#WomenSpeak: Sharing care work
I am Wapenhensch Renate of IG BAU, Germany. I became a union member at the young age of 17. I started my work life in 1979 as an apprentice before becoming an engineering draftswoman. In my three years of apprenticeship, nine months were spent honing my skills in different crafts at a construction site.
Union membership is normal in our family. My father was a civil engineer and worked as a council member. Throughout my life as a woman worker, I have been active in the union as a work council member and in the promotion of women workers’ rights. My work brought me to different places, including in New Orleans, where I lived for a time.
In 2016, I started working for IG BAU in its Division of Co-Determination. In March 2020, I worked as the union’s Federal Women Secretary. My main focus was to capacitate women through education.
Nowadays, I enjoy my retirement with my two cats in a beautiful area in Germany nestled at the Rhine river, close to the French border. In my spare time, I am active in promoting animal protection and supporting young girls’ social projects in Ethiopia.
Back in the days when I was active in the union, the general lack of understanding on gender issues was a big challenge. I believe this is a continuing concern today. We tried to address this by raising awareness within trade unions on gender empowerment and equality. In particular, we stressed the need for women workers to mobilise, especially on International Women’s Month, and participate in the trade unions’ different levels of leadership.
I add my voice in calling for an equal and better future for all. Quoting Austrian politician Johanna von Donahl, “there was a time when we wanted 50 percent of the cake. Now, we want to co-decide what cake to bake and how to bake and distribute it. I think this explains nicely the goal of women workers worldwide in reshaping the future.
In the time of COVID-19, women workers have an important role to play in any collective effort to recover from the pandemic. One step towards gender equality is to ensure that care work, unpaid work which mainly takes place in the home and is predominantly done by women, are shared among families, marriages and different forms of partnerships. As many societies remain largely patriarchal, many women easily slide back to old traditional roles. Women trade unionists must arrest this by keep pushing forward the struggle for a gender-equal future.