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We need more women leaders!

25 August, 2015Women and men together take better decisions and organize more workers than men alone. That is why we need more women in the leadership of trade unions at the local, national and global level.

IndustriALL Global Union represents 50 million workers in a number of industrial, energy and mining sectors. According to ILO statistics, 75 per cent of garment workers are women. Our most male sector is shipbuilding and shipbreaking, with only 8 per cent women workers. The average in IndustriALL’s sectors is 30 per cent.

This figure contributed to a decision of IndustriALL’s founding congress in Copenhagen in 2012 to adopt the statutes, according to which at least 30 per cent of executive committee members will be women.

But the Copenhagen congress also unanimously adopted a Political Agreement, which says:

"The founding congress of IndustriALL recognizes the need to continue to increase the representation of women at all levels of leadership, decision-making bodies and sectoral structures, and directs the executive committee to establish immediate administrative arrangements to increase women's representation and to take all necessary measures to enable the amending of the statutes at the second congress of IndustriALL in 2016.”

In 2014, our regional conferences in Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa proposed to increase to 40 per cent the representation of women in IndustriALL’s leadership.

Even though these decisions are about IndustriALL’s global structures, our aim is to raise discussion about necessary changes in our affiliated unions both at the national and local level.

We need to develop a culture of equality between men and women in unions. We need to empower women and give them space in the decision-making structures.

The future of unions depends to a great extent on their ability to attract women and young workers. Today they have difficulty in identifying with grey and bald men who occupy the leadership of so many unions. Or believe that the older male generation understands and takes care of matters that are important for women and youth. Diversity in leadership is important in governments, companies and unions.

I acknowledge there is a bit of a chicken and egg problem. It would be nice if more pressure came from the factory level. But today industry is not doing enough to attract women, even though the changing image should be more attractive than in the past. Automation and new technology require less muscle power, and white-collar jobs are increasing.

IndustriALL will continue to organize leadership training for women and actions to defend women’s rights, combat violence against women and to guarantee the right to maternity. These are not women’s issues; they are union issues for us all.

On 14-16 September, I am joining almost 300 union sisters from all five continents at IndustriALL’s women world conference in Vienna where all these questions will be on the agenda. I am looking forward to lively debates on how we will build global union power, women and men together.

Jyrki Raina

General Secretary