ITUC World Women’s Conference: Women Among Hardest Hit by the Crisis

As the first ITUC World Women’s Conference, held under the heading "Decent Work, Decent Life for Women: Trade Unions Taking the Lead for Economic and Social Justice & Equality" got underway on Monday 19 October in Brussels, the 450 delegates from 100 countries left no doubt as to the particular impact of the crisis on women.

Having come together to examine the repercussions of the global jobs crisis on women and to map out international trade union action to improve job security, pay and working conditions for women, the delegates highlighted the urgent need to place the gender dimension high on the agenda of the international community.

The crisis has affected men and women. The impact on women is, however, amplified by the inequalities they are already prey to. For the International Trade Union Confederation, there is no doubt that the economic and financial crisis is exacerbating inequalities. Many governments have allocated funds to saving financial institutions but are no longer able, or willing, to invest enough in public services or care work, two sectors where the workforce is largely female.

Issues linked to gender inequalities that the crisis is likely to aggravate must be tackled with urgency. The pay gap is one such issue. As the Conference recalled, the relevant instruments are already in place. The International Labour Organisation (ILO), for instance, has a number of tools to ensure better protection for women workers in areas such as pay, maternity protection or even forced labour.

For Sharan Burrow, president of the International Trade Union Confederation, "the financial crisis is a disaster for jobs in many sectors. Women, and particularly young women, are heading for a more than uncertain future if effective measures are not taken fast. Gender equality is unquestionably the key to a fair and equitable global economy. And achieving this is fully dependent on progress in the area of women’s rights, and protection at work in particular," she added.

Guy Ryder, general secretary of the ITUC, condemned the denial of a Honduran delegate’s right to attend the Conference, following the issue of a warrant for her arrest. Deisy Ibarra, deputy general secretary of the agricultural workers’ union and head of women’s affairs within the CGT, has been prevented from leaving the country after taking part in the peaceful occupation of the National Agrarian Institute (INA). She has also been accused of "sedition".

For more information, see the special page devoted to the World Women’s Conference on the ITUC website (including photos of the conference and interviews with the delegates)

- Also see the website of the "Decision for Life" project covering 14 developing and transition countries and eight occupational groups.

- Photos of the Conference