Promoting gender equality is important in the labour movement

Unions should take up the challenge of transformation of the labour market through equality and justice.

However, this can be done if unions are united, strong and vibrant. It is true that although women have been swelling the ranks of the union, much remains to be done to organise them.

Gender equality is elemental to union goals of social and economic justice. Trade unions are founded by workers to fight for their rights and dignity, as well as social and economic justice for all people.

Because gender inequality is a destructive form of exploitation and discrimination in the workplace, and in society at large, trade unions will only achieve their vision if gender inequality is challenged and overcome.

Organizing women is fundamental to increasing union membership. Women are the fastest growing segment of the labour force.

Between 1980 and 2000, the global labour force participation rates for women increased by 3% and declined by 2% for men.

The statistics are even greater in some regions, where the female workforce increased by 11%. Organising methods and strategies that target women workers are important in tapping this vast pool of unorganized workers.

Women tend to be concentrated in sectors of the economy that are under organised and under represented by labour movements.

Women workers predominate in formal sector jobs in health, education, expert assembly industries as well as in the informal economy.

Addressing “women’s issues” and gender discrimination is an important strategy for strengthening unions in a way that benefits both men and women.

By bringing more women into unions, and developing their effective leadership, unions can increase their cross-sectoral economic advantage in collective bargaining and political clout in the democratic process.

Due to job segregation, union structures, and history, women are concentrated in sectors of the economy often left unorganised or if organised, are not seen as important to a labour movement’s national political strategy.

Yet some sectors where women predominate are vital industries, such as banking, telecommunications and public services – that could often offer important political muscle in the various types of campaigns.

By paying attention to women’s issues, unions can actually strengthen the overall environment at work such so that male and female workers can be more unified and powerful in advancing the union’s overall interests.

Sexual harassment and other forms of intimidation of female workers are degrading and reinforce feelings of inferiority. This weakens women workers’ ability to “fight back” on any and all issues at work.

Moreover, employers have been known to harass women workers and family members as a way of indirectly intimidating male workers and union leaders. Putting a stop to this will safeguard the rights of all workers and strengthen the union.