Women’s Day 2014: Unionists Around the World Educate, Mobilize

Bangladesh.Womens Day 2014.Kalpona Akter.sc

In Bangladesh, BCWS Executive Director Kalpona Akter rallied with garment workers on International Women Day. Credit: Solidarity Center

Hundreds of workers from multiple garment factories rallied in recent days at the National Press Club in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where they formed a human chain and demanded equal wages, equal rights and equal dignity for woman workers in the ready-made-garment (RMG) sector. The action was among many around the world throughout the past week as women workers and their allies commemorated International Women’s Day, held annually on March 8.

In Chittagong, where workers from 16 garment factories marched and rallied, Bangladesh Independent Garment Union Federation (BIGUF) Chittagong President Nomita pointed out that nearly all who took part were women.

Liberian trade unionists celebrate International Women's Day 2014. Photo: Solidarity Center

Liberian trade unionists celebrate International Women’s Day 2014. Credit: Solidarity Center

“I can’t imagine trade unions without women,” she said. Nomita urged RMG factory owners to fully implement maternity leave and establish child care centers in factories. In addition to BIGUF, other Solidarity Center allies taking part in International Women’s Day actions in the country included the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), the Bangladesh National Garments Workers Employees League (BNGWEL), the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) and Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF).

Elsewhere around the world, Solidarity Center allies marked International Women’s Day by celebrating, educating and mobilizing.

• In Tunisia, the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) held a solidarity march for Palestinian women and repressed women around the world. The March 8 event took place on the main avenue in Tunis, the capital, and concluded at the UGTT center with music, cultural activities, poetry and an exhibit on the history of women’s activism in Tunisia. The event followed a roundtable on a comparative study of women’s rights in the country’s three constitutions.

• Moroccan union activists and members of the Confederation Democratique du Travail (Democratic Labor Confederation, CDT), took part in trainings that covered women’s legal rights and they also held artistic and cultural events, concluding with a ceremony honoring social activists and retired women. The Union Marocaine du Travail (Moroccan Workers’ Union, UMT) combined a celebration of Women’s Day with events marking the 59th anniversary of its founding congress. Later this month, UMT will host a roundtable discussion on the role of women in the union and strategies for broadening women’s participation in the union.

• The Border Committee of Women Workers (Comité Fronterizo de Obreras, CFO) held a mini-workshop for women participating in the Solidarity Center’s Gender and Women’s Empowerment for Action program in Coahuila, Mexico. The discussion focused on how International Women’s Day is more than a time for women to receive feel-good gestures like a flower or nice words on Facebook from the men in their lives. In Mexico, where women disproportionately bear the brunt of the country’s economic and social insecurity and violence, Women’s Day offers a space for women and girls to evaluate how far they’ve come and how much further they still must go to win equality with men and boys and achieve justice in all areas of their lives.

In Liberia, women and their allies held a parade to the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) office, where they raised flags in recognition of labor partner organizations such as the United Steelworkers and IndustriAll that implement programs to help female unionists to become a strong force in Liberia.

• Across South Africa, the Solidarity Center joined with Labour for Rights for Women (LRW) campaign and the Labour Research Service (LRS) to host two events. In North West Province, the organizations convened health care workers, farm workers and domestic workers in a meeting with local civil society organizations and the South African Department of Health to discuss the impact of a new government health insurance plan, especially its impact on women workers. In Limpopo Province, the LRW held a training session for union gender coordinators, organizers and negotiators on maternity protection. The LRW, sponsored by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), brings together South Africa’s labor federations to support improved respect for women’s rights at the workplace and their greater participation in union activities

Global Union Movement: Making Equality for Women a Reality

As International Women’s Day approaches, the global labor movement is mobilizing to put teeth into the celebration’s 2014 theme, “Equality for women is progress for all.” Solidarity Center allies around the world also are getting set to highlight the struggles of working women with actions that include rallies by banana workers who are members of the union SITRABI in Guatemala and a conference honoring women workers from Jordan and Palestine. (Follow Women’s Day actions on Twitter with the hashtag #IWD2014.)

Two days after International Women’s Day, commemorated annually on March 8, union activists will take part in the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. There, they will push for concrete goals to redress income inequality that focus on employment, well being and security in large part by addressing gender inequality in the labor market and in social policies.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), along with several global union federations, issued a joint statement last week detailing recommendations they will present to the CSW to ensure women’s rights to decent work, quality education and quality public services are at the heart of its post-2015 agenda. CSW’s post-2015 agenda will supplement the “Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+20),” a plan for women’s empowerment that member states approved in 1995.

CSW, part of the United Nations, is a global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. Representatives of member states gather at the UN in New York each year to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality andwomen’s empowerment worldwide. This year’s meeting runs from March 10-21.

Ensuring the rights of the billions of informally employed workers, the majority of whom are women, is an essential part of the global unions’ recommendations to CSW. Fundamental rights and protections for informal economy workers, such as street vendors and domestic workers, must include coverage by national labor laws, access to social service benefits and a guaranteed minimum wage.

The global unions’ joint statement points out that the majority of jobs created in the past two decades are short-term, part-time, temporary, casual or informal—categories in which a majority of women are employed, making gender equality an essential part of meaningful solutions to the world’s growing income inequality.

Unions around the world organize and mobilize women, promote women as leaders and decision-makers and aim to achieve fair access to decent work for women. Each day this week, leading up to International Women’s Day March 8, the Solidarity Center will highlight an example of how women and their unions are taking action to improve women’s lives on the job, in their unions and in their communities.

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