Uniting feminists and workers in the struggle for decent work

Bringing the women’s and workers’ movements together is a challenging task that one of the working groups as part of a regional project on feminism in Asia chose to face.

Workers’ movement and feminists learn from and support each other. Aliya Hashmi Khan, a labour economist and member of the Economic Advisory Council of the prime minister of Pakistan, is part of a working group developing a feminist curriculum on care work. Aliya Khan’s working group with additional members from the Philippines, China and India hopes to be able to contribute to the debate, bringing care work to the top of the workers’ and feminists’ agendas.

On April 7, members of the group will be part of an event in Dhaka (linkthat gives space for debate and exchange on women’s and workers’ issues such as care work and maternity rights. Ahead of the event, we spoke to Aliya Khan about the motivations and developments that inspired the feminist curriculum on care work.

Why did your group choose to focus on workers’ education as a platform to introduce feminist perspectives?

Aliya Khan: The group reflected on the fragmented nature of the relationship between the feminist and labour movements in Asian countries and also took into account the evidence emerging from the related FES country studies on Political Feminism (https://www.fes-asia.org/news/feminism-and-the-women-movement-in-pakistan/) These led us to decide to work on introducing feminist perspectives in workers’ education to bridge the gap between the two movements.

Why is it important to integrate feminist perspectives in the trade union movement? What obstacles have you observed to achieving this?

Aliya Khan: In order to face the challenges of globalization and the future of work, the trade union movement needs to reach out to the informal economy, where the majority of women in Asia work. Integration of feminist perspectives through workers’ education would strengthen the trade union movement by helping to build solidarity with the female workforce in Asia in the joint struggle for workers’ rights. The major obstacle in this process in my opinion is the under-representation of women in trade union hierarchy, which constrains the mainstreaming of issues and concerns that disproportionately affect the labour-market outcomes for female workers.       

How is care work relevant to feminist and workers’ organizing?

Aliya Khan: The care economy is growing as the demand for childcare and care for the elderly is increasing in all regions of the world. It is projected that paid care work will remain an important future source of employment globally and especially for women. However, care work across the world remains characterized by a void of benefits and protections, low wages or non-compensation, and exposure to physical, mental and, in some cases, sexual harm. There is a nexus between the burden on women from unpaid care work and their disadvantaged status with regards to paid employment, and this nexus has historically been a core issue for the feminist movement. But the organizational modalities of the paid-care workers, who form a large segment of informal-economy workers of both genders, are also gaining importance within the context of the transformation of trade unions. 

What drove you to be part of the project to develop a feminist curriculum for continued workers’ education?

Aliya Khan: As an academic who has spent a large part of her career teaching and researching labour economics with a specific focus on policy and legislative issues of female labour-force participation, I found the choice of contributing to develop a feminist curriculum for workers’ education to be a natural one. The regional feminism project Political Feminism in Asia project has broadened and deepened my understanding of the issues which impact the lives and livelihoods of women workers in Asia. This greatly helps me in contextualizing my policy research in the field of labour economics within a feminist perspective as well, so that I am able to reach out to a wider audience and engage more effectively with members of both feminist organizations and workers’ organizations in conjunction with policy makers. 

What do you expect to achieve with the proposed feminist curriculum for workers’ education?

Aliya Khan: It is expected that the introduction of a feminist perspective in workers’ education would greatly enhance the understanding of the prospective audience of this curriculum in the context of the widely established gender gaps in labour-market outcomes of male and female workers. It is also hoped that this may lead towards building a social consciousness amongst workers through the medium of workers’ education, specifically an awareness that the coming together of the feminist and the workers’ movements is necessary to achieve decent work for all workers in Asia.  

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For more information on the regional project Feminism in Asia contact Lea Goelnitz, Programme Manager at the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia.

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