Women, Make your Mark

Are women sufficiently represented in the Engineering sector or is this sector still male dominated, asks Prudence Gqoba and discovers more than she bargained for…
I scanned the room and I saw mostly male delegates. I counted the number of women at the National Bargaining Conference, held in March. I could  not  even  reach  10.  (Most  NBC  delegates  are  shop stewards  from  different engineering companies.)
I thought of the Engineering National Shop steward Council held in January and realised there were even fewer women than in the NBC. Why are there so few women? Women  are  not  taken  seriously.  So  says, Winnie Ramaube, Numsa  shopsteward, Evraz Highveld Steel and Vandium, Deputy Secretary and Central Committee delegate.
According to Ramaube, females are not taken seriously in male-dominated comp
anies. No support for working mums.There is a reluctance to appoint female employees in shift work for fear that women might become pregnant. “Women are given light duties and they must go on maternity leave. Women don’t get their shift allowances as a result of pregnancy,”   she says.
Working shifts are a challenge with a baby, Ramaube says and adds: “The mother is
not allowed to resign from work within 12 months. If she resigns she has to pay back
her maternity money.” Child-caring  facilities  are  non-existent.  “You  have  to pay  a  nanny  or  get  help  from grandparents. If you want to check on your child while
at work and you leave the factory for more than 2 hours you lose your income,” she says.
Facing barriers on the shopfloor…
On  the  shopfloor,  women  are  denied  the  opportunity  to  address  the  workers,  and support for women in the industry is minimal, instead Ramaube says: “Women are given secretarial work.”
Also, every woman is for herself, she adds. Ramaube tried to establish a female gender committee. Alas, to no avail. However, the union supports women and Ramaube says she is happy to see an engendered negotiating team.
Joyce Namane,
Numsa shopsteward in PM Manufacturing, echoes the view of a sector skewed towards men. Some men still believe that women cannot represent them
well, she says and adds: “At factory level during shop stewards elections female employees are not encouraged to take part as candidates.” Women  are  also  afraid  to  assume  leadership  roles  but  women  should  rise  to the occasion.
Thandi  Mvimbi,  a  shopsteward  at  Arco  Plate  in  Benoni,  echoes  the  view of  her colleagues and adds that women lack social and familial support structures.
“Once  you  become  a  leader  you  get  pressure  from  all  sides,  from  the  family,  the community,  from  work,  etc.  (which  means)  late  meetings  and being dropped  off  by different male comrades as you come from meetings,”
“Women  leaders  are  not  well  catered  for.
There  are  no child  facilities.  Women  do organisational work after hours, this adds to the pressures.” Women must stand up and be counted, she says.
Lindiwe Modau agrees. Modau is Numsa shopsteward at Denel PMP in Hlanganani region, MEIBC representative, and a secretary for National Engineering Shop Steward Council.  Women, shy away from leadership responsibility for fear of
sexual harassment and not  being liked by management, she says.
In Denel PMP there are only three women who are active. Modau’s  partner  and  family  support  her  advancement. Her parents,  she  says, encourage her to advance herself in the union’s structures.
Women  must  participate  in  leadership  roles  and  not  rely  on  males  to  make  that decision,” she says… I think of Numsa’s deputy president, a female, Christine
Olivier, also in the engineering sector.
There’s hope…
Prudence Gqoba is Numsa national legal officer