Gender Policy

[su_spoiler title=”COSATU Gender Policy 7-9 July 2003″ open=”yes” icon=”folder-1″]

  1. Introduction

The Gender policy draws together existing COSATU resolutions into a coherent document, while further enriching these resolutions.  This document aims to combine the vision and principles that we aspire towards, with practical relations in the working workplace and economy, in trade unions and in broader society.

The issue of gender equality has been on our agenda since the formation of COSATU. However, we require a policy framework to guide our struggles to transform gender relations in the current period.  It is therefore important that we reflect on progress in taking forward the vision and programmes adopted on several Congresses since COSATU inception.  In broad terms, progress to realise these resolutions has been uneven and varies between affiliates.

COSATU and its affiliates are guided by a vision of a society free of sexism, racism, class exploitation, and other forms of oppression.  We envisage a future where women participate equally in the economy and society without barriers, and where women are emancipated from all forms of oppression in the household, the workplace and in broader society.  We have a vision of a trade union movement as a home for women workers.

This policy document was debated and adopted at the National Gender Conference (held on 5-7 July 2000).  It is tabled at Congress for discussion and adoption. Once it has been adopted by the Congress all affiliates will have to give expression to this broad framework in their own policies.


“Woman’s fate is bound up with that of the exploited male.  This is a fact. However, this solidarity, arising from the exploitation that both men and women suffer and that binds them together historically, must not cause us to lose sight of the specific reality of the woman’s situation.  The conditions of her life are determined by more than economic factors, and they that she is a victim of the a specific oppression… It is true that both she and the male worker are condemned to silence by their exploitation.  But under the current economic system, the worker’s wife is also condemned to silence by her worker-husband.  In other words, in addition to the class exploitation common to both of them, women must confront a particular set of relations that exist between them and men” Thomas Sankara.

It is important that we clarify our understanding of gender relations.  This is imperative in order to understand gender oppression and develop strategies to eradicate this form of oppression.  Too, often, the concept of gender and sex are used interchangeably while in essence they are quite different.   The most common misunderstanding of concept of gender is that it simply means addressing men and women’s concerns equally.  This effectively ignores unequal power gender power relations, and undermines the central objective, which is the emancipation of women.

Sex refers to biological difference between men and women.  Gender on the other hand refers to socially constructed and culturally defined differences between men and women.  It is therefore not natural but created through socialisation using institutions such as the family, the church, religion education and schools, the state and the economy.  In addition gender relations refers to the unequal power relationship between men and women.

Gender role exist in all spheres of society with the gender division of labour in the family. Gender roles are expectations of how men and women should behave in particular socially defined ways.  For example men are supposed to be natural leaders, decision makers and providers; women are expected to be caregivers, supporters and followers of men.

While gender relations are defined at particular moment in the history of human kind, we are concerned with gender relations under capitalist-patriarchy.  We use the concept of capitalist –patriarchy deliberately to underline the mutually reinforcing relationship between capitalism and patriarchy.  Although patriarchy predates capitalism – in the current context the two systems reinforces each other, which means patriarchy cannot be resolved without also addressing capitalist relations.

Patriarchy refers to the system of male domination and control at all level of society. Capitalist-patriarchy has a material basis in the sexual division of labour, exploitation of women’s unpaid labour and their subordination in the household. It is supported by the patriarchal ideology that sees women as inferior to men. In terms of this sexual hierarchy men and women are accorded different roles. For instance, women role is conceived as being a nurturer and caregiver, while men are entrusted with decision-making.  Patriarchy manifests itself in all aspects of society including the economy, political institutions and ideologies, the legal system, religion, social and cultural institutions, such as the family, the media, education systems and so forth. The nature of patriarchal relations varies from society to society.  At the same time women’s oppression takes various forms depending on race, class, religion, marital status and age.

Capitalism is a mode of production based on private property where one class – the bourgeoisie – own and control the means of production and the working class own nothing but its labour power. Capitalism benefits from the oppression of women under patriarchy, by virtue of the fact that employers pay low wages to women because of patriarchal ideology, which sees men as the breadwinner. Capitalists benefit through the separation of unpaid labour in the home from waged work, as it means that the labour force is reproduced at no cost to the employers, but at a tremendous cost to women.

Furthermore, the capitalist state also avoids its responsibility of providing for the reproduction of society (through infrastructure and child care) because of the patriarchal system, which makes this a private responsibility.  Against this background the gender division of labour and patriarchal ideology are the focal issues in combating women’s subordination under capitalism. For this reason a clear understanding needs to be developed of the oppressive nature of the gender division of labour, and the associating ideology and concepts perpetuating its, such as the concepts of work and skill.

Under apartheid, race, gender and class oppression were combined intricate system of oppression. The racial and gender form of colonial domination masks its underlying economic logic – the exploitation of the black working class.  Race and gender oppression are not about mere prejudice, but ultimately about using power and control in the interest of capital. Apartheid capitalism also benefited from women’s oppression in that large numbers of African women worked as domestic workers and cleaners under extremely exploitative conditions. Furthermore, women’s unpaid labour in the rural areas enabled bosses to pay extremely low wages to migrant workers.

Apartheid laws set out limited and impoverished roles for African women.  In particular, as they enforced migrant labour, they defined the role of African women in society and the economy.  At the same time, the colonial system in South Africa, as throughout the continent, intensified the gender oppression found in pre-colonial systems.  The combination of colonial and customary oppression denied women basic social and economic rights in the family and the community.  Many women were barred from living in cities, owning land, family planning, inheriting, borrowing money or participating in political and social struggles.  The system led to widespread abuse of women, both inside and outside the family.   African women were confronted by triple oppression – oppression on the basis of their, race, gender and class.  Black working class women bore the brunt of apartheid, capitalist and patriarchal oppression.

Women’s emancipation is therefore a central feature of the struggle against apartheid and capitalism.  As Samora Machel stated that women’s emancipation is  “not an act of charity but a precondition for the liberation of society”. Our society cannot be free if half the population is still oppressed.

Therefore the NDR seeks to address gender, race and class oppression not sequentially, but simultaneously.  It is important that this struggle be led by the bulk of the oppressed – women. Women should be empowered to challenge the system of patriarchy.  While it is important to recognise that men have an important role in the struggle for gender equality, the leading role of women should always be emphasised – this however, should not be confused with making gender issues a ‘women’s issue’.

In order to consciously combat sexism and gender oppression in our organisational policies and strategies and in broader society these must be infused with a gender consciousness. A ‘gendered perspective’ aims to mainstream and integrate gender struggles, rather than seeing these struggles as women issue that are treated in a separate and isolated way. A gendered perspective has the strategic objective of the fundamental transformation of society and unequal power relations.  It also means a gender analysis is applied at all levels with regard to policies, programmes, planning strategy and evaluation. However, a gendered perspective still recognise the central role of women’s leadership.

It is also important to emphasise the fact that the struggle to transform gender relations will benefit both men and women by creating an enabling environment for all to realise their full human potential.  Gender equality will also bring visible benefits to society by drawing in half of the population into productive activity.  Gender equality however, cannot be realised without conscious strategies to redress unequal power relations between men and women in organisations and in the broader society. As emphasised above, the NDR aims to bring an end to this form of oppression.


The ushering in of a new democratic dispensation and the adoption of a progressive Constitution, have brought visible changes for the majority of the formerly oppressed. The Constitution outlaws discrimination of women and calls for measures to redress past imbalances in terms of race, sex and disability and other prohibited grounds of discrimination. The adoption of the Employment Equity Act will go a long way in overcoming discrimination and inequality within the workplace. In addition, the Promotion of Equality and Prohibition of Discrimination Act will also contribute towards gender equity in all spheres of society.  Thus legislative measures are now in place to address all forms of discrimination and inequality.  Linked to this, the provision of basic service such as water and health care has brought visible relief for millions of people, especially women in the rural areas.

Yet despite, these advances gender inequality remains entrenched in our society.  To understand this, it is important to analyse gender relations in the labour market and within the organisation.  It is also important to analyse the impact of economic and social policies on gender relations in contemporary South Africa. In general, access to basic service is still skewed in racial, gender and geographic terms. Further, the majority of the poor are women particularly African women.  Women tend to be vulnerable to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and job losses. The unpaid labour continues unabated.


3.1.  State of Gender Relations in the Labour Market

The labour market is still segmented in terms of race and gender.  It is characterised by a sexual division of labour in which women are largely associated with domesticity and servicing, while men are associated with science, machinery and technology.  Women, particularly black women are concentrated in low paid-jobs, the service sector and face wage discrimination.  They tend to be concentrated in vulnerable sectors such as domestic work and the farms as well as in survivalist activities in the informal sector.

