Female trade unionists, ready to take over leadership positions

Singapore – Young women rarely hold leadership positions in trade unions, a reality akin to workers organizing across Asia and bound to change with a mentoring programme for female trade unionists recently completed.

Globally, women and youths are particularly vulnerable when it comes to working conditions and employment. Yet, both women and youths—not to mention young women—very rarely hold leadership positions in trade unions, creating a gender and generational imbalance.

To tackle the problem, the Equal Opportunities department of UNI Global, the global union federation for skills and services, launched a mentoring programme directly targeting young women in trade unions. It was initiated in Singapore in 2015, after a successful implementation in Europe and the Americas.

Ten tandems of women from seven different countries—the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—were formed and have met on a regular basis for two years now.

Each tandem is composed of an experienced mentor who guides a younger mentee in her development process. The aim with the tandem exchange was for mentees to gain knowledge and experience from their senior peers, acquiring the means to reach decision-making positions within their own trade unions.

Entering the final stage of the mentoring programme, tandems from across Asia and the Pacific reunited one last time from 3-4 October in Singapore, at a closing workshop organized by UNI Apro, the regional branch for Asia & Pacific of the global union federation UNI Global and with the support of the Singapore-based office of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. 

Over the two days, and on the occasion of the end of the programme, tandem members had the opportunity to reflect on the outcomes of the process, discussing its achievements and its future. They also shared their union experiences and presented projects they developed in their own unions during those two years. 

“We learned self-confidence and developed organisational skills” – participant, UNI Apro Mentoring Programme.

“This is how we develop capacity building: you have to first put in the foundation, to learn to be confident, to organize things, to love a union job […] then you need to put in more content, knowledge” said Margaret, a mentor from Malaysia. “I always tell my mentee, you have the basis already, the foundation, now you can start to raise with knowledge”.

This last workshop also gave the opportunity to witness the great efforts made by all participants in their own countries.

In Nepal, Dipa, a mentor starting to organise public speaking sessions for the mentees, said “they don’t have so much confidence, so we have speaking sessions of two days so that they can express their views anytime”.

In Sri Lanka, Thushanthika became a mentor to several mentees after being a mentee herself and the number of tandems significantly increased in the country. “I am very proud. The transformation was incredible,” said Veronica Fernandez Mendez, head of UNI Equal Opportunities. “It is not a miracle; it is just a day-by-day work”.

Since 2010 UNI Global increased the participation of women on the executive board from 17.3 per cent to 35 per cent in 2016.

Finally, the workshop provided a good opportunity to exchange good practices in the region and to offer new ideas to develop the programme in the future. The participants made useful suggestions to make the programme even more fruitful: to develop their knowledge of labour law, or to organize webinars with mentors and mentees from all around the world.

The participants were also  introduced to the on-going campaigns on women’s rights so that they can promote them in their own countries.

“When the programme started, one of the main purposes was to install the 40 per cent campaign,” said Veronica Fernandez Mendez. The campaign aims to have 40 per cent of women in decision-making positions within Uni Global and it is now ready to go further since the participation of women on the executive board increased from 17 per cent in 2010 to 35 per cent in 2016, almost reaching its objective.

As Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is involved with both trade union activities and political feminism, the programme was a good opportunity to ensure its support for UNI Global and UNI Apro in its objective to support the work by young women within their unions in the region.###

Romane Cauqui is an intern at the Singapore-based FES Office for Regional Coordination in Asia. For more information about the workshop and the cooperation with UNI Apro, contact <link about contact external-link>Veronica Nilsson, programme manager at the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia.

FES Asia

Bringing together the work of our offices in the region, we provide you with the latest news on current debates, insightful research and innovative visual outputs on the future of work, geopolitics, gender justice, and social-ecological transformation.