On International Women’s Day today (March 8), Unite is marking the day to celebrate women and their achievements – but just as importantly to highlight the many injustices women in the UK and across the world still face.
After all, decades on from the Equal Pay Act, the gender pay gap still persists. Women still take on a massively disproportionate share of family caring responsibilities, affecting their career progression, earnings and pensions. And both in the UK and across the world, women are subject to sexual and domestic violence, with those in conflict zones often raped and tortured.
That’s why Unite has a full programme of events across its regions this week to bring a range of issues – from sexual violence to equal pay to period dignity in the workplace – into sharp focus.
In Scotland, Learn with Unite is delivering a pilot welding course for women today (March 8) at West College Scotland Campus in Clydebank to give them a taster of what it would be like should they wish to pursue a pathway within the STEM industries. Interest has reached over 52,000 hits through social media.
“Feedback from the participants will give us an idea of how we can encourage more women to take up predominantly male-dominated roles,” explained Unite learning organiser Janet Dunbar. “We will also look to further develop opportunities within this sector and would encourage employers to assist with the programme.”
In Wales women are coming together for a summit celebrating women’s legal rights wins over the last 100 years, including talks from Unite regional secretary Peter Hughes and Jo Stevens MP, for Cardiff Central. There will also be workshops on mental health in the workplace and equal pay and the gender pay gap.
Unite women’s officer for Wales Joanne Galazka who organised the events said, “Today is all about celebrating what women before us have accomplished and also about inspiring today’s women to get more involved, maybe become a rep and ultimately to help shape the future for women.”
“Unite is proud to be developing women activists to ensure that our policies are shaped by women in order to win for women and to be securing more women in decision making,” she added.
“The summit will also look closely at Unite’s period dignity campaign as well as our menopause policy, which both will benefit all women in our movement.”
In the South West, Unite celebrated International Women’s Day early with a South West Women’s Leadership weekend in Torquay last weekend (March 1-3). Unite women reps and members received training to boost their confidence in campaigning for women’s concerns in and out of the workplace.
Among the speakers was Zimbabwean opposition MP Thabitha Khumalo who has been fighting for justice and equality for women for decades.
“I was impressed by the enthusiasm and energy of the women attending the SW Women’s Leadership weekend in Torquay,” said Unite regional women’s officer Karen Cole.
“We were overwhelmed by the powerful speech from Thabitha Khumalo, who inspired us with her bravery and the demand for women’s rights across the world, rallying us with the cry of ‘nothing about us without us’.
Today (March 8) Unite’s South East region is ramping up the union’s Period Dignity campaign in the area to highlight the issue of access to sanitary products, which affects women and girls in schools and workplaces everywhere.
Today especially, Unite South East is encouraging reps to push Unite’s Period Dignity charter, where committed employers sign up to offer free sanitary products in their women’s and disabled toilets. The region is also assisting the local Red Box project to collect pads and tampons to be donated to girls in local schools, many of whom will miss school because they cannot afford sanitary protection.
“Whilst we fully recognise the need for government to take on and tackle this issue, we can’t watch from the side-lines as neutral by-standers while this is going on,” Unite South East women and equalities officer Janet Henney said. “That’s why Unite South East region has been working closely with local community Red Box Projects – with local collections and donations direct to the projects. We will make a difference where government fails to act.”
Young women are an instrumental part of Unite – that’s why Unite in North West is using the day to celebrate their roles.
Thanks to the work of Unite’s North West young members committee chair Victoria Egerton and others, there has been a substantial increase in the number of active young women in the region.
Unite regional women’s officer Sarah Hutchinson said that for her, “working with these young women gives me great hope for the future of our union and we should celebrate International Women’s Day by encouraging more young women to get involved.”
London & Eastern
Unite’s London & Eastern region put the ‘international’ in International Women’s Day with an event on Wednesday (March 6) highlighting the lessons we must learn from the Bosnian War.
“Our region’s event featured Bakira Hasecic of the Women Victims of the War, an organisation fighting for justice for the tens of thousands of women and child rape victims during the Bosnian War,” explained Unite London & Eastern region vice chair Bronwen Handyside.
“This was a very timely meeting for the dangerous times we are living in,” she added. “The far right is gathering in strength and popularity as austerity damages the living standards of millions of working people across Europe.
“Now is the time to look back at the Bosnian War, to see the atrocities that reactionary nationalism carries out — the mass rape, torture, concentration camps and genocide – so we learn from that history and we don’t walk blindfolded yet again into the same scenes from hell written in history’s darkest pages.”
Unite’s Irish Executive Committee (IEC) has endorsed an all-Ireland #Time4Equality campaign in the run-up to International Women’s Day, which will be a broad initiative in conjunction with other unions to highlight the gender pay gap, sexual harassment, childcare and other issues women face in and out of the workplace.
To publicise the campaign, at 3.24pm in the Republic of Ireland and 2.48pm in Northern Ireland, members will mark the respective times at which women stopped getting paid compared to male colleagues, with mobilisations at Albert Dock in Belfast and O’Connell Street in Dublin.
Unite regional women’s officer Taryn Trainor, speaking from a regional women’s leadership conference today (March 8) said that the #Time4Equality campaign launch earlier this year and today’s events are ‘just the beginning’.
“We will be pushing the campaign in our RISCs and branches throughout the year so that women’s equality issues are put at the top of our agenda,” she said. “We will also be linking up with other organisations and initiatives to highlight issues such as abortion laws. Our message to Unite’s women members today is to speak up and demand a seat at the table. It is your right and you deserve to have your voices heard.”
Unite national officer for women Siobhan Endean hailed Unite’s participation in International Women Day’s today (March 8).
“Unite is empowering women in the workplace — women in Unite are making a big difference in the fight for equal pay, flexible working, and sexual harassment, while also taking a stand internationally to stop violence against women across the world,” she said. “On International Women’s Day we stand with the women of Zimbabwe, Bosnia and everywhere.”
These are just a handful of the many events Unite is hosting today. Stay tuned on UniteLive for a full day of exclusive International Women’s Day coverage.