Males particularly white males dominate the upper echelons of the labour market. As a result of inherited wage inequities and the fact that women are concentrated in low paid jobs, women’s share of income is substantially lower than men. Discrimination also takes the form of differences in the valuing of men and women’s jobs translating in wage disparity.  The majority of the unemployed are women particularly black women.

Women also face hardship in accessing and sustaining their participation in the labour market. The majority of women have to juggle careers and domestic responsibility such as cooking and taking care of children. The shortage of childcare facilities and the sexual division of labour in the home impose serious burdens on women.  Maternity leave and pay provision are also inadequate, and in some cases even the legislated minimum is not complied with.

3.2 Gender Relations within the Union Movement

While women constitute about 37% of COSATU members, leadership structure are predominantly male from shop floor to national levels.  In addition, employment patterns in the unions reproduce the sexual division of labour in society.  As shown in the table below most influential positions, such as educators, organisers and regional/general secretaries are overwhelmingly male-dominated, while the majority of women employed in unions are in administrative positions.

Position Male Female
Administration 6% 94%
Organisers 78% 12%
Branch & Regional Secretaries 89% 11%
General Secretary 100% 0%
Research/legal/media officers 75% 25%
Education officers 90% 10%

Sakhela Buhlungu, 1997.

Women are confronted by barriers, which impact on their participation in the union, which partly explain the lower representation of women in union leadership structures. The sexual division of labour in the home impose a double burden on women.  Shop steward and union meetings are often held after working hours making difficult for women to participate.  The language and jargon used in meetings are often alienating to women.  Union members and leadership (and broader society) often have fixed attitudes about women’s roles.  Stereotypes about “a woman’s place” often contribute to discouragement and discrimination directed at women in unions.

Male-dominated image and culture of trade unions sometimes take the form of women not being taken seriously, and translate into a glib, lip service commitment to gender issues, and a general lack of sensitivity to women’s particular organisational needs. Further, women are confronted with resistance at home and experience discouragement and abuse from their partners who feel threatened by the fact that their wivespartners are activist and becoming more assertive, and would like to see them remaining in the home.  Some of these attitudes are perpetuated by males in the unions.

The role of sexual harassment in discouraging participation cannot be discounted. Many women are completely discouraged from union activity since they are immediately “approached” by male comrades and feel that they are not treated as comrades but as sex objects.

Other organisational problems are expressed in the lack of progress to organise the most vulnerable and marginalized sectors dominated by women.  A common concern is that collective bargaining demands are often not gender-sensitive.  Where demands are taken up as they easily compromised in negotiations.  The lack of women organisers and the lack of gender sensitivity on the part of male organisers contribute to these problems. Nevertheless, some affiliates have made good progress in taking up collective bargaining campaigns, particularly on parental rights.

The appointment of gender co-ordinators and structures is uneven between affiliates. Only 8 affiliates have full-time co-ordinators currently.  The role of gender co-ordinators is limited if they are not represented on constitutional structures of the union and if no separate budget has been allocated. Some affiliates do not have structures. NALEDI research on assessing gender structures highlighted the fact that gender structures often do not have a clear programme or vision of their role and objectives. Overall, not sufficient resources to implement programmes are allocated. Further gender education on its own has not led to an increase in the number of women leaders in the federation and affiliates.


This Gender Policy moves from the premise that gender inequality will not disappear on its own accord.  There is a need for conscious strategies to eliminate gender inequality within the organisation and broader society.  This will take the form of specific measures to promote women leadership and plans to address inequality in the workplace.  The development and empowerment of women workers and the elimination of discrimination and stereotyping are central goals in building gender equality. The measure of gender equality is women’s full and equal participation at all levels of trade union organisation.


4.1 Promoting Gender Equality in union structures and staffing


4.1.1 Building Women Leadership

To increase women’s representation in leadership structures, unions should use the following guidelines:

  • Additional ex-officio position on constitutional structures.
  • Portfolio positions.
  • Reserved seat for women.
  • Quota system including fixed and proportional representation.
  • Representation of sector co-ordinators on constitutional structures.

All unions should strive to achieve the following targets.  These targets aims to take forward the 7th Congress Resolutions on measurable targets to improve women’s representation within the union movement. Table 1 below make use of Statistics South Africa October Household Survey 1998 data of the gender breakdown of industries and trade union membership (COSATU and non-COSATU) in order to develop targets for affiliates, in the absence of a gender breakdown of COSATU affiliated union membership. While this cannot be substituted for accurate membership figures it still gives a broad picture gender breakdown.  In future affiliates must keep a proper record of their membership profile including in terms of gender.  The election of shop stewards should be done through constitutional provisions of the affiliates. Table 1: Proposed Targets for COSATU Affiliates based on a Gender Breakdown of Industries and Leadership Figures for 1998/1999

SECTOR %  women by sector % women union members (includes non-COSATU) 1998/99% ROB’sCOSATU Affiliate 1998/99% NOB’s COSATU Affiliate Target for shop-stewards Target for LOB’s Target for ROB’s Target for NOB’s
Construction 9% 11% 13% 0% 15% 15% 15% 15%
Chemical, paper, printing & wood 26% 16% 14% 0% 30% 30% 30% 30%
Communication 36% 34% 3% 0% 30% 30% 30% 30%
Food and Fishing 27% 22% 24% 0% 30% 30% 30% 30%
Government (Admin, Health, etc) 65% 58% 34% 33% 50% 50% 50% 50%
Educators 64% 64% 7% 0% 50% 50% 50% 50%
Mining and Energy 6% 4% 2% 0% 5% 5% 5% 5%
Metal and Auto 18% 16% 6% 0% 20% 20% 20% 20%
Police & Correctional Services 24% 18% 0% 0% 20% 20% 20% 20%
Agriculture 28% 31% 28% 17% 30% 30% 30% 30%
Retail, Catering and Hotels 49% 47% 16% 33% 60% 60% 60% 60%
Clothing and Textile 72% 74% 30% 33% 65% 65% 65% 65%
Local Authority 23% 21% 14% 17% 30% 30% 30% 30%
Banking 61% 55% 71% 14% 65% 65% 65% 65%
Transport 15% 10% 17% 0% 20% 20% 20% 20%
TOTAL (COSATU) 34% 30% 25% 33% 30% 30% 30% 30%

Please Note:      (1) The leadership figures will be updated on continuous basis

(2) Statistics were not available for cleaning and security, therefore only the transport sector of SATAWU’s constituency is covered.

These mechanisms must be combined with mentorship and empowerment programmes as well as conscious strategies to eliminate barriers to women’s participation in unions. A supportive environment is crucial to avoid frustration and to sustain participation.  As part of the way forward all unions should identify particular barriers in their own structures and contexts.  Historically, a number of resolutions were adopted by the federation and affiliates to systematically remove barriers to women’s participation. It is now time to vigorously implement these resolutions.  Among others the mechanisms include:

  • Childcare, transport at meetings and timing of meetings.
  • Challenging stereotypes about women as leaders.
  • Developing mentorship programmes.
  • Creating a supportive and encouraging environment.
  • Implementing a Sexual Harassment Policy.
  • Education on gender issues.
  • Leadership training.
  • Promoting the sharing of home and family responsibility between men and women.

Electing women as shop stewards

The federation and affiliates should ensure that conditions under which shop steward elections take place are conducive to electing women shop stewards.  Unions should draw up a list of women available for election as shop stewards to assist in a campaign for women leaders at the workplace.  Union organisers should be at the forefront in encouraging workers to elect women shop stewards.  Where women are not elected as shop stewards, they should be elected as alternates with a mentoring programme in place.  Unions should raise awareness around gender stereotyping as part of their annual shop steward elections campaigns.  Unions should be vigilant in preventing employers from undermining women shop stewards.  Unions should ensure that they actively discourage and discipline organisers and other leaders or members who sexually harass women shop stewards.

Linked to this, workplace gender activities and campaign programmes should be developed both to empower women and to challenges gender inequality in the workplace. Unions, in their programmes should design such programmes and the gender co-ordinators must monitor these programmes consistently as well as providing overall support to workplace gender structures.

