI, UNI and EI are present at the conference as well as national centers and national unions, including IndustriALL Global Union affiliate from Canada CEP.

According to a report by the World Bank, which was quoted at the conference, women aged between 15 and 44 are more likely to die a violent death than of malaria, AIDS or cancer combined.

This year the International Labour Organization (ILO) is also highlighting the issue of sexual harassment to mark International Women's Day on 8 March. The ILO’s statement to the Commission associates the ILO’s fight for decent work with the fight against violence. The ILO has policies and programs to eliminate sex discrimination at work, including sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

Exact data are hard to come by, but some estimates indicate that 40 to 50 per cent of women in the European Union experience unwanted sexual advances at work. For Asia-Pacific countries it is 30 to 40 per cent. Whenever vicious discrimination is allowed to continue, society needs to step up its fight against gender-based violence. Trade unions include clauses on sexual harassment in collective agreements and tackle it through grievance procedures.

Diplomats in New York are afraid that conservative governments will once again block the final statement of the conference, claiming that religion, customs and traditions prevent them from combating violence against women. They restrict women’s health and reproductive rights and even their integrity by insisting on “traditional” and “moral” positions and attacking human rights which are already enshrined in international instruments.

Women who dare to transgress the values espoused by conservative governments, fundamentalists, paramilitaries or extremists suffer physical violence, marginalization, intimidation, defamation. The women’s rights activists who are present at UNCSW57 are fighting hard to ensure that the achievements that women fought so hard for are not diminished.

Women's economic empowerment was a major theme at the session on Violence against Women and HIV in Africa. Speaking at the session were Ministers for women and gender equality from Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Malawi as well as a sister from the Namibia Women's Network of Women Living with HIV.

Participants agreed that the post-2015 development agenda, after the end of the Millenium Development Goals, has to include equality for women. Women's economic dependence on men makes them vulnerable to gender-based violence and HIV transmission. Economic empowerment translates into decision-making power, greater capacity to refuse sex or negotiate for safe sex, less time spent on seeking food, energy and water and more time spent on education and social and political engagement. Education, decent work and access to clean water were some of the priorities emphasized to achieve women's economic empowerment in Africa.

One of the conclusions is that more women have to be recruited into the police, as blue helmets and as judges. The fight against violence against women needs to be one priority of sustainability, peace and security. And trade unions need to play more their role as legitimate stakeholders in the fight to eliminate violence. The final conclusions of UNCSW57 will be adopted on 15 March 2013.