On the occasion, SUBWOC members pledged to use their influence and power to build the capacity and ability of women to function effectively in their unions and in society, and reaffirmed the central role of gender justice and women’s rights in transforming the lives of women, families and communities.
Over the years, women in Caribbean society have continued to advance. The provision of quality public services and the work of public services unions in the Caribbean have raised the standards of living of women and their families. Public services have provided women with the opportunity to care for themselves and their families.
Providing quality public services that ensure education, health services, care to children, the elderly and persons with disabilities, transportation, modern communications, free at point of delivery and accessible to all, is what is at the centre of development of Caribbean peoples and their countries: putting people over profit.
Public services unions have made important contributions to these developments, through social dialogue and collective bargaining. There have been many advances, but so much more needs to be done. In a 2016 synthesis report on gender assessments throughout the Caribbean, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) revealed, “the Caribbean region continues to battle with persistent gender inequalities”. As one Caribbean sister put it, “seems like we making two steps forward, one step back. Every time we think we’re getting somewhere, making some advances, we get a lot of push-back.”
Trade union women in leadership and decision-making
There has always been a tradition of women in leadership in public services unions in the Caribbean. Some have been in the forefront, others working quietly – and not so quietly – in the background. These women activists are now more visible and are receiving the recognition that they truly deserve. SUBWOC members applauded the increased numbers of women who are stepping up to take on leadership roles in their unions, whether it be as shop stewards, members on national or general councils or executive members.
A sex-disaggregated analysis of presidents and general secretaries shows that in 2013, among the 23 affiliates, there were 11 female general secretaries, and 8 female presidents. In 2018, among 24 affiliates, there are 13 female general secretaries and 8 female presidents. In 2013, there were 12 male general secretaries and 15 male presidents, compared with 11 male general secretaries and 16 male presidents in 2018. Affiliates also reported increasing numbers of women on general councils and national councils. In some cases, women on executive bodies truly reflect the composition of women in public services unions: at least 60%.
The SUBWOC recognised and congratulated those attending their first SUBWOC (representatives from five affiliates) and wholeheartedly extended their support and pledged solidarity. There was a special welcome for the nine young women activists who participated, with clear signs that they will be mentored by some seasoned activists.
Discussions focused on how women’s committees and networks at the national and sub-regional levels can respond to the congress mandates and the specific role for the PSI women’s committee:
“The PSI Women’s Committee will take responsibility for leading the process of gender mainstreaming in PSI.”
In addition, SUBWOC members took careful note of the important role that women’s committees and networks at the national and (sub)regional levels can and must play in monitoring the implementation of the SDGs, focusing on the central theme of gender equality.
The meeting commended those men in the trade union movement who are feminists and called on men in trade unions to do more to support and work for gender equality and gender equity.
Building alliances … working with allies
With examples of how they had built alliances with civil society organisations that share the quest for gender equality and gender equity, affiliates showed that it is possible to engage the public and increase their allies in society. Through hard work and high-quality interventions, it is possible to influence decision-makers.
Plans for 2018/19
SUBWOC also learnt more about, and discussed (a) Intersectionality analysis and its use in trade unions; and (b) Gender Responsive Public Services (GRPS). Members requested more information and training on these emerging issues.
The SUBWOC noted and endorsed activities for 2018/2019 that focus on pay equity, the health and social services sector, eliminating gender-based violence, persons with disabilities.
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