Former trade unionist, Connie Pandeni says women should be allowed to infiltrate the top leadership structures of unions because they possess a more unifying character compared to their male counterparts.
Pandeni, who in the past led the NUNW, said during her time as a trade unionist, women in trade unions were mostly involved in administrative work at trade union offices.
“Having personally also started off as an office administrator, firstly for the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (MANWU) before the independence of Namibia and after the liberation struggle and independence of Namibia, I rejoined the union and this time still as an office administrator, accounting officer and cleaner at the same time for the Mineworkers Union of Namibia(MUN).
However, being the person that I am, I had a vision to work myself up within the union to a leadership position. Being the only female official at the MUN Head Office as generally this union was male-dominated because historically the mining sector mostly had male employees,” she said while narrating her journey from being an office administrator to spearheading NUNW.
She said was a tough journey, especially when it came to convincing male counterparts in the mining and energy sector to recognize female members as their equals.
“However, with time we overcame that struggle as you can see now a lot of women presidents, secretary generals in the unions,” she said proudly.
According to Pandeni, the involvement of women in trade unions important is key because “women by nature are soft-hearted human beings and due to that can be listened to easily.”
“They naturally have that unifying character and I believe we can also be stubborn as leaders with influence in society in general. I believe more women needs to be afforded a chance to infiltrate the TU’s especially in leadership positions to serve the interest of members,” she asserted. On challenges, Pandeni says the biggest challenge women face within trade unions is the inferiority complex.
Societal responsibilities, such as household responsibilities, and lack of support from some male colleagues is also another challenge that she pointed out, coupled with a lack of exposure to trade unionism especially for young women workers as well as illiteracy. This, she says, results in a lack of ability amongst women to express themselves. She also indicated that the fear of the unknown by the male counterpart of affording women equal opportunity is evident. Pandeni also bemoaned the fact that “women do not support each other.”
“Women’s lack of support for each other especially when it comes to elections to leadership positions is a challenge as most women tend to sell their votes to a male rather than female candidates during congresses where leadership is elected,” she said.
Trade unions losing vibrancy
Pandeni is worried over the culture of trade unionism in Namibia.
“I am sorry to say, but it[trade unionism] is really losing its original taste and vibrancy, trade unionists need to go back to the drawing boards and revisit their strategies of trade unionism in this technological advanced era. With a majority of young people joining the workforces with different needs and interests, it is important to devise strategies in order to capture, influence and attract these young workers to join,” she said.
While there are calls for deliberate policies to empower women in trade unions and to subsequently attain gender equality, Pandeni holds a different view.
“My philosophy on this, is that male and female needs to be treated equally without renegading the natural difference of a female and male as per God’s creation. However, when it comes to leadership, work of equal value, I believe equality must prevail,” Pandeni explained.
She says although men still dominate the trade union arena in Namibia, the onus rests on the current women leadership cadre to stand up and ensure that fellow upcoming female workers and members are impacted with the confidence and education that will enable them to challenge any leadership position in the Trade Union structures.
“And indeed, society at large especially the workforce on the ground/workplaces must encourage and afford women chances to participate in trade union activities,” she said.
While the membership within unions is said to be dwindling, Pandeni encouraged unions to keep up with modern trends to remain relevant. “As per my previous answer, leadership in the unions must go back to the drawing board, revisit, the aims and goals of creating trade unions verses the current workers’ needs, desires and indeed taking into account the evolving technological globe and devise strategies to keep up with new trends. The trade unionism of yesteryear is not that of today, they need to wake up to this reality before their demise,” she noted.
She also feels unions are not doing enough to evolve with the changes within the labour sector, adding that more needs to be done.
“More education especially to entice and attract the young workers, through mediums such as Facebook and the internet in order for young workers to get interested in the unions is needed– it requires concerted efforts, unity of purpose and joint awareness campaigns and recruitments of members,” she said.
She concluded: International Trade Unions confederations, regionally and internationally where unions are affiliated to also needs to chip in to assist especially upcoming leaders in the unions to find their feet in shaping the Trade Unions in the right direction.”