4.1.2 Building Gender Structures

Affiliates must establish gender structures simultaneously with constitutional structures at all levels, inclusive of the workplace.  Local gender committees and regional gender forums must also be strengthened as resolved by the 1997 Resolution.  Gender structures and gender co-ordinators should be represented in all constitutional structures.  These structures should be built up as dynamic forums for gender activism, women’s empowerment and consciousness-raising.  There is still a need to create space for women to strategise in separate forums – this is not in contradiction with the gender perspective, but forms an important part of women’s empowerment and unity.

In addition the appointment of Gender Co-ordinators should be accelerated.  The NGC will take overall responsibility to ensure that this actually happens. Gender departments should be accorded the same status as other departments.  All departments must integrate gender issues in their work and the gender department will monitor the extent to which this is taking place.

There must be a separate budget allocation specifically for gender activities.  The NGC should develop a clear programme with guidelines, time frames and a budget allocation.  There should be a focused and co-ordinated campaign around gender issues that relate to the workplace and collective bargaining and can be integrated in education and other union activities (for example, child care or sexual harassment).

4.1.3 Eliminating the Gender Division of Labour in Trade Unions

COSATU and affiliates must implement employment equity legislation, conducting audits and developing and implementing employment equity plans with full consultation of staff.  The principle of equal pay for work of equal value should be applied in the union context.  This must be driven by the NGC and the National Office Bearers of COSATU and the affiliates.

Administrators must be seen as part of the organisation – we should promote the valuing of their work and contribution and ensure that they are drawn into the activities of the trade unions and federation.  They should attend constitutional meetings.  Administrators should have access to political education and capacity building training – the impact and effectiveness of this should be continuously evaluated.


4.1.4 Education and Empowerment

Gender education and training programmes run by COSATU and affiliates should be carefully monitored and evaluated to assess their impact and make improvements where necessary.  Gender education programmes must be adequately financed and resourced to be effective. COSATU should ensure that local and shop steward levels are also targeted. Education run by COSATU and affiliates should focus on the following issues:

  • supporting and deepening a gender agenda for the workplace and collective bargaining.
  • supporting a programme of affirmative action for the workplace and unions.
  • deepening the understanding of women’s oppression in society, and the struggle to challenge this, with a view to building a broader women’s movement.
  • drawing upon women’s struggles against oppression internationally.
  • encouraging debate and analysis on the barriers and obstacles women face in the labour movement and how these may be overcome.
  • popularising COSATU gender policies, in particular the sexual harassment code.

COSATU and affiliates must implement a proportional quota system for education programmes to ensure that increasing numbers of women have access to mainstream union education, not only gender education.


4.1.5 Sexual Harassment

The COSATU Code of Conduct on Sexual Harassment must be popularised and implemented throughout the federation.  This includes education and awareness raising, training of sexual harassment officers and the development of proper procedures.

A strategy and campaign should be developed to implement the NEDLAC Code of Good Practice on Sexual Harassment.  Unions should ensure that shop stewards are being trained in the workplace and that organisers are also informed and able to support members in taking up cases of sexual harassment.  Unions should place sexual harassment on the collective bargaining agenda and negotiate agreements.  The NEDLAC Code provides the space and framework to negotiate agreements in the workplace.


4.1.6 Organising Women Workers

COSATU has committed itself to the strategic objective of organising vulnerable sectors and vulnerable layers of workers, which are predominantly women.  This requires a shift in mindset, organising style and approach, and has implications for changing the culture of the federation.  There will be a need to develop new organising strategies, to employ more women as organisers and to train existing organisers.  Organising strategies will need to take into account the specific conditions of women workers, and particularly women workers in vulnerable sectors.  Important target groups include domestic workers, informal sector workers, casual workers and farm workers. The framework paper on organising the informal sector and other forms of workers should be used as a basis to elaborate a clear strategy in this regard.


4.1.7 Building the National Women’s Movement

While there have been significant legislative and constitutional victories in the struggle for gender equality, there is increasing fragmentation of women’s organisations and activism, despite the tremendous poverty and abuse faced by women in our country.  Building the women’s movement requires the building of issue-based and campaign-linked networks of women in political organisations, trade unions, NGO’s and other civil society formations.  COSATU should be in the forefront in ensuring a working class-led national women’s movement.  Potential campaigns include violence against women, basic needs and infrastructure, eradication of poverty, parental rights and employment creation for women. The important step is to resuscitate the alliance initiative to build the women’s movement.


4.2 Gender Equality in the Labour Market

In the main, policy proposals in this regard seek to ensure that we take up women struggles in collective bargaining strategies and issues.  The following issues need to be vigorously taken up in collective bargaining: parental rights, equity in the workplace including payment, sexual harassment, health and safety and participation of women in collective bargaining, and fighting all forms of discrimination including on the basis of sexual orientation.


4.2.1 Parental Rights and Childcare

COSATU and affiliates should negotiate and establish parental rights in all sectors of the economy. Parental rights must entail a full package of provisions, and should not be seen as only negotiating some maternity and paternity leave.  The aim of the parental rights campaign is to enable women and men in waged work to combine a career with a full family life, while infants are given all the care and attention required.  The benefits of such a campaign are that it will deliver concrete benefits for working women, it will play an important role in challenging and addressing women’s oppression, it will contribute towards the proper care and early childhood development of infants and children, and it will enable women to be more active as unionists.  Such a campaign should be linked to broader issues of social services such as the child maintenance grant.  The objectives of the campaign include highlighting the responsibility of both employers and the state in the provision of childcare.

The following are the core demands:

  • Paid maternity leave.
  • Paid and unpaid parental leave.
  • Childcare leave.
  • Flexible working time.
  • Provision of childcare.
  • Breaks and facilities for breastfeeding mothers.
  • Job security and health and safety for pregnant women.

Adequate support must be given to negotiators and organisers in conducting this campaign. This includes education programmes, research backup and a parental rights negotiators manual.  The campaign should be conducted at a political and ideological level.

4.2.2 Equal pay for equal work and work of equal value

COSATU and affiliates, together with the NGC should continue to press for more progress in securing equal pay for work of equal value.  Emphasis should be placed on the following:

  • Skills acquired by women on the job and within the family must be more highly valued and reflected in remuneration.
  • Promoting and securing legislation on equal pay for equal work and work of equal value.
  • Incorporating equal pay principle in collective bargaining for all full-time workers and for part-time workers (proportional to their employment).
  • All casual workers, whatever their employment contract, to be covered by collective bargaining so that the above principle is respected.
  • Upgrading of low wages and salary categories where women traditionally work.
  • Eliminating barriers that prohibit women from entering jobs traditionally held by men.
  • Deepening the understanding of this issue amongst membership and leadership.
  • Developing specific campaigns to promote equal pay.

4.2.3 Employment Equity Agreements

Employment Equity legislation can contribute to transforming occupational segregation in the workplace if effectively implemented. The gender dimension to employment equity needs to be integrated in the approach of unions and the promotion of black women should be emphasised.  Furthermore, trade unions can exploit the provisions for the elimination of barriers to women’s employment as a space to push for advances for women workers.  Plans should be developed with specific reference to women in the following key areas:

  • Remuneration and promotion.
  • Equal pay for equal work and work of equal value.
  • Sexual harassment.
  • Parental rights and childcare facilities.
  • Violence against women.

4.2.4 Health and Safety

There is a need to address reproductive health demands of women in the workplace. For example, access to pap smears, providing safe working conditions that do not affect the reproductive health of women, and conducive working conditions for women that are pregnant and breastfeeding.  In order for these issues to be addressed, women should be part of health and safety committees at the workplace.

4.2.5 Participation of women in collective bargaining

The following are key to ensuring the participation of women in collective bargaining:

  • Inclusion of women in bargaining teams.
  • Developing the role of gender co-ordinators and structures in collective bargaining.
  • Developing a strategy to ensure the involvement of women in collecting collective bargaining demands.

4.2.6 Fighting Discrimination on the Basis Sexual Orientation

The Constitution, the Employment Equity and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Acts prohibit unfair discrimination on several grounds including on sexual orientation.  Yet gay and lesbians workers and others face discrimination in law and in fact.  For this reason, COSATU must add its weight and voice to combat this form of unfair discrimination.  In addition, the environment within the organisation should also be made conducive for the participation of gay and lesbian workers. Congress must discuss concrete measures to realise both objectives.


4.2.7. Gender Equity in Broader Society

Fighting gender inequality within the workplace must be linked to fighting inequality in broader society.  Pre-labour market inequalities reinforce intra labour market inequality.  For instance, unequal access to education reinforces labour market inequality in terms of skill.  Access to basic services such as transport, health care, childcare, and water are critical both for quality of life and productivity.

