Around 234 tradeswomen, most of them officials and members of the Association of Women Workers in the Construction Industry – National Union of Building and Construction Workers (AWWCI-NUBCW) attended the 2018 Manila Tradeswomen Conference on 4th March at the TESDA Women Center in advance celebration of the International Women’s Day. Other attendees are TESDA trainees and members of Pinary Tradeswomen.
“The intent of this conference is to learn what challenges our sisters face in getting and keeping decent work, using tools and sharing what each group has done to effect change”, said Melina Harris, President of the North American Sisters in the Building Trades, in her keynote address.
Seven delegates from the Sisters in the Building Trades flew to the first tradeswomen gathering in Manila. The Trades Women Conference is a regular activity of the Sisters in the Building Trades in the United States, aiming at reaching out with sisters with tools, sharing experiences and providing support, encouragement and hope to vulnerable disadvantaged women in the building trades.
They decided to reach to sisters outside of the USA through their Global Outreach Programme. Since most of our sisters in the Global South cannot join them, they've started coming to us. They went to India last year and after the Manila conference, they will be flying to Australia for the second Australian Tradeswomen conference.
Collaboration between the BWI and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) made this engagement possible.
“As BWI and as a former Board member of TESDA, how can we say NO to a cause that is very near to our hearts as trade unionists - working women’s empowerment! We make change work for working women and one of these changes is to stop gender-based violence at the workplace, to make it safe and women-friendly,” said Tes Borgonos, BWI Asia Pacific project coordinator.
The TESDA Director General, Secretary Gene Mamondiong, stressed the role of women in development. He highlighted that TESDA is open to train women in the building trades to be employed at the BUILD, BUILD, BUILD project of the present administration. The Chief of the TESDA Women Center shared their Non-Traditional Skills Training programme for women.
“We believed on the capacity of women and their rights to be in the building trades, if they choose to. We are training them to be plumbers, electricians, painters and welders. In fact, we have the best women welders in the trades. And generally, humanity will not survive without women,” he concluded in his welcome speech.
There will always be challenges on training women in the building trades, especially young women as this is a male-dominated industry. Considering also that the construction industry in the Philippines is “not ready” on accepting women workers in big project sites.
“But these women dared to be different. We broke the stereotypes, we trained ourselves and worked in the building trades. We organised them and now they are part of the union leadership. Changes will work for women as long as we believe in solidarity, unity and women’s empowerment. Women can do it! Power to the women!” said Jane Vargas, one of the leaders of AWWCI-NUBCW, ending her speech with a moving chant.