16 Days: BWI pushes for a gender-equal future

BWI concluded its 16 Days of Trade Union Activism on Violence against Women on a high note by holding a global webinar on ways to build a gender-equal world on 10 December, which also coincided with the International celebration of human rights day. 

The online event, which was the 7th and last installment of BWI’s “Workers’ Webinar Series”  for this year, discussed the challenges faced by women workers in the building construction, wood and forestry sectors, including their increased vulnerability to economic shocks, and trade union responses to transform these sectors into safe spaces to foster gender empowerment and equality. The alarming rise of violence against women in the time of COVID-19 was also deliberated.     

During the discussions, participants admitted that many trade unions did not foresee a sharp increase in gender-based violence and were not fully equipped to handle the crisis. However, with BWI’s assistance in tandem with global solidarity support systems, trade unions were able to respond to cases of gender-based violence and harassment by developing a support system for survivors, representing victims in legal proceedings and strengthening educational efforts to promote gender equality within unions.

Such were the experiences of the Unión Obrera Ladrillera de la República Argentina (UOLRA) and the Union of Construction Workers of Nigeria (CCESSA). UOLRA Interior Secretary Ana Lemos shared how their union, using the “factory is home” framework,  cared for their members’ families in an attempt to promote safe and caring spaces for women and their children. Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) Women’s Officer Lisa Zanatta, on the other hand, reported that their union is in the process of ensuring that companies implement gender equity audits and plans. She said that the pandemic made them realise that more policies are needed to support women workers in the construction industry. 

BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson said that they were able to provide adequate assistance to women workers by putting the gender issue on the front and centre of its COVID-19 declaration policy. “BWI was able to support the gender initiatives of its affiliates even during the early part of the pandemic because we held wide consultations with our women members to help us define the gender issues and demands in our COVID-19 declaration policy,” he said.

This was affirmed by Renate Wapenhensch of IG BAU Germany, who illustrated how the IG BAU Frauen (Women) Network has been working towards gender equity and empowerment by ensuring their bargaining rights at work. 

Ways to strengthen campaign strategies and efforts to push more countries to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190 on the Violence and Harassment in the World of Work was also discussed exhaustively. International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) Marieke Koning said that their trainings target to educate unionists, as many as possible, on the benefits of ILO Convention 190 and how it can be used as a guidepost in crafting union policies and implementing organisational practices at workplaces. 

Similarly, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU-Jamaica), Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU) and affiliates in Latin America, Caribbean and Africa shared their latest efforts for ILO Convention 190. Jamaican and South Korean unionists held successful multi-stakeholder forums to promote the convention in their respective countries, while LAC and Africa unionists took part in ITUC’s trainings. 

BWI International Women’s Committee Chair Rita Schiavi reminded the participants of the importance of pushing more countries to ratify the convention. “For this year, Uruguay, Fiji, Namibia and Argentina have fully committed to ILO Convention 190. But we need more to impress the importance of this convention, especially when it comes into force next year. It will be a gateway to create more gender-responsive policies in many countries. Going to 2021, it is important for us to continue our activism on ending violence against women and girls beyond the 16-day campaign. Let us continue this work all throughout the coming new year,” she said. 

The webinar also devoted time to present the creative digital gender campaigns initiated by trade unions in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. This includes Building and Wood Workers Federation of Myanmar’s (BWFM) innovative Tik Tok campaign which asked young people to submit short videos which best narrate the issues of gender-based violence experienced by women workers. 

Lastly, CFMEU’s important contribution to BWI’s 16-day campaign was also recognised. The union was responsible for BWI’s “Safe At Home, Safe At Work” campaign artwork which was widely shared globally and used by many national unions.