For this reason it is important it is important to ensure that economic and social policies are gender sensitive and gender biased.  It is within this context that we should place campaigns for a social wage and social security including a basic income grant.


It is important to clearly delineate responsibility between all constitutional structures and the gender structures. In developing strategies and institutional mechanisms for the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the gender policy in COSATU and affiliates, our starting point is that gender equality is a trade union issue.  Secondly, trade unions are agents of change in society and should be in the forefront of the struggle for gender equality.  COSATU and its affiliates are thus important agents of change for the rest of society.

COSATU’s strategies for implementation are informed by the overall goal and vision to mainstream gender.  Mainstreaming of gender is to develop systematic methods for the integration and implementation of a gender perspective. Given the importance of COSATU and its affiliates the successful implementation of policies is not only a success for the organisation (women members) but also for the entire society (women workers).  Successful implementation requires systematic monitoring and evaluation.


5.1 Institutional Mechanisms

Institutional mechanisms refer to the structures that are responsible directly or indirectly for the development and implementation of a plan of action that would lead to the promotion and attainment of gender equality.



5.2 Constitutional Structures

The structures that are overall responsible (supervise or co-ordinate) for the implementation and monitoring are the constitutional structures of COSATU, from National to local level.  The role of the National structures such as Central Executive Committee and Executive Committee should be one of giving political direction on implementation of resolutions through the plan of action. The role of constitutional structures should be to:

  • supervise the implementation of the gender policy.
  • monitor the implementation of resolutions and the gender policy, through detailed reports provided by affiliates (by General Secretaries).
  • ensure the affiliates abide by the policy and implement the plan of action, by providing the following support where required; advice, setting of targets, provision of financial and human assistance including deployment of staff.
  • integrate the Gender Plan of Action into the (main) COSATU Plan of Action.
  • ensure an adequate budget for Gender activities is allocated that would lead to the successful implementation of the gender plan of action according to the priorities and targets determined by the National Gender Committee.
  • encourage the mainstreaming of gender into the work of all COSATU Departments.
  • incorporate the gender report into the secretariat report.
  • encourage the participation leadership in male gender sensitive training through leading by example.

5.3 Designated Office Bearers

The Deputy President and Deputy General Secretary as part of their portfolios have the task of supervising/co-coordinating gender issues. The two National Office Bearers (and regional/local office bearers) shall:

  • play a leading and strategic role in the planning of the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies.
  • ensure that adequate funding is available for the implementation of policies and programmes.
  • represent the Federation on gender issues at a public level.
  • assist affiliates with the implementation of policies by attending and participating in affiliates gender/women forums and other activities.
  • play an interventionist role in affiliates that require assistance.
  • ensuring when planning Federation activities inclusive of meetings that gender is a component part of the agenda of such activity.
  • play an advisory role to the COSATU NGC and the constitutional structures.

COSATU National Gender Committee (NGC)

The National Gender Committee is a sub-committee of the CEC and is the catalyst for change. The National Gender Committee should be regarded as the driving force in developing strategies for implementation.  The NGC should take a hands-on approach, and should therefore:

  • have the power to take initiatives and should have a direct input into decision-making.
  • co-ordinate the development of further policies (where there are gaps).
  • co-ordinate the implementation of policies through a gender analysis approach.
  • monitor and evaluate progress with regard to the implementation of plan of action in the promotion of gender equality.
  • Serve as a political educational forum.
  • develop priorities and targets which are to be incorporated into the Gender Plan of Action.
  • ensure that the Plan of Action should also incorporate a monitoring and evaluation component.
  • serve as an advocacy group for the successful implementation of policies.
  • submit through the National Gender Co-ordinator reports on progress to constitutional structures, NOB’s designate and affiliates to ensure proper monitoring and evaluation.
  • assess plan of action and take corrective measures.

5.5 Other Structures

Other structures linked to the NGC that play a key role in the development of the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies, are the Co-ordinating Committee of the NGC and the Strategizing Committee (which consists of all affiliate gender co-ordinators and COSATU regional co-ordinators).

Their responsibilities are to:

  • further develop a detailed implementation of the plan of action for implementation.
  • develop the practical strategies for implementation.
  • allocate human resources to implement various activities.
  • deal with urgent issues.
  • do routine monitoring and evaluation.These structures should be convened strategically as part of the Year Planner  and should be budgeted for.

5.6 COSATU National Gender Co-ordinator

The Co-ordinator plays a central role in implementation of policy and plan of action.  The role of the National Gender Co-ordinator is to:

  • Ensure the implementation of COSATU Women/Gender Resolutions through a day-to-day process.
  • Liase with other COSATU Departments and Structures to ensure that Gender is mainstreamed.
  • Ensure that adequate funding is secured that would ensure the implementation of the Plan of Action.
  • Monitoring through continuous follow up of the operational activities of the priority areas.
  • Develop the Gender Plan of Action by using a gender planning and analysis.
  • Framework.
  • Set realistic targets for practical and strategic gender needs.
  • Ensure that gender training is provided for staff members as a means of ensuring that a gender perspective develops in the work of the Federation.
  • Establish and maintain links with Labour Service Organisations and Women’s Organisations as a strategy to accomplish practical and strategic gender needs.
  • Develop evaluation reports with the Naledi Woman and Work Researcher on the implementation of the plan of action.
  • Ensuring that continuous research is done about the position of women.

In developing a Plan of Action for the implementation for gender policies, the following could be used as framework or guideline.

5.7 Priorities and Setting of Targets

A Plan of Action should be developed after the Policy Document has been approved by Congress with clear priorities, timeframes and budgets. This should then be integrated into the overall organisation three-year plan and budget. It is important that we priorities activities and allocate adequate resources to achieve our broad aims.  The plan must also determine capacity building mechanisms including partnerships with Labour Service Organisations and/or Women’s Organisations to achieve targets.

5.8 Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and Evaluation are measures that are very often forgotten in terms of implementing plans of actions. Effective monitoring and evaluation serves as the basis for assessing progress or lack of progress and as such could determine corrective measures in time. Monitoring consists of continuous follow up through setting gender sensitive indicators. Gender Sensitive indicators will depend on the context and the plan of action.  This role of monitoring should be the task of the National Gender Co-ordinator and the Co-ordinating Committee.

Evaluation can take the form of questionnaires, survey, verbal, or written reports and should be tabled at the NGC and constitutional structures. A comprehensive evaluation report should be tabled at the National Congress. For purposes of evaluation, the following play an important component:

  • Naledi Women and work researcher should play a leading role in compiling gender specific data. This data should be continuously updated.
  • All Federation reports should have a disaggregated gender data. This will enable the Federation to keep scientific track of progress or lack of progress.
  • Regular routine reports must be compiled by affiliates.

In measuring progress it is important that the following should be considered when doing evaluation:

  • Whether sufficient human and financial resources were allocated to the specific gender activity.
  • Whether specific targets/quotas were set.
  • Did the implementation plan include a gender analysis
  • Were the time limits sufficient?
  • What were the internal and external constraints?


This gender policy is intended to assist COSATU and affiliates to achieve gender equality in the trade unions, workplace, home and the rest of society in the pursuit of socialism. COSATU and its affiliates shall adhere to this policy and ensure effective implementation.


[su_spoiler title=”Declaration by the COSATU Limpopo Provincial Gender Conference held on the 16th – 18th August 2017″ open=”yes” icon=”folder-1″]

We the 97 delegates to the Limpopo Gender Conference representing more than 200 000 workers organized under COSATU in Limpopo and thousands of unorganized and unemployed workers across the Province together with delegates from SACP, ANCWL, PWMSA and SISONKE met during the Women’s month of August. We rise from this conference under the Theme “Combat Workplace Discriminatory Gender Norms and Enhance Skills Development”

We note the inequalities which exist in the workplaces in all sectors where our trade unions are organized. According to Stats SA women in South Africa constitute 51 % of the population while, unskilled men constitute 59.3 % and women 40.7% of the total workforce yet women are still paid less than men is South Africa. The South African gender pay gap is estimated on average, to be between 15% to 17%. This implies that a South African woman would need to work two months more than a man to earn the equivalent salary that he would earn in a year. We further note status around disability that persons with disabilities are not well represented across all occupational levels.

It is only over the last three or four decades that women’s role in the history of South Africa has, belatedly, been given some recognition. Previously, the history of women’s political organization, their struggle for freedom from oppression, for community rights and, importantly, for gender equality, was largely ignored in history texts. Not only did most of these older books lean heavily towards white political development to the detriment of studies of the history and interaction of whites with other racial groups, but they also focused on the achievements of men (often on their military exploits or leadership ability) virtually leaving women out of South African history.

