#WomenSpeak: The story of Brazil’s Rita Assis

My name is Rita Assis. I have been a woodworker for 38 years now. 

I've always believed in the role of trade unions to shape better working conditions. This is why I joined union mobilisations and struggles to demand improvements for our sector.

I became a member of Brazil's Union of Carpenter Workers of Sao José Dos Pinhais (SOMSJOP) on 12 December 1994 when I was working at a lumber company. In 1999, I was elected as Union Deputy Director, and in 2001, as Finance Secretary. Currently, I have the honour of occupying the presidency of the union.

I am a wife, mother and grandmother. Outside of the union, I also do house/care work. On weekends, I stay with my granddaughters so that their parents can work and have time for themselves. My favorite hobby is spending time with my family, helping my granddaughters with their homework, reading books, and visiting museums, historical places and parks.

The biggest challenges I face as a woman worker have always been workplace discrimination, moral harassment and unfair capital-labour relationship, as most employers seek profit above all.

Women are very valuable in the wood sector's custody chain. However, we don't earn and enjoy access to job opportunities the same as men. My challenge as a woman worker and union leader is to raise the trade union consciousness of my fellow women and convince them that only by struggling collectively can we change unfair realities.

Women's multiple burden became heavier to carry when COVID-19 started to spread worldwide. Many women workers lost their jobs, while others have to balance home care with professional responsibilities. This reality is not new, but it was definitely aggravated by the pandemic. This is one of our union’s most pressing tasks: eliminate the multiple burden carried by women workers to achieve better work-life balance.

One of the most efficient ways to respond to these challenges is for women to have equal access to trade union representation and leadership. By being present and duly represented at membership campaigns, awareness and workers’ mobilisations, we will be able to position the concerns and needs of women where they rightfully belong: in union discussions, collective bargaining negotiations and national campaigns.

Better Future

A better future means gender equality, economic prosperity, better quality of life, equal access to mental health services and income redistribution are enjoyed by all, especially by women. 

A better world means decent work and equal pay for women, better health and safety conditions at workplaces, and recognition of women’s invaluable productive and reproductive contribution to the economies of our respective countries.

The pandemic hit women the hardest, greatly affecting family incomes, as many women workers were dismissed from their jobs and/or forced to resign to dedicate themselves almost exclusively to their children, as most day care centers and public schools stopped their activities.

Women workers need to unite and demand from their governments new policies that will restore their jobs and establish full-time teaching institutions and day care centers to help them take care of their children as they continue to dedicate themselves to their respective working careers.  

*#WomenSpeak is a monthly article on gender issues and concerns authored by BWI’s different affiliate women workers. It seeks to provide women workers more spaces and platforms to express their thoughts and concerns on a variety of issues that are important to them as workers and most especially, as women.