As lockdown measures are slowly being lifted in some parts of the world , the question arises as to how to construct such a new normal. Nine female trade union leaders shared their ideas and beliefs about a post-Covid, more egalitarian world.
All speakers agreed that gender equality has to take a concrete form: inclusion is not enough, women need to hold effective decision-making power, including in risk assessment and COVID response teams. As UK Unite trade union secretary Gail Cartmail phrased it, women must “seize control over the bargaining agenda and organizational culture,” pointing in particular at trade union structures which are not immune to practices that discount female voices.
In traditionally male-dominated sectors – politics, construction– women have to train and empower themselves to come forward. As the president of the Portuguese Syndicate of Journalists Sofia Branco said, Covid-19 may have had harsher effects on women, but it was always men who publicly talked about it. "It is up to women to step forward and speak for themselves", she said. She pointed at the lack of female presence as a news subject and emphasised the absence of women as experts during COVID-19 news reports. As the Global Media Monitoring Project shows, women make only 24% of those who are heard, read and watched in the news and only 4% of stories challenge gender stereotypes. "Media reflect society and if society is conservative, media is conservative" she said, encouraging women workers to speak to the media to change the narrative.
As for those sectors in which women are majorities – such as education or health care - dominated by highly-skilled women and yet undervalued in comparison to traditionally male professions, as well as the overwhelmingly female informal sector, women need to demand more respect and opportunities for development.
An effective approach to a post-Covid gender equal normality also needs to take into account that oppression is stratified, as underlined by Adriana Paz-Ramirez from the Latin American Domestic Workers Federation, pointing at black, indigenous, migrant, and poor women as the most vulnerable.
Panelists insisted that women need to be concretely involved in decision-making, and this demands a strategy. But, as Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council April Sims warned: “The fight for equality is not a women-only issue – we also need men; our issues must be men’s priority and unions’ priority,” said Secretary of Kenyan Metal Workers Union Rose Omamo.
“We are here to make sure that our demands are taken seriously at this critical moment to change the world. We want a real response to inequality, one that is met with the same urgency as the response to COVID-19,” concluded moderator Madeleine Kennedy Macfoy from Education International. The recent adoption of the Convention 190 by Uruguay opens up a path of hope.
Panelists listed a series of initiatives to overcome the gender gap:
- Mainstreaming equality in collective bargaining and bargaining teams
- Include women in all working teams, including agreements' monitoring, meetings with industry bodies and governments
- Challenge public services when they do not carry out their equality mission
- Adopt parity in unions' boards
- Involve young women by addressing their specific needs
- Include gender equality in all surveys
- Develop mentoring
- Elect company-based gender co-ordinators
- Elect leadership that allow women to identify with their union
- Build union structures that allow for a combination of motherhood and union responsibilities
- Train women on media training to increase their visibility in the news
- Encourage them to join women databases for journalists to use in their stories
- Women journalists should reflect on their own practices when choosing their interviewee