The reason for this ‘invisibility’ of women, calls for some explanation. South African society is conventionally patriarchal. In other words, it was the men who had authority in society; women were seen as subordinate to men. Women’s role was primarily a domestic one; it included child rearing and seeing to the well-being, feeding and care of the family. They were not expected to concern themselves with matters outside the home, that was more properly the domain of men.

This Gender conference acknowledges and agree that once a decision is taken all members regardless of the position held during the meeting shall have the responsibility to implement and defend such a decision and that lower structures respect and abide by the decisions taken by upper structures. The Limpopo COSATU Gender Conference is fully behind the Campaign of Cde Cyril Ramaphosa to ascend and be the President of the ANC in defense of the principle that has been in existence for decades in our Liberation Movement. We are also in support of a women deputizing comrade Ramaphosa in December 2017 as a principle. We will therefore continue to swell the ranks of the African National Congress,

Women’s’ League in particular to advance our views in those structures.

a) We also note the cases about violence directed at women and children and condemn these inhuman acts and we support the Central Committee resolution calling on government to identify one day which will be declared a national campaign to deal with the current scourge of killings of women and children in the communities and that government should avail more resources to the court system so that prosecutions can be speeded up and carried out more efficiently.

This 2nd Provincial Gender Conference realize that COSATU is a fighting federation not by decree but through daily struggles that workers and women in particular lead on the ground. We have seen from firsthand experience victories of our own COSATU led struggles when we secured the following victories amongst others :

a) An amended Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Act which is still to be signed into law that would benefit women workers in the area of maternity leave credits and fixed rate of 66% from 38%
b) When we successfully forced government and business into negotiations about a legislated National Minimum Wage
c) We victoriously fought and stopped compulsory preservation of workers retirement fund benefits declaring that there shall be nothing about us, without us.

We therefore declare that as Limpopo COSATU Gender Conference we will continue to implement the following:

  • Resolutions taken in our 1st Gender Conference in 2015 and adopted by the 4th Limpopo Provincial Congress in August 2015.
  • To enhance our campaigns and struggles on Gender Based Violence and cascade them to rural areas
  • Locals to lead on Gender Based Violence campaigns given the fact that they are closer to the masses in the communities
  • To strengthen the campaign on decriminalization of sex work
  • To strengthen the campaign on LGBTI and raise awareness within our structures, workplaces and communities
  • To capacitate all gender structures in the province
  • To continue to organize women across all races
  • To fight against repressive legislation which derails promotion of gender quality e.g. Traditional Courts Bill
  • To advocate, educate and campaign in all our structures on the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS, and also link it to male circumcision campaign.
  • To strengthen our campaigns on all types of Cancers
  • To enhance our campaign on breastfeeding and childcare facilities in our structures and workplaces

We further resolve:-

  • To enhance our relations with leaders who came from COSATU who are now in government
  • That all structures of the federation and affiliates should avail resources and support to gender structures
  • To reaffirm the NGC resolution that Gender Structures should be constitutionalized
  • To advocate, train and campaign for the implementation of Sexual Harassment Policy in all our structures and workplaces.
  • To urgently appoint Sexual Harassment Policy Committee in all structures of the Federation and provide training
  • That COSATU should lead the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa given the fact that we are a mass based organization
  • To revive PWMSA in the province and participate in all levels and build a working class led movement.

All Affiliates and COSATU Gender Structures commit to work with the leadership at all levels to ensure that all these resolutions are integrated in the main programmes of structures and are practically executed on the ground.

Issued by COSATU Limpopo

For more information, kindly contact the Provincial Gender Chairperson, Cde Thando Ndaba- Makitla on 082 808 3167 or Provincial Secretary of COSATU, Cde Gerald Twala on 071 587 2872/076 522 8864


[su_spoiler title=”Declaration of the COSATU International Gender Conference on Decent Work” open=”yes” icon=”folder-1″]

15 June 2015

We, the 80 delegates gathered here at St Georges Hotel on 09-12 June 2015 convened under the theme : “decent work : Build a Comprehensive Policy Environment for Women Workers” coming from: COSATU Affiliates; Provinces; Gender Structures; Fellow Federations; Partners; Labour Servicing Organisations (LSO’s) do hereby adopt this declaration.
1. We have noted that:
a. Whilst women‘s access to employment is increasing; working conditions have been increasingly becoming more unbearable for women workers.
b. Increasingly, women’s work is found in precarious, unprotected sectors where they do not enjoy any employment benefits such as casual work, temporary work, contract work and labour-brokered employment.
c. Large numbers of women still continue to provide the bulk of reproductive and care work absolving the state and the capitalists of any investment on the unpaid work that keeps the economy alive.
d. The apartheid structure of the South African economy has remained unchanged and has created conditions where the bulk of black women in particular young African women remain outside the economy formal or otherwise spelling disaster for these women and their children.
e. The GDP is not a useful measure of development as it does not guarantee human development indicators especially the health indicators.
f. South Africa’s spending on health is skewed towards the rich with 5% spent on 16% of the population whilst 3,5% is spent on 84% of the population making our health outcomes very poor when compared to most middle-income countries
g. Women continue to bear the brunt of poor health infrastructure and health services as they have to carry the burden of caring for the sick and eschewing or missing out on productive or paid work.
h. The NHI is the only viable chance for SA women to be relieved of the burden of taking care of the sick in their households and in their communities.
We further noted that:
a. More than half of all employed workers earn less than the poverty line of R3895 for a family of five per month at R3033 earnings per month.
b. Food inflation is higher for the poor, that food workers are amongst the lowest paid and that women carry the burden of food price inflation.
c. The struggle for a minimum wage is inextricably linked to the struggle for food, water, electricity, access to land, comprehensive social security, decent work and it is inextricably linked to local community struggles.
d. Women have limited access to social security rights with exclusion of those in the informal economy, domestic work, and farm work who are not protected when they fall pregnant.

We affirm
a. The COSATU principles of
i. Solidarity
ii. Democratic Worker Control
iii. Equality
iv. Internationalism
b. The ILO principles of
i. Universality
ii. Social partnership

The conference integrated these principles in discussions on women and gender equality and adopted a plan of action. This plan of action will be based on the discussions and resolutions of the following conference commissions: maternity protection, paternity rights, child care provisions, ILO convention 103, national minimum wage and national health insurance. The resolutions listed below will explain the main points of action proposed by delegates.

3. Commissions and key action areas
3.1 Maternity paternity rights, child care provisions, and ILO convention 183
We support the COSATU submission on current labour law amendments proposing 10 days paternity and adoption leave and that all parents irrespective of family status have the right to access maternity leave and associated benefits.
We demand fully paid maternity leave for a minimum of 6 months, with a view to progressively increasing this and additional paid leave made available for ante and post natal care for both parents.

Maternity benefits should be made available to all categories of workers with no exclusions.
Maternity benefits should be paid from a stand-alone maternity fund, embedded within the UIF mechanism, to which the state contributes. Employers’ contribution to the UIF mechanism should increase to 2%. The UIF surplus should be used to offset the fund.
The state should establish a separate social assistance fund for unemployed pregnant women and teenage mothers.
The BCEA Code of Good Practice for Pregnancy should be made compulsory, and should include areas that are left out such as the provision of breast feeding facilities.
Provision for child care leave should be extended up to the age of 4 for children with special needs and a stand-alone child care leave provision of 10 days annually introduced, for male and female workers.

We will revive the campaign for child care in the workplace taking into account the different workplace and sectoral dynamics. Where needed, community-based child care facilities and transport measures should be subsidized by the Department of Social Development and employers.
Our call for these measures will be spearheaded by our demand for the urgent ratification of ILO Maternity Protection Convention 183, and the undertaking of a gap analysis of current legislation to identify further areas for law reform and costing implications.
We will roll out political education, outreach and community awareness interventions, to build understanding and support for the ratification of the ILO Convention 183 and maternity, paternity and child care provisions. We will strengthen our partnerships with local, regional and international stakeholders to achieve the ratification of this Convention and necessary labour law amendments.
Achievement of these demands and campaigns should be enforced through collective bargaining and organising.

