Friday 18 June 2021
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Empowering women in unions

…Why tenderness should not be mistaken for weakness


The empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of their political, social, economic and health status is a highly important end in itself.
It is a global phenomena that women still continue to be on the side lines when it comes to taking major decisions at the work place, while many are also still relegated to taking up lesser roles.
Countries should act to empower women and should take steps to eliminate inequalities between men and women as soon as possible by coming up with deliberate policies that are in line with the quest for gender equality in all spheres.
Beyond the constant stream of negative perceptions on how women are incapable of taking up big roles, there are many stories of hope and justification as to why women are ready to sit alongside men on the negotiating table.
Stories about women who tackle some of the country’s most pressing issues with innovative ideas to change the lives of thousands for the better abound. These stories are worth reading and spreading, not only to rebalance our outlook on women, but to help these existing solutions get replicated countrywide.
This week we focus on women in trade unions.
Women in trade unions can play a crucial role in telling the individual stories about the labour industry and women in general, that is why, The Patriot took a deliberate decision to shine the light on issues affecting women in trade unions in order to harness the power of feminism in the unions and to bring stories of change to the surface.
Every year, debates and talks around women empowerment are limited to the corporate and political arenas, but the women who actually work tirelessly to ensure that labourers work under humane conditions do not get the recognition they deserve.
A large community of well-known personalities and ordinary citizens have also joined the chorus in signing the gender equality song to everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society, nongovernmental organisations and everyday people – can take action for a better future for women at their respective workplaces.
When it comes to Namibian women in unions, names such as Connie Pandeni, Asnath Zamuee, Sarafina Kandere, Ingrid April, Hileni Iilonga, Dorothea Namba, late Merriam Kandali and Amalia Auchagas come to mind.
Traditionally, trade unions has been a male-dominated arena in which women are subjected to measly positions such as being secretaries, administrators and tea makers.
Like in politics, there is a need to establish mechanisms to accelerate women’s equal participation and equitable representation at all levels of the trade union process and public life to enable women to articulate their concerns and needs and ensure the full and equal participation of women in decision-making processes.
Governments and civil society should take actions to eliminate attitudes and practices that discriminate against and subordinate girls and women and that reinforce gender inequality at the workplace.
The workplace is one of the places where women continue to suffer the most.
Whether it is discrimination when it comes to promotions, pay gaps, sexual harassment and other related stereotypes, you cannot hide the fact that gender equality in the workplace remains a mirage.
In my view, there is no better way to fight for the rights of workers than having women spearheading unions.
NAPWU has a quota system whereby the position of president is reserved for a woman.
Recent studies have shown that a number of women have participated in union activities since the formative years of the unions.
At the launch of NUNW, only one union (NDAWU) had a female leader.
But although unions were historically male dominated, there has been improvement in recent years, this can be observed in women presiding over leadership positions in unions organising in male dominated sectors.
More could however be done given that about 80 percent of the leadership positions at NUNW and TUCNA are occupied by males.
A presentation by Immaculate Sechogele and Ntwala Mwilima titled Women in Trade Unions in Namibia suggests that women issues to be included in collective bargaining should include baby mother friendly corners; maternity leave and payment; breastfeeding provisions; female inclusion in collective bargaining; gender based violence and addressing sexual harassment.
According to the presentation, the fact there are more males than females in collective bargaining committee in the unions which has implications for advancing women issues in the workplace.
In the presentation, the duo also highlight the need for a quota system that should be implemented, coupled with a mentorship programme for women who aspire to progress into leadership positions in the unions.

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