‘We Can’t Wait for Men to Help Us. We Women Have to Do It’

‘We Can’t Wait for Men to Help Us. We Women Have to Do It’

Women’s economic empowerment is linked to achieving broader labor rights for workers around the globe and women must join together no matter what their interests or jobs to bring about gender equality at work, panelists said today at an AFL-CIO panel in New York City.

Cathy Feingold, AFL-CIO, Solidarity Center, gender equality

AFL-CIO International Affairs Director Cathy Feingold moderated the panel “Building Power for Women Workers in the Changing World of Work.” Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

“We’re not talking about ‘women’s rights’ and ‘worker rights’—it’s one agenda that we need to bring together so we really can have women’s economic power in the world of work,” said AFL-CIO International Affairs Director Cathy Feingold, who moderated the panel. “We cannot be divided.”

Three union activists shared their experiences in helping women achieve a voice at work during “Building Power for Women Workers in the Changing World of Work.” The panel is one of several sessions the Solidarity Center and its partners are holding in conjunction with the March 13–24 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

On Monday, the Solidarity Center and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) held panels examining the prevalence of gender-based violence at work and mobilization strategies for championing passage of an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention preventing gender-based violence on the job.

‘We Women Have to Do It’

Cambodia, garment workers, Solidarity Center, human rights

“We cannot wait for men to help us. We women have to do it”—Sophorn Yang, Cambodian garment worker organizer. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Sophorn Yang, a garment worker organizer in Cambodia, fired up the dozens of union activists and allies in the audience when she said,

“I’m happy to be here in room full of woman power!”

Yang discussed garment workers’ long struggle for decent wages, including a series of massive demonstrations in 2015 and 2016 in which several garment workers were killed by police and others beaten and arrested.

An estimated 700,000 workers in Cambodia sew and package more than $5 billion worth of clothing, textiles and shoes every year, nearly all on short-term contracts that make it easier to fire and control workers.

Yet even though nearly all garment workers are women, Yang said she is constantly challenged by male union leaders.

“In my country, the majority of leaders undermine my values because I am a woman,” Yang said, speaking through a translator. “They don’t know I have the will power to fight, especially in a sector where 90 percent of women workers are underrepresented, are under attack.

“We cannot wait for men to help us. We women have to do it.”

‘Organize, Build Coalitions, Work in Cooperation’

gender equality, Solidarity Center, human rights

“There are more things we have in common than what divides us”—Sussie Lozada, UNITE Local 100 political director. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Two union activists from the United States emphasized the importance of organizing workers, joining with allies and reaching women in all job sectors and interests to build networks to strengthen women’s struggles on the job.

“We have the power to organize,” said Sussie Lozada, political director of UNITE Local 100. “Organize, build coalitions, work in cooperation—all are fundamental for us to grow and get what we want.

“There are more things we have in common than what divides us.”

Patricia Sauls, a domestic worker and leader of the Atlanta chapter of National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), said joining a union empowered her to believe she could make positive change at work for herself and for other domestic workers.

“My union encouraged me to believe I do have a voice,” she said, telling participants that she was speaking publicly for the first time. “I am just so grateful for the sisterhood that is here to support me and stand by me.”

Patricia Sauls, National Domestic Workers Alliance, gender equality, Solidarity Center

“My union encouraged me to believe I do have a voice”—Patricia Sauls, NDWA activist. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Sauls is part of a global delegation sponsored by the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), which is mobilizing members around issues like preventing gender-based violence at work.

Joining the panel from different continents and diverse experiences, Sauls and Yang carried similar messages for their union sisters:

“We can win if we stay together and support each other,” said Sauls.

And as Yang said, “We need to come together to organize and fight, with passion, with real passion!”

Hundreds of high-level government delegates at the CSW for the first time are discussing women’s economic empowerment and the role of labor unions as core to achieving women’s rights—a huge milestone for working women around the globe in achieving recognition of their workplace struggles by the world’s human rights body—and one that worker rights organizations like the ITUC and Solidarity Center have long championed.

Follow us here, on Facebook and on Twitter @SolidarityCntr for coverage of our final event on Thursday, “Impact of Corporate Power to Women’s Economic Empowerment,” a panel sponsored by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) and Solidarity Center.

Unions Key to Ending Gender-Based Violence at Work

Unions Key to Ending Gender-Based Violence at Work

Gender-based violence at work is far more prevalent than reported and ending it will require women coming together to challenge male-dominated structures—whether in corporations, governments or their own unions, according to leaders and experts from a variety of unions and nongovernmental associations (NGOs) speaking yesterday in New York City.

