The journey to female empowerment begins in the workplace


UN Women, the United Nations agency dedicated to gender equality, is meeting in New York this week for the 58th Commission on the Status of Women.

Over two weeks, UN member states will discuss, amongst other themes, “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls” with the aim of adopting (forward looking) agreed conclusions, as the international community discusses the framework for the post-2015 development agenda.

An 80-strong delegation of female trade unionists from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Education International (EI), Public Services International (PSI) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) will lobby government delegates to highlight the critical importance of women’s access to decent work, quality education and quality public services, to any human-centred approach to development.

These themes shouldn’t still be pressing issues in 2014 but they are.

Around the globe, women are still overrepresented in the informal economy, precarious work, and in low-paid jobs in sectors such as agriculture, homework, care work, and domestic work.

On the other hand, the number of women in employment has risen significantly. But, the numbers at a global level hide major discrepancies at a national and regional level.

In Egypt, for example, if the number of female workers were raised to the same level as that of men, the country’s GDP could grow by 34 per cent. In the United Arab Emirates, GDP would expand by 12 per cent.

And the bad news doesn’t always come from the usual suspects. Between 40 and 50 per cent of women in the European Union experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work.

The trade unions will also call on UN Women to adopt agreed conclusions in support of human rights, especially women rights, to break the poverty circle.

Women demand the right to free quality education, the right to housing, food security, quality public health care, social services, protection from physical and sexual harassment and income security: for themselves and for the benefit of all.

The journey has long begun for women’s empowerment but it has a lot to achieve still. As a poem by Marwa Sharafeldin reminds us, “I’m used to tying your free trade with my free labour. Your market economy with my care economics. Your fiscal policy with the welfare of my tenderness...But don’t get too comfortable...‘Cause in front of me lies, a terrifying bunch, of revolutionary women.”