3.2 National Minimum Wage
Gender equality is at the heart of the minimum wage campaign and is important for advancing women issues such as equal pay for work of equal value must be taken into account.
Delegates commit themselves to go back to union structures with the intention of arriving at a mandated figure for a national minimum wage, and to Implement the following agreed points for National Minimum Wage Campaign: roll out of workshops on the basis of organising and mobilisation of workers ; Ensure that the issue of NMW is discussed at all COSATU and affiliate shop stewards Councils; Call for a national Day of Mass Action on the NMW for example the Decent Work Day to popularise and conscientise workers. Create platform of engagement for a Minimum Programme across federations and the Alliance. Linking the campaign for food security to national minimum wage campaign.

3.3 National Health Insurance
We demand that the state regulates the private sector effectively when the National Health Insurance is implemented. The recommendations of the current inquiry into healthcare costs must compliment the implementation of NHI. Furthermore, we reaffirm our commitment to migrate from the current private sector-led medical benefit system. Delegates also agreed that public funds should be used for improving public facilities instead of expanding the private sector. Comrades also agreed that all affiliates must have internal discussions on the future of the private sector in the NHI.

Moreover, we reaffirmed our congress resolutions from 2012 on how to finance the National Health Insurance. Revenue should be generated from a system of progressive taxation, and should not include the following: co-payments, VAT and multi-payer systems. The National Health Fund must pool all existing fragmented funds in both the private and public sector.

Further, we demand that primary health care be implemented across the entire health system. The District, Municipal and School teams should function efficiently and improve access to health care for the working class. Primary health care can only succeed if we formalize the status of community health workers. Their employment conditions must adhere to all the principles of the decent work agenda. This includes absorbing them into full employment and creating clear scopes of practice. We also call on government to refurbish and reopen the nursing colleges in the country, and improve the health student throughput rates from historically black universities.

Finally, we commit to improving the health literacy of workers and the broader working class.
This will include developing a national campaign on universal access to healthcare and sharing the work on the competition commission inquiry. Additionally, we agreed on improving our monitoring and reporting of the selected pilot projects. Government must also stop outsourcing and over-haul the state procurement system to facilitate the achievement of better health outcomes.

We commit ourselves to strengthen our partnerships with international labour federation sister organizations and networks across the globe, and in particular Afrika.
We further commit ourselves to actively participate in all processes aimed at ensuring meaning to the declaration as well as mobilising all and sundry behind the plan of action arising from this gender conference.
Workers unite in the fight for the emancipation of women!


[su_spoiler title=”Opening remarks by COSATU President, Comrade, Sdumo Dlamini at the International Gender Conference at St Georges Conference Centre, Irene, 9 June 2015″ open=”yes” icon=”folder-1″]

As COSATU, we are pleased to have been invited to speak at this important meeting which is about the essence of measuring progress in society.

We can only wish that this meeting does not spent more time on theoretical debates rather than on providing solutions and developing proposals on how the burning questions confronting our society can best be addressed.

This meeting has a responsibility to give us instructions on what we should do when the ILO report tells us that only one quarter of the world’s working population holds a permanent and stable job.

The ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook—Trends 2015 report tells us that that three-quarters of workers are “employed on temporary or short-term contracts, in informal jobs often without any contract, under own-account arrangements or in unpaid family jobs.

The report tells us that the share of workers employed on a permanent basis has declined in recent years, from 74 percent in 2004 to 73.2 percent in 2012. For males this decline has been even sharper, with the share working on permanent contracts falling from 73.1 percent.

The 2014 Global wage report told us that real wage growth lagged behind labour productivity growth over the period 1999 to 2013.”

This means that throughout the 14-year period, the share of national income going to the working class declined, while the share of national income going to the capitalists, a tiny minority of the population, steadily increased.

Another study conducted by Dr. Carlos Nordt of Zurich University’s Psychiatric Hospital tells us that around 45,000 people commit suicide each year because they have become unemployed. It shows that for the year 2008, the beginning of the economic crisis, suicides associated with unemployment were nine times greater than previously thought.

All these are issues which are essentially gender issues because high levels of unemployment and poverty affect women and children the most; it destroys families and lives the fabric of our societies in tatters.

A 2014 UNICEF report showed that the number of children in poverty in developed countries has increased by 2.6 million since 2008 and that there are 76.5 million children in poverty in the 41 countries surveyed by UNICEF.

The report states that the ability of governments to provide social services in some of the country’s most affected by the 2008 crash has been “hindered by the weight of the conditions imposed on them by the financial markets and the providers of financial assistance.”

As a condition for emergency funding by the International Monetary Fund to pay for their massive bank bailouts, countries such as Greece, Portugal and Cyprus were forced to slash spending on social services.

The cuts have had a dramatic impact on the well-being of children.

This meeting must provide answered to these burning issues confronted by our people on a daily basis.

This meeting has mo luxury of theorising, important as it is do so when we all know that patriarchy is still pervasive in our society and is also evident in the workplace.

When the cascading effects of economic contraction and falling household income hit girls and women hard, it affects the entire society.

Primary caregivers are usually women and girls. In both developed and developing countries, women are increasingly the main income earners as male unemployment rises and women take up one or more lower-paying jobs, typically in service jobs.

Due to unaffordable school fees and transportation costs—no doubt exacerbated by war and political instability—children in Egypt, Sudan and Yemen have been taken out of school.

Before the onset of the crisis, 46 percent of girls completed primary school in Yemen, compared with 74 percent of boys. In Nigeria, girls are 10 percent more likely than boys to drop out now than they were in 2007.

Entrenched gender roles result in girls being kept at home when mothers take on more work. Many women must work long hours for little pay, leaving the basic needs of the household in the care of their daughters.

Girls are also being married off earlier, placing them in danger of dying in childbirth, a leading cause of death for those under 20.

Among girls aged 10-16 living in Brazil, parental unemployment sharply increased the likelihood that they would drop out of school to find work.

For 16 year-old girls, the likelihood is about 50 percent.

Young women in both developed and developing countries are worse affected by current high unemployment.

Close to the onset of the crisis, the world saw one of the highest youth unemployment levels ever recorded, 79 million people aged 15-24 unemployed.

Considered secondary earners and occupying low-wage, low-skill jobs, women and girls are more likely to lose their jobs.

In North Africa, women’s unemployment increased by more than 9 percentage points, compared with men’s unemployment increasing 3.1 points. In Cambodia, 17 percent of all garment workers—50,000—were made jobless due to the crisis.

In poor countries, when girls end up working instead of going to school, they often seek work as domestics.

This means taking on multiple risks by migrating, working for little pay and working inside people’s homes. Removed from the public sphere, abuse of domestic workers often remains hidden.

This is the reality that must guide how we should shape the international labour market in particular around our demands for decent work We cannot have endless debates when we all know that women continue to bear the greatest brunt of HIV and AIDS.

We cannot sit here and spend endless hours on discussions without developing a programme to address the painful reality that women are continuously side-lined and still lack requisite confidence to take up leadership positions in our organisations, in our community and political structures.

Everything we say here will be rendered useless if it those in authority do not include women who are at the coal face of this reality.

This meeting must tell us what we should do to respond to the fact that even though women are increasingly occupying leadership position but the fact remains that women remain marginalised when it comes to making key decisions in the economy.

The scourge of gender-based violence is increasing drastically; affecting both women and children in our communities.

There are high incidents of human trafficking through which women and children are treated as sex objects.

We have allowed job evaluation and grading systems to be dictated by management and that these systems continue to place the majority of women at the bottom end of the wage scale and in more vulnerable positions of employment.

These grading systems and job evaluations are implemented without due regard for the need to transform workplaces in South Africa and the imperative of gender equity.

We have made good progress in the gender equity in employment through the training and promotion of women into positions traditionally perceived to be “men’s work”, but many employers continue to resist the training and promotion of women.

Our collective bargaining tends to emphasise wage increases at the expense of other improvements in conditions of employment, in particular reproductive issues such as maternity protection, child care, reproductive health and wellness and transport subsidies.

Our persistent tabling of across the board percentage increase demands is contributing to the ever increasing wage gap between lowest and highest paid, and that this in turn is entrenching unequal pay between women and men.

Full access to maternity protection is not yet enjoyed by most vulnerable women workers such as women working in farms, domestic workers and sex workers.

The continued criminalization of sex work has a discriminatory element as only women are charged and not their clients who solicit their services.

It is therefore important that we wage campaign to force our governments to establish a fund that will not only support women’s business initiatives and address their challenges related to access but will also support skilling women for non-business related work such as engineering.

We must lobby for a special subsidy to enable access to basic resources such as water, electricity and fuel for poor households headed by women or children.

We should wage a campaign to ensure that collective bargaining and Employment Equity is used to support gender equality in the workplace.

To campaign for the establishment of childcare facilities in the workplace. To take active steps to close gender wage gaps.

