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5. Trailblazing the Rough Road to Gender Equality

Almost all of the women committees started out as special committees. As a result of internal advocacy, majority were able to transform the Women Committee into standing committee.

"Our union started to form the women committee to abide by the national structure of the federation where we are affiliated with. Even if it’s part of the federation policy, the organizing stage was made harder by the men. I really can’t understand why. All I can think of is that they feel insecure with the women committee. That time, only the women committee among the several committees that we have was functioning. The resistance to the Women Committee was lessened when they noticed that the women were not only active in the "women’s affairs" but also in the general direction of the union. I say lessened because there are issues which we still have to fight for within the union when it comes to women concerns. We still have to have a good argument when suggesting for gender-specific provisions in the CBA proposal."

"My involvement with the struggle for women concerns started when I first attended a seminar given by LEARN. Since there were a few of us from the public sector union, we started to form the Women Committee at the federation level. Initially considered as a Special Committee we worked for the amendment of the Constitution which will provide for the recognition of the Women Committee as one of the standing committees. What we did was, before the meeting, we talked with other women union presidents and explained our purpose and asked them to join us. When we have consolidated the women officers, we talked to sympathetic male union presidents. But we didn’t stop there. During the meeting, we devised a seat plan where we didn’t allow the "machos" to sit side by side. We started to sit in between of the male leaders. When the discussion of the amendment to include the Women Committee in the Constitution came, nobody objected. But I can see from the body language of several men that they wanted to say something. But they didn’t verbalize what’s on their minds. In a sense, our strategy was successful."

"In one of the meetings of the our national executive board, I made a strong statement criticizing the male leaders attitude towards the program of women. Since I accepted the position of heading the women concerns, I didn’t feel the support of the leadership in the conduct of its activities. I was very frustrated. The union leadership remain negative to women concerns. Unlike all other standing committees, where officers show support through guidance and direction setting, the Women Committee is left to the women officers alone. Its target activities are not even followed-up if it will not be insisted by the women officers. Unlike other committees where officers like to monitor its services and accomplishments, the women committee if ever will be discussed will be in whispers.

"I was to represent the Women Committee of our federation in an international conference. Usually, travel abroad are discussed months before the representative leaves for the activity. My travel was never put into the agenda. I left without anything from the federation: piece of advice, or even pocket money."

Women’s empowerment is the main goal of gender programs and the subsequent organization of women’s committee in Philippine trade unions. It aims to give women equal opportunities for representation and the space for active participation in the decision-making processes at all levels.

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It also means that the unions’ advocacy and policies should also include implementation of women and gender-specific laws which shall focus, but not to be limited to, laws against discrimination and for equal rights and opportunities. The integration of women’s agenda in the trade union objectives, programs and actions is a measure that women are respected and accepted in the trade unions. And it is expected that this shift will have a particular effect on the issues affecting women in the workplaces. This is the basic operating principle of the women’s struggle: gender-oriented cultural and structural change within the union is equal to women protection in workplaces.

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Laying the Foundations

The effort to empower women in the Philippine trade union context came out of different circumstances and motivation. It included the push from the women as influenced by the women’s movement; the implementation of the international trade union policies; or as a result of consciousness raising courses on gender issues being provided by the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government offices and international bodies such as the ILO. There was indeed a strong pressure from within and outside for the trade unions to address women concerns and to create Women Committees.

The TUCP committee traces its history to the founding of the labor center in 1975 wherein a Women’s Department was immediately established. But a more programmatic approach came in 1989 when an Adhoc committee was formed. It was eventually formalized in a constitutional amendment the following year.

The other surveyed unions have a young history in women organizing. Though the FFW Women’s Network (FWN) looks back at the 1960s as the beginning of women activism in their trade union, the formal network was only created in 1994. This also led to the creation of an FFW Women’s Department which takes care of the program implementation.

APL, being the newest labor center, was actually preceded by some women committees of its affiliates. Thus its basic papers for the founding congress contained clear-cut feminist perspectives, commitment to gender programs as well as the recognition of the disadvantaged situation of women both in the formal and informal sectors as well as in unpaid work. APL even sees women as one of the motive forces in its struggle. While APL is still contemplating the path its Women Committee should take, several women committees of their affiliates were instrumental in the establishment a solidarity network called Manggagawang Kababaihang Mithi ay Paglaya (roughly translated, it means, women workers aiming for freedom) or MAKALAYA.

In the public sector, CIU started organizing women in 1993 through its gender awareness seminars. It association with LEARN also provided some orientation on the women’s struggle. The national structure of the women committee was formalized in April 1996 after the establishments of its regional chapters. On the other hand, PSLINK institutionalized the committee calling it WIDE (Women for Integration, Development, and Equality) in the 1995 convention. The formation was a result of previous gender-oriented programs of the federation.

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Finding the Space for Women

The formation of the committees as well as the assertion of women leaders ushered a new era in the organizational life of the unions. Representation of women’s concerns became formal at the leadership level and at the decision-making bodies and processes. CIU has the head of the committee as the federation Vice Chairperson while PSLINK has a woman Secretary General. The 4 principal officers of WIDE automatically seats at the national council of PSLINK. In the National Federation of Labor, the women ran as a bloc and got 1 executive position as well as 2 seats in the National Executive Board.

For the labor centers, APL has a woman director seat in the Executive Council while the Chair-

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person of DAWN has an automatic seat in the TUCP Executive Committee. On the other hand, the National Coordinator of FWN sits as honorary member of governing board of the federation. This means that she does not have the right to vote pending constitutional amendments.

Gains in the percentage strategy were also notable. FWN was instrumental in the passage of 20% budget allocation for women’s program. DAWN, working within the ICFTU framework, has ensured 35% women participation in all TUCP activities and 50% representation of women in international activities. APL unions, however, use the 20% benchmark for women’s participation in regular trade union programs.

PSLINK achieved 30% women participation in seminars; 46% women membership in the National Council and 80% women presence in the pool of trainers. CIU has the a female Vice-Chairperson and about 15 women union presidents. Public sector workers have more institutional program to work on. The General Appropriations Law provides for the use of 5% of the total office budget for gender and development. This has boosted the gender-oriented initiative of the unions.

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The Battle for the Hearts and Minds

Education and training, including publications, constitute as the core instrument of women committees. The widely-used positive discrimination program is the implementation of women-exclusive seminars, training and conferences that focus on deeper analysis of gender issues and on responding to specific skills needed for women’s personal and organizational development. To complement the consciousness raising courses provided for women, gender sensitivity seminars for men are also conducted. Other unions even conduct gender sensitivity training with both men and women as participants.

In another research done by LEARN to establish the effects of gender program in the beneficiaries’ unions, the findings reveal that the strength of women after attending the gender programs is in the area of union advocacy and education. In determining women’s assumption of leadership roles and active involvement in the union, particularly in the committees on women, union officers, mostly the local union presidents were interviewed.

The union officers stated that about 10% to 47% of the women who attended the gender seminar became officers of the union and took an active role in the committee on women. Specifically, some of the women participants became the officers (President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Auditor), directors, shop steward, council member, or committee head (like the Women Committee). Below are some of the concrete achievements documented.

Downstream Impact and Results of the LEARN Gender Program

  1. Membership in other committees (e.g. Education, Welfare)

  2. Discussion with their spouse on issues concerning the home

  3. Recruitment of other women to join the union

  4. Campaigned to win demands (i.e., support stocking, sexual harassment) for women’s welfare

  5. Organized the Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee

  6. Suggested policies on protection of women, particularly on sexual harassment

  7. Attended general assemblies and expressed their views on matters under discussions

  8. Joined mobilization/mass action outside the company

Based on the results of the study, it can be gleaned that there is a positive sign that some of the objectives of the gender seminars were achieved. Specifically, women were able to take active roles and concrete courses of action for themselves and others to promote and advocate women issues in the workplace. This is also an indication that women beneficiaries are starting to appreciate the value of political power.

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However, organizational hurdles still affect the full implementation of women-oriented activities. Budget for women concerns is usually integrated in other programs, like, education program. It’s more an exception rather than a general rule if Women Committee is given a budget in a local union. At the federation and labor center levels, budget allocation for women concerns varies depending on the negotiating strength of the Women Committee.

Availability is one of the primary factors that hinders women participation in various education activities. There are many women workers who want to attend seminars but the time and schedules always run in conflict with their family responsibilities. National Union of Workers in Hotels, Restaurants and Allied Industries (NUHWRAIN) finds it acceptable to schedule seminars during summer when the school children are on vacation.

The federation Kapatiran ng Makabayang Obrero (KAMAO) is actively pursuing the study circle method of education because it can gather more women participants on staggered study sessions consuming only two hours per study session. The APL affiliate from the urban poor community usually conducts "live-out" seminars which are held in the communities for women to be near their homes.

To integrate unionists’ families into the trade union community, LEARN even introduced the Family Day activity. This annual event is also conducted to attract women participation in the trade unions and to address women concerns. This is also an effort to somehow solve or reduce the problem of double-multiple burden of the women trade unionists.

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Advocacy Work and Networking: Towards One Voice

Women’s advocacy within the unions includes programs and strategies on how to integrate women agenda into the trade union policies. The quota and percentage allocation are the primary advocacy themes that saw relative successes. Seats and representation in all levels of decision-making bodies, like providing a seat for women in the National Executive Board or Governing Body were also achieved in many cases. Integration of women issues in trade union’s legislative agenda was also realized. However, prioritization of women items like sexual harassment or gender-specific provisions in the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) are still limited.

On the other hand, women issues cannot be confined at the workplace alone. Women as a distinct group in a society experience and suffer discrimination and exploitation whether they are at home, schools, workplaces and in the society as a whole. The struggle for gender equality, therefore, is being waged by women across sectors.

Approaches include contact building with government bodies, international organizations such as ITSs and world confederations and with the NGO community in advocating for women concerns. Changes in the legislation and in the policies of the government are important areas of advocacy and networking. Thus, issue-based alliances were formed to influence policy and law making in the country.

