#WomenSpeak: Trailblazing for women empowerment

I am Georgina Smedley. I am a trade unionist. I’m the first of five siblings. I am currently engaged, and a mother of two daughters and one adopted son. My hobbies are reading, writing and cooking. Despite the seriousness of my trade union work, I’m very down to earth. I’m always willing to help the vulnerable and needy, and I have empathy towards everybody that comes my way. 

I’m a human resource manager by profession. I’ve been working in Ghana’s wood and forestry industry for the last 14 years. It is in my work that I was introduced to trade unionism; rising from the leadership ranks of the Timber and Woodworkers Union of Ghana (TWU). I am currently the national chair of the TWU. 

I became a trade union member when I was employed at the Logs & Lumber Limited in 1996. I found the union to be very powerful in providing services to its members and amplifying workers’ voices. I saw the trade union as a safe space and platform which could enable me to fulfill my desire to help the vulnerable, and build my knowledge in the world of work.

The journey to my current position began when I became an active member of local union in 2000. Through hard work, I rose from the ranks of the TWU amidst its male-dominated organisational structure and culture. My journey is challenging, but I believe that I am helping blaze a trail for other women trade unionists to follow. This for me is an important victory. 

The biggest challenge I face as a woman worker and trade unionist is the wrong perception of many about women. This reflects fundamentally on my work. As an HR manager, I’m not allowed to recommend or advise my Directors when they make wrong decisions that have legal implications. As a result, the company is sometimes dragged to the law court for “unfair labour treatment”.

Another example is when an instruction is given for the dismissal of employees innocent of the charges that they have been charged with. I will do due diligence on the procedures, but no matter the recommendations and findings of my investigations, the management will go ahead  and dismiss the innocent workers.  

This is, however, somehow  common in the world of work, especially with employers who do not have the prosperity and growth of their workers at heart.

To respond to these issues, we need to push for more dialogues with the management for a better understanding of the working relationship shared between the company and the union, and how it will be strategically beneficial for companies to respect workers’ rights.

We also need to push for an equal and better future for all workers, especially women. We need to fight for a future that can recognises women’s rights, equal pay, equal sharing of domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and violence against women and the girl child. We must win a future that has equal economic and political participation of women and in decision making in all areas of life, healthcare services that response to the needs of women. 

Trade unions can do this by consistently advocating for women empowerment, as well as for the ratification of conventions and laws that supports the rights of women. 

As we are still in the middle of a pandemic,  we must also set dialogues to push for policies and emergency measures that will have gender lens and account for “women’s unique needs, responsibilities and perspectives” such as, reinforcing and extending income support measures, expanding support for small businesses and the self-employed, and improving measure to help women victims of violence.

#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.