Published: 04/03/2002

Women make up at least 40 percent of the global IUF membership but their number could be much higher, according to the results of a membership survey carried out by the secretariat. The survey results are not unique to the IUF sectors. Among the main reasons women give for not joining a union three stand out:

  • Lack of understanding of how unions can help them
  • Fear of employer reprisals
  • Conflicting family responsibilities.

Organizing women workers and strengthening women’s representation and leadership in member unions and in society generally has long been a priority for the IUF. The survey results – and the persistence and even widening of gender pay gaps – show how much remains to be done for unions to realize their full potential as vehicles for equality between men and women.

In May 2000, the IUF Executive Committee adopted recommendations of the IUF Women’s Committee designed to give greater industrial focus to women workers’ activities. Priorities include:

  • Tackling low pay and reducing the gender pay gap
  • Developing organizing, training, representation and bargaining strategies to respond to the changing work force and the need of women workers
  • Promoting health and safety for women working along the food chain
  • Enabling work life balance through family-friendly working arrangements and equality of rights in social security, among others
  • Eliminating violence against women and violations of women’s basic rights at the workplace and in society.

Organizing women workers will form an important part of the agenda at the IUF’s 24th Congress, to be held May 14-16 in Geneva. The IUF Women’s Conference will take place May 11-12.

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The ICFTU Women’s Committee has now a 3-year organizing campaign targeting women workers under the slogan “Unions for Women, Women for Unions”. Its main objective is to significantly increase women’s membership rates and to break down the barriers to women becoming union members, activists and leaders.

Under this slogan there will be a theme for each year of the campaign. The 2002 theme is: “Women’s Right to Decent Work” which includes issues such as equal pay for work of equal value, job security, respect for and valuing of all types of women’s work (temporary, casual, part-time, home-based, etc); recognition of and legal and social protection for vulnerable groups (migrants, ethnic minorities, informal sector), equal opportunities and treatment at work, health and safety, etc.

The launching of the campaign will coincide with International Women’s Day through an ICFTU/ITS e-mail campaign forum and an action at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. A Campaign Kit will be released during April/May.

For more information contact the IUF, your national centre or the Equality and Youth Department of the ICFTU. Campaign details are also available on the ICFTU web site.

We encourage unions everywhere to take an active part in this global campaign for women workers.

More links

For more information on International Labour Standards of specific relevance to Women Workers, including

Maternity Protection (Convention no 183, recommendation no. 191)
Equal Remuneration (Convention no. 100, recommendation no. 90)
Discrimination – Employment and Occupation (Convention and Recommendation no 111)
Human Resources Development (Convention no. 142, Recommendation no. 150, VIII. Promotion of Equality of Opportunity of Women and Men in Tranining and Employment)
Workers with Family Responsibilities(Convention no 156, recommendation no 165)

or about initiatives, strategies and programmes to promote equal opportunities in various countries

visit the web sites of the ILO Gender Promotion Programme and the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV).