The history of the trade unions would suggest that the leadership has tended to be a male preserve. Some would question why this continues to be so when at the same time, the evidence points to a workforce that is dominated by females. The issue of gender politics in trade unions has remained a topical one and emerging from it is the burning question of the existence of equality of the sexes in the leadership of trade unions.
This debate is seemingly a never-ending one, and it continues despite extensive structural reforms being initiated in order to encourage and promote gender equality. It would seem that despite these efforts to drive gender proportionality, the gap remains far from being closed. With this being the case, there is a need to search for the reasons why the status quo remains.
The debate on gender proportionality in trade unions is one which also occupies the attention of those directly engaged in partisan politics. It has long been felt that there are too few women involved in partisan politics. The argument has been perpetuated that women have tended to shy away from the robust demands of the leadership of national organizations and have done so usually advancing the demands of family duties as a primary reason.
There is growing evidence that the younger generation of females graduating from colleges and universities are showing a greater inclination to offer themselves for leadership roles in trade unions, political organizations, the church and non-governmental organizations. It is common knowledge that females are now fiercely competing and successfully so, for appointment to senior management positions in both private and public sectors.
The insurgency of women in the leadership of trade unions since the turn of the 21st century and even before then is enough to dismiss the claim that women are being excluded from the leadership of trade unions. There was a time that some international world organizations promoted the policy that member units attending the annual world conference, had to include a female in the delegation. One would hope that the policy which was being pursued at the time was not simply designed as an accommodation for women, but instead was meant to encourage their greater participation.
Those who continue to make a case about the exclusion of women from the leadership of trade unions should go beyond making the claim and attempt to justify why this is happening. As it stands, the practice of democracy prevails within the operations of trade unions in western societies. With this being the norm, all members of a trade union have the right to offer themselves for election to office. It is left to individuals to ready themselves as suitable candidates and then canvass the support required to be elected, using the first past the post system. Women, like men, should be supported and there should be nothing in any constitution or practice of a trade union that serves to exclude either of the sexes from competing for election to office.
Many researchers have commented on the increasing influence which women are bringing to bear on the leadership of trade unions. This gives support to the fact that exclusion is fast becoming a non-issue. What remains a statement of fact is the continued domination of leadership by males. Why this is so, may be the subject of a sociological or physiological study.
Where democratization remains a feature of the trade union, and where the participation of women at the leadership level of trade unions is encouraged, there can be no basis for a charge of exclusion to be levied, unless there is evidence of corrupt practices being engaged.
DENNIS DE PEIZA
Labour Management Consultant
Regional Management Services Inc.
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