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Women’s issues are union issues

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18 July, 2017Following debates about the urgent need to increase women’s representation in unions during the IndustriALL Women’s Committee in Geneva in April, a workshop was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Women organizers and gender directors exchanged experiences and strategies to increase women’s representation and power in union structures.

IndustriALL invited three experienced women organizers from affiliates in Zambia; MUZ, NUBEGW and NUCIW, to a three-day meeting with affiliates TUICO & TAMICO in Tanzania.  

The workshop, carried out in the framework of an organizing project in Zambia, supported by Swedish IF Metall and UniontoUnion, had three key objectives:

  • to jointly identify the challenges women encounter to organize and support more women members and leaders in our unions
  • to compare and discuss, if - and - how, women workers’ rights and demands are included in the unions CBA’s
  • to jointly start elaborating action plans to take up with the union leadership, to increase women’s representation in each union , until the next IndustriALL Congress in 2020

The meeting was hosted by both affiliates with over 22 women leaders and organizers present from five regions in Tanzania to interact with women delegates from Zambia. The participants represented the mining-construction, steel, metal and industrial workers.

Through extensive and lively exchanges, participants nailed down the main challenges, shared organizing experiences and skills, visited workplaces and met with branch committees. An action plan and strategies to support each other in building policy and space for increased women’s representation in their unions was devised.

The last day each union group presented lessons learned and proposed a way forward, where each union drew up three key points to discuss within their unions and committees, to address and engage union leadership to support proactive measures to build more equal unions.

All women participating expressed that

Women committees cannot be the only space for women workers’ representation in our unions- women’s issues are union issues

Although participants recognized that women committees are a valuable first stepping stone to gather strength and to develop more knowledge about the problems women face in their workplaces, ultimately women cannot aim to remain confined in women committees, while most leadership positions continue to be occupied by men.

Women need to stand up for positions, firmly support each other, and gain backing from both male and female workers in their workplaces and unions. The participants also highlighted that “women and men urgently need to learn to work together in all union matters and structures including leadership”.

In a return visit three Tanzanian women organizers will travel to Zambia to meet with women members and leadership in November, to assess progress and finalize action plans.