Molly McCoy, Solidarity Center, gender-based violence, CSW, UN

As prevalent as gender-based violence is in workplace, it goes unrecognized—Solidarity Center Policy Director Molly McCoy. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

“As prevalent as gender-based violence is in workplace, it goes unrecognized,” said Solidarity Center Policy Director Molly McCoy.

McCoy was among participants on two panels Monday that focused on gender-based violence at work, part of events the Solidarity Center and its partners are holding in conjunction with the March 13–24 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

Hundreds of high-level government delegates at the CSW will for the first time discuss women’s economic empowerment and the role of labor unions as core to achieving women’s rights—a huge milestone for working women around the globe in achieving recognition of their workplace struggles by the world’s human rights body—and one that worker rights organizations like the ITUC and Solidarity Center have long championed.

Gender-Based Violence Worse without Freedom to Form Unions

Panelists at the Solidarity Center session, “Eliminating Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work,” explored how unions enable workers, especially women workers, to speak up when experiencing sexual harassment and other violence on the job by providing a network of peer support.

Julia Rybak, Solidarity Center, New York Hotel Trades Council, gender-based violence, CSW, UN

“The absolute most important thing is that we organize for worker power”—Julia Rybak. New York Hotel Trades Council. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

“Workers having the resources and the community of support is something most workers don’t have,” said Julia Rybak, director of the New York Hotel Trades Council. “The absolute most important thing is that we organize for worker power.”

“Gender-based violence is always worse when there is no freedom of association,” said McCoy, who moderated the panel. “When workers are not organized (in unions), they don’t have resources to tackle gender-based violence.”

Conversely, McCoy said, “the persistence and prevalence of gender-based violence has an impact on freedom of association. Gender-based violence is very much a tool used to repress worker rights, to silence workers and to isolate workers so they can’t stand up for themselves and fight gender-based violence.”

“There are extraordinarily high rates of gender-based violence against women at the workplace,” said Robin Runge, a lawyer who represented survivors of violence and abuse for more than 20 years. Runge is author of the new report, “Ending Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work in the United States,” written with support from the AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center.

Women Empowering Themselves through Unions

“Only by organizing can we get out of situations I faced when I was 12 and protect other domestic worker”—Ernestina Ochoa Lujan, IDWF. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Several panelists recounted their own experiences with workplace-based violence. Ernestina Ochoa Lujan, a domestic worker and vice president of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), began work as a domestic worker in Peru at age 11. At age 12, she was attacked by her employer.

“I couldn’t call my parents because I didn’t have parents, I couldn’t call authorities because we are not believed. I cry not because I have no hope but because I went on to organize with my union,” she said through a translator.

“Only by organizing can we get out of situations I faced when I was 12 and protect other domestic workers.”

“We have to think about all those workers whose voice is not here”—Kazi Fouzia, DRUM. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Panelists and some of the several dozen audience members who spoke during a question and answer period described widespread violence against women workers—in Algeria, Argentina, Colombia and wherever women work and in whatever sector they are employed.

“We have to think about all those workers whose voice is not here,” said Kazi Fouzia, director of organizing at the New York-based Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) organization, a 4,000-member worker association that includes primarily women in the informal economy.

Join the Stop Gender-Based Violence Campaign

Earlier in the day, 75 participants discussed steps involved in building support for an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on ending gender-based violence.

“It’s important we go to the governments to make sure they support an ILO convention. We need a critical number of governments to move it forward,” said Marieke Koning from the Equality department at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The ITUC sponsored the panel, “Stop Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in the World of Work Campaign: How to Support an ILO Convention.”

CSW, UN, ITUC, Solidarity Center, gender-based violence

Amrita Sietaram, ILO ACTRAV section, described the process of creating and passing a convention to end gender-based violence at work. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Koning was joined by Amrita Sietaram from the ILO ACTRAV section, who described the process of creating and passing a convention to end gender-based violence at work, which she says has moved forward because of the efforts of the ITUC and global union federations. The ILO will discuss a draft text in June 2018 and unions, employers and others have from May to September this year to comment on the draft text.

Sietaram also described significant “employer resistance to a gender-based violence at work convention,” and noted that discussions will determine whether the final product is a “convention”—which governments agree to follow, or a “recommendation,” a weaker outcome that provides direction.

Speaking from the audience, IDWF General Secretary Elizabeth Tang described how domestic workers around the world worked for years to achieve 2011 passage of ILO Convention 189 covering domestic workers—and how the union has begun to reproduce those steps to move passage of a convention to end gender-based violence at work.