As part of our campaign for Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value, to take urgent steps to empower negotiators to understand and critique current job grading practices, with a view to developing alternative systems;
– To continue to demand the training and promotion of women into jobs traditionally reserved for men.
– To ensure that our settlements consistently include gender equity issues, and that these issues are not compromised.
– To call for Bargaining Councils adopt policies on gender parity among representatives in their structures
– We should use available research capacity to conduct a study on a possible strategy to counter the feminisation of poverty (low wages). The impact of labour broking on women. The impact of the informalisation of work on women. The meaning of decent work for women workers.
– To campaign for the realisation of maternity rights for all working women, to launch a campaign to ensure that government ratifies ILO Convention 183 and Recommendation R191 on Maternity Protection convention , and to campaign for the establishment of a dedicated Maternity Protection Fund, separate to UIF.
– To ensure that every workplace has a sexual harassment policy, and that each work place should have a specialist trained shop steward/s who deals with sexual harassment cases.

We wish this Gender conference all the success


[su_spoiler title=”Address by COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi at the COSATU National Gender Conference” open=”yes” icon=”folder-1″]7 July, 2003, Randburg Towers JHB


We are meeting barely two months away from the 8th National Congress. This conference is being organised to take stock and assess our existing gender policy adopted at the 7th National Congress.

Our task is to check whether we have indeed moved away from slogan to practise as demanded by the congress.The forthcoming 8th National Congress has to be different from other before it.We are billing as the perhaps the most important congress of COSATU in our new dispensation. It is a watershed Congress for two reasons.

First, it is a moment to pause and reflect on our experience in the last nine years of democracy. Second, we want to use this congress to unveil a long term plan towards our 30th anniversary. The coming national congress will emerge with a programme to take us to our 30th anniversary in 2015.

The programme will rest on two pillars, the first pillar would be building the working class power and the second pillar is the decent jobs. Everything we do should be how we strengthen the trade union movement.Obviously a trade union movement that does not address women oppression and discrimination is not a strong movement.

A revolutionary trade union must ensure that women workers are empowered at the workplace and in the union so that they can play the role that traditionally in our patriarchal society are reserved for men.

The conference meets at the time when we are moving rapidly towards the celebration of ten years of our liberation which is also a year to renew a mandate of the ANC led government. As we assess these 10 years we ought to start afresh and remind ourselves of the strategic objectives of the NDR.We are involved in a protracted struggle to liberate black people in general and African in particular.

Our NDR recognised all three contradictions – that our freedom would not be freedom unless we simultaneously address the national question, the gender and working class oppression.Ours is the radical NDR that analyse problems we face from a class perspective.

Looking back, we can say that the working class have gained a lot in the last nine years of democracy. From a gender perspectives we can claim that black working class women have also gained from democracy.

Some of the gains include access to basic services, a democratic dispensation; progressive gender legislation, policies and establishment of gender institutions; new labour laws, and so forth. We have also noted that these gains have been offset by rising unemployment, poverty and inequality.

The policy we adopted in 2000 and the policy proposals that would emerge from this conference must make a contribution to that liberation of women from their triple oppression.So, we are not just looking at the gender question isolated from the NDR.

Our last national Congress, in 2000, emphasised the need to elect more women as leaders, especially at shop steward level; to empower women leaders; and to put more emphasis on negotiations around women’s issues.

The Gender Conference aims to analyse our successes and weaknesses in achieving these aims, so that our upcoming Eighth Congress in September can improve our work in this area. Thus it is important that gender transformation forms part of our long term plan. To that end, the resolutions of this conference must find expression in our organisational renewal plan.

Discrimination against women is still a problem in our country, including in the workplace. That is why women need unions more.

On the shop floor, women’s work is still systematically undervalued and underpaid, especially for black women. Industries where women workers predominate – such as government services, retail, clothing and food production and domestic labour – still have relatively low pay and bad conditions. And women still find it harder to get promotions and training opportunities, and are less likely to get promoted to supervisory positions and management.

Furthermore, working conditions generally ignore family responsibilities. Since in most families, women end up doing most of the work to maintain the family, this imposes a particular burden on them. Most of our workplaces do not provide childcare or flexitime; and time off for family responsibilities and maternity is minimal.

These problems have become worse with the spread of HIV/AIDS. Women almost invariably end up looking after family members with HIV, which means they need more time off – and that often puts them into conflict with their employers.

COSATU has long demanded that employers do more to take women’s needs into account. Skills development and employment equity plans must do more to increase the opportunities available to women, especially black women.

Women also face problems outside the workplace. Above all, they are hardest hit by unemployment. Again, African women bear the brunt of the problem.

If we include people too discouraged actively to seek work, the unemployment rate for women as a whole is almost 50%, compared to 34% for men. For African women, however, the rate is even higher, at 53%. And an astonishing 75% of African women under 30 years old are looking for work.

Because it is still harder for women to get jobs, African women make up only one in five formal workers – but they are half of all the unemployed.

The situation has been aggravated by the virtual freeze on the public service since 1994. For decades, nursing and teaching were almost the only way African women could gain a professional career. But this career path has been largely closed for almost ten years. As a result, only 6% of African women under 30 have professional jobs, compared to 12% of older women.

We sometimes hear that unemployment results from low skills. But according to government’s September 2002 Labour Force Survey, African women in the labour force have a higher average education level than African men – but they also have a much higher unemployment rate.

Many women also have to spend huge amounts of time on household labour, because they still don’t have basic services such as electricity and water, and because they have look after people with HIV/AIDS. According to the Labour Force Survey, in 2002 one in ten African women spent at least five hours a week fetching water, and one in seven spent that much time collecting wood.

Finally, many women still face oppression, even violence, in their families. This situation is aggravated because they face such high unemployment, which makes it hard for them to leave oppressive homes.

At the recent Growth and Development Summit, and in other policy engagements, COSATU has tried to ensure policies that will address these joint problems of unemployment, poverty and poor basic services. In particular, the agreement on expanded public works – including community services such as childcare – and sectoral strategies are critical to generate more employment.

COSATU is still working to ensure that these agreements are implemented strongly – and that women get a fair share of the new opportunities they create.

Privatisation poses a particular problem for women. Current proposals for restructuring Eskom and Telkom seem likely to reduce the access of poor people to basic infrastructure, especially electricity and telephones. That will increase the burden of household labour, which is still borne mainly by African women.

HIV/AIDS also sets particular challenges for women. In many cases, women with HIV still face unbearable discrimination. They have to worry about their children, and they often have to care for spouses. For this reason, COSATU has called for massive education and prevention campaigns – and for anti-retroviral treatment for all our people.

COSATU is proud to have contributed to the decision to provide treatment in the public health system to prevent transmission of HIV through rape and from women to children. These programmes use targeted treatment with anti-retrovirals. Now we have to expand these programmes so that all women have access.

This Gender Conference must reflect on our efforts in all these areas. But it must also address the problems that COSATU itself still faces in empowering women. Above all, our shopstewards and leadership are still disproportionately men.

Even unions whose members are mostly women still have mostly men leaders. And then there is the “deputy” phenomenon. That is, almost all our affiliates have elected women in national positions; but almost all of the positions are deputy presidents, or treasurers. The main decision makers are still almost all men.

The problem starts at the shop steward level. Our last Congress agreed to focus on ensuring that more women are elected as shopstewards, to represent members in the workplace. This is the first step in building women leadership in the unions. We need to evaluate how far we have come in achieving the goals set in this area, and how we can strengthen our efforts.

Still we should not lose sight of the visible progress that we have registered in the last few years.Certainly there are now more women in the COSATU CEC than was the case in the past. This shows that slowly women are making it into senior leadership structures of the union.

Our test is to sustain and improve on the progress registered in the last few years.  This also requires a brutal assessment of our organisational practices, particularly the extent to which we have systematically addressed barriers to women’s participation and changes in male attitudes.

In 1997, the 6th National Congress adopted a policy on measurable targets. This was a compromise between those demanding adoption of a quota system as the policy and those who were opposed to it. The measurable targets meant that taking into account the percentage of women workers in the federation we would over a period of time ensure that we can measure whether our structures are representative or not.

That was six years ago, the measurable targets are no longer good enough, we need a quota system adopted as the policy so that the movement can be forced to deal with the challenge at hand.That policy cant be just applicable at the federation level it must be forced at each an every affiliate of the federation.

If women dominate the teaching and nursing profession, the union structures must reflect just that. If men dominate mining industry, the union structures must reflect just that. The office bearers were defeated in this position in 1997, but now we working with all of yourselves have to win this position.

