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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

International Women's Day 2009 and After � Crisis and the Fight for Equality

Posted to the IUF website 08-Mar-2009

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The celebration of March 8 as a special day of labour struggle originated in the United States in 1857, when women garment and textile workers demonstrated for their rights on March 8, 1857 on the Lower East Side of New York City. On an international level it was launched in 1910 at the 2nd International Socialist Women's Conference in Copenhagen and first celebrated in 1911 by millions of workers in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

This year on International Women's Day, the deepening global economic crisis means even greater vulnerability for women everywhere and particularly in the IUF sectors, where women struggle with precarious jobs and working conditions and lack of social security.

Lack of employment security means that in many cases women do not dare to challenge violations of basic rights such as discrimination due to maternity or family responsibilities, sexual harassment, gender-related violence, health and safety risks and pay discrimination.

HIV/AIDS rermains a terrible threat to many of our women members. It reflects deep-rooted gender inequalities in society, depriving women of the right to decide over their own bodies and lives.

The unprecedented rise in food prices last year drastically worsened the situation for millions of already poor women agricultural and food workers and their families. While the major transnational grain and food companies made record profits, malnutrition and starvation increased among food producers.

The gender pay gap in most countries and sectors has become bigger. A recently published report from the ITUC,("Gender (in) equality in the labour market: an overview of global trends and developments"), shows that the average pay gap is now 22.4 per cent - up from around 20% only one year ago. It also shows that trade union membership has a positive influence on wage equality.

Mass unemployment, new opportunities?

According to the ILO, the economic crisis could result in a rise in global unemployment this year for 22 million women workers. Considering the many roles women play, it will have serious consequences for basic social stability.

But it could also be an opportunity to re-evaluate the economic role of women and to develop the necessary social infrastructure and public services which would allow women to take up more productive jobs.

The IUF played a key role in the 2008 ILO discussions on the promotion of rural employment for poverty reduction. These discussions led to a number of concrete proposals on improving rural infrastructures, services, social protection, health and safety, etc.

It is increasingly evident that the trade and investment regime enforced by the IMF, World Bank, WTO and other international financial and trade institutions has promoted and enforced increased poverty and inequality. Workers everywhere, but especially in the poorest countries in the South, have paid far too high a price with far too many lives as a result of these policies.

The crisis presents an opportunity for the labour movement, and particularly for women workers, to push for and put into practice policies based on equity and equality.

Women in the IUF sectors play a crucial role in feeding the world. Women workers in agriculture, food, hotels, restaurants and catering can make a change if together we stand up for our rights.

More than ever it is necessary for workers across the food chain to fight for the recognition and implementation of key international Conventions on women workers and equality including Convention 100 on equal remuneration, Convention 111 on non discrimination in employment, Convention 156 on workers with family responsibilities and Convention 183 on maternity protection.

But the most important fight is for the right for all workers to join and be represented by a trade union. Union membership is the best defense against discrimination: recruiting and organizing women in our sectors remains our highest priority.