Join the ITUC campaign to end gender-based violence at work.

Follow us here, on Facebook and on Twitter @SolidarityCntr for coverage of the following Solidarity Center and partner events:

  • March 15, 12:30 ET: “Building Power for Women Workers in the Changing World of Work”—AFL-CIO
  • March 16, 12:30 ET: “Impact of Corporate Power to Women’s Economic Empowerment”—Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) & Solidarity Center
Workers Rights Are Human Rights: Working People Exercise Freedom of Association

Workers Rights Are Human Rights: Working People Exercise Freedom of Association

In recent decades, the global economy has grown rapidly. But as global production has increased, so too has global inequality.

Inequality has skyrocketed.

Many governments have prioritized the interests of multinational corporations over those of workers–including fair wages, social protections and safe working conditions.

This approach has concentrated most of the wealth produced by millions of working people into the hands of only a few, and has made decent jobs increasingly precarious.

The Solidarity Center supports working people around the world as they stand together and fight for better wages and working conditions.

Learn more about how the Solidarity Center supports working people’s right to organize

Ratan, a tailor in a Bangladesh factory. Credit: Solidarity Center

WORKERS ORGANIZE TO SAVE LIVES

With millions of workers denied their rights and dignity on the job, the global economy is rife with exploitation.

But when workers are able to exercise their right to freedom of association by collectively finding solutions to unjust practices and other workplace issues by forming and joining unions, they can protect themselves and each other from exploitation, support their families and secure the benefits of their own hard work.

Credit: Solidarity Center/Lela Mepharishvili (top left)/Roberto Armocida (top right)/B.E. Diggs (bottom left)/Jeanne Hallacy (bottom right)

Workers may come from different parts of the world but fight for the same rights (as seen above).

Transport workers in Georgia formed a union to ensure their working conditions were safe. In Mexico, the Mineras de Acero (Women Mineworkers of Steel) help many women miners work safely.

Burmese migrant workers stand outside fish canning factories thinking about their options. In Liberia, workers and their unions played a crucial role in combating the spread of the Ebola virus.

WORKER RIGHTS = HUMAN RIGHTS

Our world and its globalized economy are changing at lightning pace, and it is critical that the tools we use to protect labor rights adapt just as quickly.

A first step towards that goal is to obliterate the antiquated and artificial distinction between labor rights and human rights.

Labor rights are human rights.

MAINA KIAI

Denying freedom of assembly and association isolates people in the workplace. On their own, workers often do not have enough leverage to negotiate with their employers and demand fair wages and safe working conditions for themselves and for their fellow workers.

Unions are helping to change that.

Members of several unions march for labor reforms in Nigeria on World Day for Decent Work. Credit: IndustriALL

WORKERS STAND TOGETHER

Despite many obstacles, millions of working people around the world are fighting to exercise their basic right to organize by creating and joining unions. In doing so, they gain access to many more rights on the job.

Maung Maung, president of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), speaks to over a hundred workers. Credit: Jeanne Hallacy

PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF ALL

Many workers—including migrant, informal, domestic, and contract workers—find themselves in precarious situations because their work is not protected under national labor laws.

Unions strive to include these groups of workers in their negotiations with governments and employers to broaden and strengthen labor protections for everyone.

INFORMAL WORKERS

Contract workers in agriculture and workers in the informal economy, such as market vendors, have strengthened their collective voice through union activism.

Mr. Cristo Humberto, an african palm fruit collector posses for the camera with his mule inside the plantation of Palmas del Cesar oil CO. Minas, Colombia, April 25, 2016.

Joel De Los Santos sells his plantains in the Municipal Market of San Cristobal, July 28, 2014. SOLIDARITY CENTER /Ricardo Rojas.(DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT SOCIETY MARKET )

MIGRANT WORKERS

Migrant workers are often denied their freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association because of their irregular status in their new communities.

Many migrant workers also fear that if they stand up for their rights by themselves, they may be fired and lose their ability to stay in the country.

With freedom of association, migrant workers can stand up for better wages and working conditions without fear.

citizenship, Dominican Republic, Haiti, human rights, labor, Solidarity Center, worker rights

A construction worker in the Dominican Republic, where many workers are originally from Haiti. Credit: Solidarity Center/Ricardo Rojas

Many garment workers in Myanmar migrated from other parts of the country and from abroad. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

DOMESTIC WORKERS

Domestic workers are often not recognized under national labor laws, which makes it difficult for them to exercise their assembly and association rights at work.