The passage of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law was made possible by mobilizing women in various sectors. A broad network that included women’s committees called SIBOL (Sama-samang Inisyatiba para sa Pagbabago ng Batas at Lipunan-Joint Initiative to Change Law and Society) is now at the forefront pushing for the redefinition of rape in the new Anti-Rape Bill. Women’s health issues are general concerns of women as well as economics and development policies of the government. The women’s movement attacks problems of women at all levels: health, sexuality, governance, legislative advocacy, violence against women.

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Exploring a New Model for Women Solidarity

Though the main organizational form for women workers is the committees within each particular labor center or federation, a new model for solidarity has emerged. It was born out of the

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need to organize unity beyond the labor center and federation structures. It is also existing to operationalize the working people-social movement unionism concept (as opposed to the traditional view that unionism is only for the wage earners and unions exist only for representation and collective bargaining).

The Manggagawang Kababaihang Mithi ay Paglaya or MAKALAYA has defined itself as an organization of women workers from the formal and informal labor that organizes, educates, mobilizes and advocates for gender equality and social justice, to develop their potentials as leaders towards freedom and women’s empowerment in the society (labor organizations, workplace, family, social and political institutions).

As a women workers solidarity network, it is a permanent and self-reliant organization with specific women workers’ agenda which acts as a pressure group within and outside the labor movement and provides direction and support system as well as establishes sisterhood among women workers. It was founded to respond to the felt need of the women that the struggle for women empowerment in the trade unions cannot be confined within the existing trade union structures.

While working within the trade unions, this is a parallel women-only organization independent of the union structure, which will support and enhance the agenda for women empowerment. Its formation also mean that women recognize the difficulties of mainstreaming gender issues within the trade union structure. It is now composed of women from 2 labor centers, 4 private sector federations, 1 public sector federation, 2 urban poor organization and 3 labor NGOs.

Founded in 1993 by women who have undergone gender awareness courses given by LEARN, MAKALAYA aims for the integration of primary concerns of women in the unions’ programs and activities. Primary concerns for MAKALAYA mean: 1) institutionalized gender education program; 2) women are represented in all levels of the union structure; 3) existence of Women Committee; 4) gender-specific provisions are included in CBAs; 5) gender-specific laws and legislation are union issues and concerns; 6) women concerns are integrated in the policy documents of the union. It also clearly aims for the development of women whose leadership roles are not born out of percentage concerns but by her skills and competencies.

The programs and activities of MAKALAYA are anchored on the analysis that limited participation of women in the trade unions makes it doubly difficult to push for women’s issues as trade union issues. It is therefore very necessary to apply non-traditional strategies that will focus on women’s needs and concerns personally and organizationally with the end in view of mainstreaming gender into the trade union agenda and eventually into the terms and conditions of employment.

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Impact of Gender Programs at the Workplace

All efforts done at the union level are directed towards the aim of adequately reflecting women’s interests in negotiations with the employers. If women issues will not be owned by the union as its issue, then women will remain as a disadvantaged group in the workplace. The effects, therefore, of mainstreaming women issues in the workplace can be evaluated on the level of gender sensitivity of the existing company rules and regulations and of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. In the same research conducted by LEARN union officers were interviewed to find out the strategies adopted by the unions in addressing gender issues in their workplaces. The common strategies that were adopted are as follows:

  1. Proposed the increase of benefits on paternity leave, maternity leave, and the inclusion of menstrual leave in the CBA.

  2. Through the grievance machinery, women were actually given support stockings, additional comfort rooms and dressing rooms.

  3. Through seminars/discussion/meetings, increased the awareness of union members on

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    women issues such as on sexual harassment.

  4. During Labor-Management Council (LMC) meetings and CBA negotiations sessions, women are the ones expressing their demands on women concerns.

  5. Conducted meetings and discussions among officers and women members to support the officers before they talk to management to demand for women’s needs.

  6. Created the Committee on Women and through this pushed for benefits for women using the industry trend to get such demands.

  7. Studied documents and laws related to women issues to prepare for the negotiations.

From these different strategies adopted by the union to address gender problems in the workplace, the union presidents related the following outcomes of such strategies:

  1. Became more courageous to address gender issues in the company.

  2. Increased awareness of the union members on sexual harassment.

  3. Realized the importance of women and the conditions related to discrimination against women.

  4. Gave union members seminars and assignments on gender issues.

  5. Included in the CBA a provision for full salary plus service charge during maternity leave, instead of Social Security System benefits only (hotel workers).

  6. Included in the CBA provision on menstrual leave due to dysmenorrhea.

  7. Adopted an Anti-Sexual Harassment policy in the company.

  8. Included in the CBA provisions such as women should not work after 12 midnight, giving of support stockings, light work assignments or non-strenuous job during pregnancy, and paternity leave.

  9. Formed the Women Committee.

  10. Got additional comfort rooms and dressing rooms for women.

In the public sector, unions affiliated with CIU are maximizing the use of gender funds of their respective offices. The General Appropriations Act (GAA) Section 28 mandates all government offices to allot 5% of their total budget to Gender Program. The beneficiaries of the programs are not only rank and file workers but also include the managers.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Oktober 2001

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