Gender and unionisation
Garment workers are predominantly women (in Asian countries an average of 70-80% of workers is female), often in low-paying positions with little power. However, they are under-represented in social dialogue structures. Ensuring the right to FoA and CB is vital in order to allow workers’ voices to be heard and support their bargaining power. Women often have lower rates of unionization and union leadership tends to be male; therefore, women’s rights issues may not be well represented or considered to be important priorities.
- Women are commonly in atypical forms of work, such as temporary or part-time work, or home-based work. Workers in such precarious positions tend to unionize less.
- In addition to working at their jobs, women often do the majority of unpaid care work (at home), including housework, childcare, and elder care. Therefore, they have less time than men to dedicate to trade union activities.
- Religious and cultural norms and constraints around women in leadership and decision-making roles are prevalent.
- Trade unions have historically been male-dominated, which has often created an unwelcoming environment for women to break in to.
- Women may face restrictions on their movement or access to spaces where negotiations may occur due to gender-based security problems.
- Female trade unionists may face a higher risk of sexual violence or harassment.
Fair Wear has developed Gender fact sheets for 11 garment producing countries, which present overviews of relevant gender issues per country.
Including women in unions and allowing their voices to be heard when developing union policies and strategies and CBAs can have a significant impact on women garment workers. Women (might) have different needs, and in a male dominated industry, it is important for them to be able to work in a safe and secure environment and get the same opportunities and remuneration as men. Unions with adequate female representation will think more about childcare facilities, clean toilets, hygienic conditions, maternity benefits, anti-violence, and grievance and remediation mechanisms into your suppliers’ company’s labour strategies and collective bargaining agreements.
More detailed information on gender and social dialogue can be found at:
- Social Dialogue handbook. Step-by-Step Guidance. Amfori, 2020
- Gender Equality and Social Auditing Guidance. BSR, 2018
- Gender-responsive Human Rights Due Diligence tool. Plan International, 2020
- The Contribution of Social Dialogue to Gender Equality. The Global Deal
When making field visits to do company audits, be sure to raise specific questions about female representation at management, supervisory, and work floor levels. For more information, see BSR and Amfori.