TUC aid initiatives on empowerment of women

By Bandula Kothalawala (TUC, UK)

In line with the priorities set out by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the TUC is giving priority to empowerment of women and promotion of gender equality in its development interventions, notably, in Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Tunisia. The projects concerned have been funded out of TUC Aid’s own resources and are due to be completed in 2015-16.


The TUC is playing a leading role in the campaign to improve health and safety and trade union rights at work in Bangladesh, especially following the Rana Plaza Disaster in 2013.

The TUC campaign has helped pressure the majority of UK high street clothing retailers to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety which commits companies to have inspections in their factories and work with unions to develop worker committees on health and safety in factories.

The TUC has called on the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to support labour law reform to overcome the many barriers that persist to freedom of association. The discrimination and violence faced by female workers in garment factories, particularly those who are active in trade unions, is a particular problem.

The TUC programme, implemented in collaboration with the National Garment Workers’ Federation (NGWF), is designed to equip female union members with the necessary confidence and skills to take leadership positions in their union and participate effectively in occupational health and safety committees established by the Bangladesh Accord.


A TUC Aid-funded initiative aimed at recruiting 4,000 women union members and encouraging them to take up leadership positions is currently underway in partnership with the Confederation of Self-Employed Workers (CSEW) in Nicaragua.

The project is expected to boost women’s participation in union decision-making structures and make it possible for them to increase their representation to at least 50% in district and municipal committees. Work-related training will also be provided for self-employed women members while seven additional district committees and four additional municipal committees are to be set up under the project.

An enterprise fair will provide them with an opportunity to present their newly acquired skills and display their products. The education and training imparted through the project will equip women with the knowledge and skills to deal with challenges of self-employment, improve efficiency of their businesses and play a greater role in the affairs of their union while the training in organising will ensure adequate representation of women and protection and promotion of their rights and entitlements.


TUC Aid is supporting an initiative to address the under-representation of women within the leadership of trade unions in Tunisia. Women represent 38%-40% of the total membership of Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (Tunisian General Labour Union).

Although women hold some 25 percent of basic union positions, their representation diminishes considerably in the higher echelons. Women are not represented in the Executive Bureau – at the highest level. A grant from TUC Aid has made it possible for the UGTT to organise three training seminars for 50 women trade union members with a view to improving the representation of women.

The courses each lasing 2.5 days covered labour standards, social protection, employment rights, gender equality, economic and social empowerment of women and were held in March and April 2015.