We want to build the unions into an even stronger bulwark for women, as workers and as members of our communities. We must become a source of empowerment and protection for women workers, in particular. Our Gender Conference should form a milestone in achieving these aims. We need to invest resources and conscientise political leaders to provide consistent leadership on gender issues. Unfortunately, on both counts, progress across the Federation has been uneven.

As part of our organisational renewal strategy, we need to address organisational strategies to gender issues, including allocation of resources; establishment of gender infrastructures, and a conscious strategy to push women demands in our bargaining agenda.

However, for these demands to be realised, women must take an active part in the organisation and engage in struggle to change gender relations in our organisations, the workplace and in broader society. Without struggle nothing will be gained!

On my behalf on behalf of the National Office Bearers and the CEC I wish you the best ever conference and looking forward seeing you working hard inside your unions to ensure that the relations of the conference get adopted by unions so that they can be debated in the floor of the National Congress

You have to succeed for the sake of ensuring that our NDR remain true to its true objectives



[su_spoiler title=”Address by Willie Madisha, COSATU President to the COSATU National Gender Conference” open=”yes” icon=”folder-1″]

5 July 2000

Comrade Chairperson
Comrade delegates
Distinguished guests

Permit me to greet you in the name of your federation COSATU, and to wish you the best of luck in your deliberations in this conference. Over the next three days, this august gathering will be faced with momentous challenges – challenges which summon all participants to actively debate and redefine COSATU`s gender policies, the proper participation of women in the federation and its affiliates leadership structures, reaffirmation of our positions on total women`s emancipation and the removal of gender-based stereotypes.

These momentous challenges are best encapsulated in the theme of our conference, entitled “Women crush poverty for self-emancipation and socialism”

For us to best understand the challenges before us, and appropriately respond to the theme of the conference we must know the realities that women face on a daily basis – both on the home front, society and organisation – and these realities are best summarised by Lenin when he wrote in 1919 that:

Notwithstanding all the laws emancipating woman, she continues to be a domestic slave, because petty housework crushes, strangles stultifies and degrades her, chains her to the kitchen and the nursery; and she wastes her labour on barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve-wracking, stultifying and crushing drudgery. The real emancipation of women, real communism, will only begin where and when an all out struggle begins (led by the proletariat wielding state power) against petty housekeeping, or rather when its wholesale transformation into a large-scale socialist economy begins.”

This comrades, was a significant statement and describes the major problems womenfolk face in society.

But it is further important to understand the statement Lenin makes again on 23rd September, 1919 at the Non- Party Working Women Conference, where he says “In order to be active in politics under the old capitalist regime special training was required, so that women played an insignificant part in politics, even in the most advanced and free capitalist countries. Our task is to make politics available to every working woman…… the participation of every working woman is essential – not only of Party members and politically conscious women, but of the non-party women and those who are least politically conscious….. The work that Soviet power has begun can only make progress when, instead of a few hundred, millions and millions of women… take part in it. We are sure that the cause of socialist development will become sound.”

These words, said by one of the elders on whose practical theories we base our revolutionary onslaught against capital greed, still hold true today and should guide our debates over the next three days.

These words justify our long-held understanding that women`s emancipation and the removal of gender inequality can be attained only when two things happen, and that is when women are brought fully into social production and when private domestic labour is replaced by socialized services and a thorough-going conscious struggle against the bourgeois culture and social psychology of sexism.

For this conference to respond to the question “What does socialism mean to women?” it becomes important that we revisit what the various socialist states did to deal with the problems women faced when those states took power. As an example, we have proposed to look at the Soviet Union, China and Cuba when these three countries attained their socialist revolutions. It will be good for this conference to understand what has been achieved, or not achieved, in respect of the literacy of women, laws governing abortion and marriage, and how women were brought into positions of leadership both at Party, union and other levels of responsibility. From the outset, we must point out that these states were guided by the vision of Engels in propagating for the removal of a class-based division of society that led to the exploitation of women, and thus put his theory into practice.

Today, there are very important lessons that we can learn from those revolutions. In the Soviet Union, although the initial efforts to free women from class exploitation were limited by the lack of state resources, the peasant economy and legacies of state underdevelopment, very important advances were made.

Those gains and advances were made because even men themselves, unlike men in capitalist societies, were prepared to embrace and advance such gains and advances. In Russia, the revolutionaries led against the gender-backwardness amongst the masses. This was made possible because revolutionaries had an understanding that both the foundations and character of class oppression had to be fought from all directions, and thus mobilised the masses. This fight took place n the Party and in broader Russian society.

That was the “first wave” of women struggles and it ensured victory for women`s equality in respect of the vote, access to tertiary education, the right to control their own money and property.

Together with these advances, the Party in Russia ensured that through a Congress resolution in the Party Congress of 1921, it directed every member to strengthen the working women against all forms of stereotypes, to fight all forms of prejudices against women by the proletarian men, increased the awareness of both working men and women that their interests were the same against Capital.

The Party, through these struggles, emphasised Lenin`s idea of “agitation and propaganda through action”. This gave women courage to recognise their abilities and ensured that they were drawn into practical work as part and parcel of the working class. Women were encouraged to occupy leadership positions in the Party and as shop stewards in the unions. That revolution teaches us that the battle to address women and gender problems cannot be an issue for women alone, but that the battle must be fought by both men and women united. All women`s problems are important to the entire revolutionary struggle; and the struggle cannot ever be won unless women, and not men alone, are free.

The 1917 revolution ensured complete equality of men and women under the law. It, for instance, made abortion free and legal at any stage of the pregnancy; it abolished the legal rights of a foetus; it legalised homosexuality; forbade employment on the basis of gender differences and decriminalized prostitution; only civil marriages were allowed and divorces were allowed at the request of either partner. If a single mother could not identify a single father, all men identified were forced to pay paternity/ maintenance. Child-care facilities, laundry and kitchen facilities were supplied.

These were the gains of the Russian revolution in addressing some of the gender problems and difficulties faced by women. These gains were an advance compared to what capitalist states such as the USA did to its women many decades after the Russian revolution, where men were given tax discounts if their wives did not work and stayed at home; and single mothers got penalized for not being dependant on the fathers of their children. These examples of the Bolsheviks revolution in Russia were followed during the revolution of Cuba, where these gains were enacted and improved. Vietnam, Nicaragua are other examples. China too made some limited advances. But in all these countries today, workers, particularly women workers, still believe, and rightly so, that more must be done.

Unfortunately, these gains were reversed when Stalin came to power, in particular in 1936 when he made divorce difficult, abortion, prostitution and homosexuality criminal acts and promoted the joys of motherhood.

We must therefore emphasise that although in the initial stages of the proletarian revolutions at the turn of the century, humanity made enormous strides as represented by Russia, the later stages up to today have been characterised by women oppression and gender inequalities.

That is why this conference is so important. It is important because it must respond to our shared understanding as the South African organised working class that gender inequality leads our country to a situation where the ideals of our revolution cannot be realised. It is important because it must serve to liberate every worker, and not only women, from this unequal treatment, which is indeed only equal to a severe loss of dignity. It must also liberate male workers who must understand that gender discrimination does not serve the working class, but it serves the owners of Capital, as it assert and strengthens the divisions within the working class, thus allowing Capital and employers to dictate the future and the lives of the working class.

Therefore liberation must be the liberation of men and women as components of one and the same class called the working class, although blockages to women`s emancipation must be elevated in our proper societal development.

We must call on this conference, as you proceed to discuss the issues before us, to also look into other points associated with our broad gender development as workers, such as the still unresolved problems of:

  • maternity leave, home work, equal pay for equal work and migrant labour
  • GEAR and women
  • Hidden work done by women, such as looking after children at home which is unpaid, whereas workers in a crèche are paid for the same work

These are areas that still have to be ratified by numerous ILO conventions, and it would help if this conference could breathe on these issues, so that you can give the next COSATU Congress direction on them.

(Here Cde Madisha expressed his disquiet at the fact that the SA government had refused to vote on the maternity leave issue at the ILO in Geneva.)

In the South African perspective, high levels of poverty and unemployment hits women the hardest, particularly the rural women. These are the women who are subjected to home work, in kitchens, on farms etc. That is why our struggle to alleviate poverty and unemployment must also be seen as the struggle for gender emancipation.

This conference is tasked by our federation to ensure that the same, and even more benefits are achieved as those availed to women workers at the turn of the century – before the horrendous takeover by Stalin.