Domestic workers in many countries have made unprecedented strides in recent years in having their work legally recognized and securing their right to join unions.

Salome Molefe is a domestic worker and union organizer in a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess

Unions in Kenya are helping domestic workers negotiate and enforce contracts with their employers. Credit: Solidarity Center/Kate Holt

WORKING WOMEN

Restricting the rights of workers also fuels gender inequality. Women in the global economy are often relegated to low-paying, low-skill jobs. Many women also experience gender-based violence in the workplace that prevents them from speaking up.

Working women are finding strength in unions where they can advocate for better wages and working conditions together.

Dzidai Magada Mwarozva, Director of Human Resources at Phillips, now Destiny Electronics, a principle distributor of Phillips Electronics and Telecommunications products in Zimbabwe at the Phillips Facility in Harare on July 16, 2015.

A garment worker in Cambodia. Credit: Solidarity Center/Claudio Montesano Casillas

TAKING ACTION

By standing up for their dignity and rights together, and in challenging the systems that undermine those rights, working people find collective solutions to local problems–as well as create pathways for change for other workers, across industries, borders and cultures.

Unions in Cambodia rally for a living wage and the expansion of freedom of association. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tharo Khun

Brazil, domestic workers, AWID, Solidarity Center

Domestic workers at the 2016 Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) Forum in Brazil. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Mine workers in Ukraine gain support from the Labor Initiative, a union-based worker rights center. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tristan Masat

CREATING CHANGE

When workers’ freedom of assembly and association rights are protected, the relationship with their employer is more fair.

Unions and worker associations provide a collective voice on the job, helping to correct abuses, improve workplace safety and raise wages.

CTUM President Maung Maung accepts a certificate of registration for the union federation. Credit: CTUM

ACHIEVING DECENT WORK

The freedom to assemble and associate is the foundation for worker rights–and for all other rights, as they enable people to voice their interests, protect their dignity and hold governments accountable.

Coca-Cola factory workers in the Hlaing Thay Yar industrial zone outside of Yangon have formed a union with the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar.

Garment workers in Cambodia. Credit: Solidarity Center/Claudio Montesano Casillas

PROMOTING FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The Solidarity Center partners with workers and their unions around the world as they challenge restrictions on freedom of association and strive for greater equity in the global economy.

Solidarity Center, worker rights, trade union, labor, garment workers, Bangladesh

Workers in Bangladesh fight for the freedom of association on May Day 2016. Credit: Solidarity Center

In Peru, tens of thousands of mineworkers call for an end to laws that facilitate mass layoffs. Credit: Solidarity Center/Samantha Tate

BUILDING A BETTER TOMORROW

When working people can exercise their basic rights, together they can challenge a global system of poverty and exploitation and achieve a brighter future for themselves and for their children.

Demetrio, a palm worker on the Palmas del Espino plantation in Peru, with his daughter Emelia. Credit: Solidarity Center/Oscar Durand

ENGAGING IN INTERNATIONAL LAW TO PROMOTE CHANGE

National laws and company policies have contributed to inequality by systematically undermining the basic rights of the majority of the world’s workers. Most importantly, governments and corporations are denying workers their right to freedom of assembly and association, which prevents them from joining together to advocate for their rights, according to Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur for the rights to freedom of assembly and of association.

“So many workers toil long hours for low wages in unsafe and unhealthy environments, risking disease, injury and death. They work without basic social protections such as health care, education, pensions or, in the case of trafficked workers, the right to choose or leave employment.”

– MAINA KIAI, UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHTS TO FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY AND OF ASSOCIATION

 

ENGAGING IN INTERNATIONAL LAW TO PROMOTE CHANGE

National laws and company policies have contributed to inequality by systematically undermining the basic rights of the majority of the world’s workers. Most importantly, governments and corporations are denying workers their right to freedom of assembly and association, which prevents them from joining together to advocate for their rights, according to Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur for the rights to freedom of assembly and of association.

“So many workers toil long hours for low wages in unsafe and unhealthy environments, risking disease, injury and death. They work without basic social protections such as health care, education, pensions or, in the case of trafficked workers, the right to choose or leave employment.”

– MAINA KIAI, UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHTS TO FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY AND OF ASSOCIATION

 

UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai, Solidarity Center, unions, human rights

Maina Kiai presented his report to the United Nations in October 2016 in his capacity as Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Freedom of Association (May 2011 – April 2017). Credit: UN

To learn more about working people around the world and how the Solidarity Center supports their right to organize, visit www.solidaritycenter.org.

