LET YOUR VOICE BE REPRESENTATIVE OF OUR VALUES
Being the text of goodwill message by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Joe Ajaero during the Africa and Arab Regional Women’s Conference, NAF Conference Centre, Abuja, July 11—13, 2023.
We are delighted to be part of this very important ceremony today not only because it is associated with one of our best organised and influential unions, NASU; not because it is about PSI, a foremost global trade union federation representing 30 million women and men working in public services worldwide. It is because it is about our women, God’s most beautiful creation on earth. It is because we are proud of their heroic struggle for actualisation of gender justice and equality, especially in Africa and Arab countries.
A History of Oppression
At any given time and place across the ages, women have faced challenges unique to them. Quite often, these challenges were neither ordained by God nor imposed by Him. These problems sometimes, were conspiratorial, devious and hatched by men to keep their indispensable social partners, women in perpetual subjugation.
Sometimes, we ask ourselves why? But even this simple but profound question fails to elicit the needed answer.
In the Western World, where gender issues have received more robust attention, we still battle with issues around women inequality and employment; occupational discrimination; ethnic minorities and workplace profiling; equal work and unequal pay including sports; working full-time after motherhood; work-life conflicts, careers and social class; the unpaid work, household division of labour; the new family formation outside the family we know, etc.
Unique to Africa and Arab Countries
In Africa and Arab countries, these challenges assume a more complex dimension due to a combination of highly evolving diverse cultural, social, economic, political experiences.
In these milieux, women’s rights are abridged or completely trampled underfoot and this is taken as normal. A few women with courage to raise a voice are profiled and labelled as social misfits. In some instances, “justice” to such women is harsh and swift in order to serve as a lesson to other upstarts before they infect the society to which we are accustomed.
The society is organised against women in five major ways: laws, religions, organisations, institutions and political power sharing. It is a complete siege without an escape route from the male predators and their female collaborators.
The other related issues and concerns in Africa and Arab Countries are well articulated in your concept note and include but not limited to gender-based discrimination and violence, harassment at work place, unequal pay for work of equal value, unequal access to education, professional and occupational training, poor representation and weak voice at work place.
Also not to be discountenanced are issues of limiting women to scant, vulnerable and precarious positions at work place. Closely linked to this, are effects of broader structural changes in the labour market and economy such as informalisation of work.
Changes Not Enough
We note that relative changes have been made in Africa and Arab Countries on gender issues through legislations, organisational and institutional behaviour including signing of Convention 190 by some member countries, a lot still needs to be done, especially in the private and informal work space which constitute about 80 per cent of the entire work space.
We also acknowledge that gender discrimination is deeply embedded in our politico-socio-economic structures with consequences not only for the women folk but the entire society as it signifies a race to the bottom.
We are inclined to believe that you are gathered here today and the next two days not to lament but to find ways of addressing these challenges, especially, the challenges of paid and unpaid carework, launch of advocacy guide to empower and reposition women to be advocates and not complainants of social re-engineering and re-organisation of care as well as setting up of priorities of work.
You are also expected to set up processes that could lead to the organisation of care workers, especially in addressing issues of safety and health, and health reforms to embrace the entire population spectrum.
Similarly, you are expected to come up with ideas that would make the fight against the gender-based violence more effective, beyond ratification by member-nations.
You are similarly invited to propose a radically transformative public service that is at once gender-sensitive, responsive and accessible to all but to women in particular.
We similarly invite you to brainstorm and propose ways and means of strengthening women’s voice and leadership roles in unions, trade union movement and in partisan political circles.
You have our support in these initiatives. Beyond giving support, we have worked at various levels to ensure a fair and equitable representation of women in all our structures. We have encouraged our affiliates to observe or achieve a minimum of 30 per cent representation of women in their structures including power sharing.
At the political level, we have repeatedly marched with women organistions to the National Assembly to demand for statutory women representation in the parliament. We have a gender policy that is well thought-out.
In a nutshell, we have a common vision and shared values with you on this matter. It is the reason we commend your foresight and courage for bringing together under one roof this large gathering. It is a noble cause from which we must not shy.
Find Your Voice
Finally, and without fear of contradiction, we urge you to find solutions that are not only creative and enduring but representative of our regional values.
Although colonialism has taken its toll on the African and Arab world, blighting our world views, it is no reason for us to continue to lose our voice in the global conversation.
Weakening the Unions
Finally, finally, we would use this opportunity to speak out against forces that seek to polarise or weaken the organised labour by needlessly splitting unions or pitting them against one another at a time Capital is consolidating its hold on Labour through mergers, acquisitions and overwhelming national governments.
We also find it necessary to speak to our more inordinately ambitious members who seek titles instead of service to put their ambitions in check …..for the sake of the movement and the workers!
A people united can never be defeated!
Thank you for your time.