Supporting women’s involvement in Nepalese trade unions

"For trade unions to be key players in this changing world of work, they need to understand and reflect the workforce they represent," argues Marta Ochoa in her interview with FES Nepal.

Globally, many trade unions tend to be largely male-dominated organisations. For women, it not only remains a challenge to rise through their ranks but often also makes them re-think their decisions to join a union in the first place. To change this, UNI Global Union’s Equal Opportunity and Youth Departments with the support of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) runs a global mentoring programme to prepare young women to take over leadership roles.

In November 2021, in cooperation with FES Nepal, UNI kicked off a new Mentoring Programme in Nepal. In preparation and with the support of the UNI Asia-Pacific Regional Office (Apro), 13 tandems of Mentors and Mentees were identified among UNI’s Nepali affiliates. During the workshop, the teams were introduced to the methodology of the programme and key topics like gender mainstreaming, the ILO Convention 190 and organizing women. The teams also developed action plans that they want to implement in their unions over the next two years of the programme.

On the sidelines of the opening workshop, FES Nepal had the opportunity to talk to Marta Ochoa, Director of UNI Youth and Senior Coordinator for Equal Opportunities at UNI Global Union, about the ideas behind the Mentoring Programme:


The UNI Mentoring program is often cited as an innovative and transformative approach to support more gender equality in trade unions: What’s in it for the unions? How and when did it get started?

The UNI Mentoring Programme has an innovative, cost efficient and simple approach that can be incorporated easily into any union’s training programme. Not only does it help build skills for union members, but it also provides them with support and constitutes an excellent way of strengthening ongoing union activities as the tandems engage more actively in union work. Furthermore, it has served as an inspiration for other women to join trade union activities and more women in trade unions means more equal, just, and stronger unions.

The UNI Mentoring Programme began in 2013 as a pilot project in Europe. The idea was born originally in our Germany-affiliated unions who proposed the approach and we, at UNI Equal Opportunities, began developing a model that could be tailored to each region, union and tandem accordingly. We wanted to build something that could be used by anyone, anywhere and that would achieve the objectives set out. For the past eight years, FES has been our biggest partner in this programme, and we are proud to say that more than 800 women in 51 countries are benefiting from this.


How does the mentoring work? What are the main principles and what makes mentoring a success?

The Mentoring begins with a tandem of a mentor and a mentee. The Mentor is usually a more experienced, senior woman in the union and the Mentee, a young woman under 35, who is new or less experienced in union work. The Mentorship partnership is about exchanging experiences, building relationships and strengthening each other. The tandem signs a Mentoring Agreement in which they agree on the way their partnership will work for the coming years and together they develop a workplan in which they set out the objectives they want to obtain from the programme.

As each programme is different and each tandem is unique, it is important to provide flexibility and support to each of the tandems to ensure their success. Some of the elements that make up for a successful Mentoring Programme include: clear definition of the roles of Mentors and Mentees; clear understanding of the work as a tandem; respect towards one another; exchanging of ideas and knowledge (we strongly believe that all members have a wealth of knowledge to share irrespective of their age or background); concrete definition of objectives; reporting on activities; and last but not least, a continuous follow up on their work with personalized feedback.


How is the programme going in Asia? Are there specific challenges or opportunities you have encountered?  

A few years ago, we had a similar programme in the region but we faced a series of obstacles that made it difficult to continue. Strong patriarchal societies and attitudes, mixed with gender stereotypes and a deeply embedded culture of respect to elders, that in some cases limits the possibilities of questioning attitudes and ways of working; are some of the obstacles we have envisioned.  Still, we believe that every challenge brings opportunity and for this region, these challenges will teach us new ways of working and will provide us with new insights on how we can use our gained know how to the service of our sisters across the region.

The Mentoring Programme is about building bridges and sharing experiences. By creating safe spaces for women so they can discuss and challenge those views, by allowing them to find their voices and empower themselves; by sharing best practices and different perspectives to the obstacles we face, we aim to create change.

Finally, we have a great opportunity in the support we currently have from the region. The team of UNI Apro, under the leadership of a true feminist, Regional Secretary Rajendra Acharya, will help us transform the way trade unions work in the region to be more gender equal and supportive of women and youth. With his support and that of our partners and colleagues, we can expect great things of this project.


Where do you see the unions you work with in general and in Asia in regard to gender equality? What still needs to be done?

The world around us is changing. The world of work is changing, even more so in the context of the pandemic. Equality, diversity and inclusion are no longer items on a wish list. More and more evidence shows that more inclusive, more equal workplaces make for better outcomes. Trade unions cannot be blind to these changes. They need to accept that without equality, inclusion and diversity, they will become stagnant and irrelevant.

For trade unions to transform, for trade unions to be key players in this changing world of work, they need to understand and reflect the workforce they represent. We all need to embrace this change, learn from it, grow with it and adapt to it. More women, more youth, more inclusion, more diversity are the way to do it.


Marta Maria Ochoa is the Director of Youth and Senior Global Coordinator for Equal Opportunities at https://www.uniglobalunion.org/, a global union federation that represents more than 20 million workers in trade unions in the services sector. Lawyer by trade with a Master’s degree in Journalism, she has worked for the last 7 years in helping increase diversity and equality in the trade union movement. 

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