Together, the trade union movement works globally with gender equality, here at a seminar in Benin. Photo: Lina Karlsson


Strong unions halt the crisis for gender equality

Around the world, more women than men have lost income and jobs during the covid-19 pandemic. That is why strong unions are especially important right now. Together, we can put an end to the serious, historic decline for women in working life, says Sofia Östmark, Chancellor at Union to Union.

As always, the crisis hits hardest on those who are already particularly vulnerable. New statistics from the international labor organization ILO shows that women to a greater extent than men have become unemployed during the ongoing global crisis.

One explanation is that precarious and insecure employment is most common among women, ie the type of job that has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic's economic consequences.

In addition, women usually work in low-income countries outside the formal labor market, which means that they have neither job security nor social benefits.

Women's autonomy is declining

According to the world union ITUC, the pandemic has been clarified several structural causes which puts an end to an equal labor market, not least the skewed distribution of household and care work. During this pandemic year, this often unpaid work has become an increasing burden for women.

It also means that women do not have as much time or opportunities to support themselves. Which in turn greatly affects the economic autonomy of women, which is so important for gender equality.

Menstrual protection a union issue

But there are ways to counteract this unfortunate development: studies from the ILO show that collective bargaining and a higher degree of trade union affiliation reduce the pay gap between women and men.

The collective agreements may include clauses on access to changing rooms for women in the construction industry, toilets in connection with plantations or slightly longer breaks for female crane operators when they menstruate - so that they have time to climb 120 meters to change menstrual protection if necessary. But also parental leave and equal pay.

Collective agreement - the right way

Collective bargaining is also a well-functioning way of deciding on alternative, more flexible working hours, which is especially important for those workers who are responsible for family and home.

Social dialogue, ie cooperation between the social partners, also plays an important role in the transition from the informal to the formal economy. And for social dialogue to work, democratic, representative and strong unions are needed.

Several recently published reports, including from the ILO and the government's Global Deal initiative, show the importance of trade union work in the informal economy.

Important Foreign Ministry investment

The reports cite several examples of how trade unions have reached out to workers in the informal sector, improved their working conditions and supported their transition to the formal economy.

Given the importance of trade unions for strengthening gender equality, the trade union initiative recently announced by Foreign Minister Ann Linde presented extremely important.

Negotiation effective tool

Within the trade union development co-operation, which Swedish trade unions run in co-operation with Union to Union and trade unions in low- and middle-income countries, it is obvious to work for increased gender equality.

In the Philippines, for example, the ACT teachers' union recently succeeded in negotiating higher salaries and better overtime pay, which is of great importance to women. In 2019, gender equality issues were also strengthened in collective agreements in more than 30 of the 80 countries in which Union to Union operates.

When the position of women declines in the labor market, significant, effective efforts are required to reverse the trend. Strong, independent and democratic trade unions are obvious key players with central roles in the defense of equal working life.

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