Building Union Power, Building Women Power

11 July 2016 11:32

How important is gender in the workplace? And how important are young workers, both in the workplace and in trade unions?

asked Fatimah Mohammad, Chair of the BWI International Women’s Committee, as she opened the 2016 BWI Global Women’s Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal. “Over 50% of women, including a growing number of young women, believe they are being discriminated against in the workplace. For them, questions around the rights and roles of young women workers matter a great deal.” 

The June 2016 conference, titled “Building the Successor Generation”, brought together 40 young women unionists from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, focusing on questions of women’s political visibility and equality in the workplace. 

“Women and youth are key priorities for the BWI, and this conference aims to develop and train the next generation of BWI women leaders, who will each play major roles in the development of the BWI global women’s program”, said Rita Schavi, Chair for the BWI European Women’s Committee. 

Participants shared their organising and campaigning strategies on a wide range of issues, including women workers’ rights, workers’ rights protection in the Mega Sport Events, the links between women’s’ rights and forest certification, migration and organising women workers in the informal economy. Striving toward political visibility, participants shared their experiences in pushing for political changes for gender equality, pay equity, reproductive health, vocational training, and other policies promoting women’s interests. 

“What holds women back is not competence, which they usually have, but confidence, which they often lack,” said Fatimah Mohammad. “This needs to change. Women can and must maximise their own potential, both in their unions and society at large.” In this vein, the young women involved committed themselves to an agenda of “Women’s emancipation by women”, in which they developed concrete plan to build women workers’ power in preparation for the BWI Global Congress in 2017.


A challenging field visit saw participants travel along precarious mountain roads to Chutari Village, the BWI earthquake-rebuild project site. “While this was a shocking (and at times scary) experience, it was an eye-opener for almost all of us. Seeing and hearing how the community is trying to survive after the earthquake was very touching,” said Samantha Jones from Unite the Union (UK) while reflecting on the visit. Other participants noted they were lucky to not just discuss the reconstruction process, but play an active role in rebuilding the GEFONT office in the village. 

In one session the youngest participants of each region shared relayed their thoughts and suggestions as to what trade unions should and must do to outreach to young people and women workers.

Unions must treat women and men equally in terms of capacity building. Encouraging young women to be more active in the union is a crucial step to make a making our unions, and the BWI, more relevant to young women workers.

said Seipati Seroalo of NUM.


The conference was supported by Fredrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and Union to Union (U to U) of Sweden. “FES is committed to working with our partner unions on gender equality,” said Dev Raj Dahal, FES’s Nepal Country Representative. “This Conference is an step towards developing the capacity of young women, equipping them with necessary skills to actively engage in the political and policy discourse within their unions”