‘Without Worker Rights, All Other Rights Are in Jeopardy’

‘Without Worker Rights, All Other Rights Are in Jeopardy’

Labor rights are key to all human rights—and ensuring that the global human rights community champion worker rights is essential to addressing the many economic and political challenges throughout the world, according to panelists who spoke today at a United Nations side event in Geneva.

Solidarity Center, Shawna Bader-Blau, worker rights, human rights

Shawna Bader-Blau urged the human rights and labor communities to join forces and fight the challenges of globalization.

“The challenge right now is for all of us in the broader the human rights community to stand together—NGOs, human right defenders, trade unions, everyone—to oppose the global closing of civic space and fight to create more decent work opportunities, better livelihoods and more human dignity and freedom,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. She spoke on the panel, “Freedom of Association as a Fundamental Workplace Right,” held in conjunction with UN Human Rights Council meetings. (See Bader-Blau’s full speech in the video, beginning at 48:07.)

The event builds on the landmark 2016 report presented by UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai to the UN in October that forcefully conveys how the vast majority of the world’s workers are disenfranchised from their rights to assembly and association—rights that are fundamental to all other human rights—either by exclusion or outright oppression.

“The report reminds us that freedom of peaceful assembly and association are foundational rights precisely because they are essential to human dignity, economic power, sustainable development and democracy,” says Deborah Greenfield, ILO deputy director general for policy.

“They are the gateway to all other rights. Without them, all other civil and human rights are in jeopardy.”

Globalization Blunts Worker Efforts to Improve Workplaces

Globalization has not benefited most of the world’s workers, says panelist Raquel Gonzalez, director of ITUC’s Geneva office.

The “dramatic increase in the power of multinationals,” with suppliers and contractors dictating the terms and conditions of employment for millions of workers, especially in developing countries, has resulted in low wages and temporary and outsourced work, which in turn limits the ability of workers to form unions and improve their working conditions, she says.

Further, says Gonzales, the growth of foreign direct investment means nations compete to attract much-needed funds—and in doing so, “states undermine worker rights.” A key example, she says, is export-processing zones, where workers are paid low wages and labor in unsafe conditions, yet typically are prohibited from forming unions, points Bader-Blau also underscored in her description of the ongoing campaign to silence garment workers that began in Ashulia, Bangladesh, last December.

States should provide grievance mechanism for abuses, says Gonzalez, but labor inspector offices are weak.

“The evidence is unequivocal that in many places and many instances it is the case that workers are denied their fundamental rights by the deliberate and intentional action by employers and the state,” says UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore, who also spoke at the two-hour event.

Women, Informal Economy Workers Especially Vulnerable

Gonzalez touched on how workers in agriculture, the informal economy, domestic work and women workers in general are especially vulnerable to abuse because they often are excluded from national labor laws.

“That’s why global labor supports an ILO convention on decent work in global supply chains to cover areas not now covered by ILO instruments,” says Gonzalez.

Women also are exposed to gender-based violence at work, a violation of fundamental human rights, and the Solidarity Center, in conjunction with the global labor movement, is working for passage of an ILO convention on the prevention of gender-based violence at work.

The extension of human rights to workers is critical,” says Bader-Blau, and the power of bridging labor and human rights is especially necessary “given the global closing space for civil society and what we see as its connection to entrenched economic inequality, as workers lose or are repressed in their exercise of freedom of association.

“The key is really to advance freedom of association and assembly for workers,” she says.

Also speaking on the panel: Roberto Suarez-Santos, deputy secretary-general of the International Organization of Employers, and Jerald Joseph, commissioner of the Malaysia Human Rights Commission.

The event was co-sponsored by the Solidarity Center, UN Special Rapporteur United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; the AFL-CIO, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), International Labor Organization (ILO) and CIVICUS.

Video: Workers’ Role, Power in Global Supply Chains

Video: Workers’ Role, Power in Global Supply Chains

A new Solidarity Center video makes it easy to understand how global supply chains, government inaction, poverty and economic inequality are connected—while highlighting how unions are key to reversing the dynamic that fuels low wages and unsafe workplaces.

In the short, “white board” video, the narrator explains that by using collective power, workers “improve their workplaces, their wages, their families’ living conditions—and they use that power to improve their communities and build democracy.

“In strong democracies, working people hold their governments accountable so more people have better jobs and the dignity everyone deserves.”

The bottom line: “Together we can create better jobs, stronger communities!”

Watch the video and share it broadly!

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