On being visible … (UN 58th Commission on the Status of Women)
You can see us, the women of the GUFs (Global Unions Federations), by the big red badge that reads: “Women Unions Power”. It is a good way to recognise each other in the huge, constant stream of humanity that pass each other in the hallways of the UN, and on the streets around it. The badge has the added advantage of making our agenda clear and visible.
What is not so clear is where do Trade Unions fit in the UN Agenda?
Certainly there is no reference to Trade Unions in the important papers (such as the Agreed Conclusions), and many of the most important sessions are closed to us, or are by pre-arranged invitation only. We are considered the same as any other NGO, whether a small organisation with a handful of members, or like us – collectively representing 70 million women worldwide.
So, the GUF sisters lobby like crazy to get some of our own language and points into those all important (Draft) Agreed Conclusions. They hold briefings, organise and run parallel events to make us visible in this process.
Many of us are acutely aware of the dangerous consequences of not being visible, of what happens when issues are under reported or ignored by journalists or (more often) editors and producers. Indeed, this was one of the key messages at the UNESCO and International Women's Media Foundation meeting: “Access to Information and Communications Technologies and a Free and Independent Media (Effective Means to contribute to Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls)” - “Information is Protection”
Panellists spoke of how media needed to reflect society, and that access to a free and independent media was a key core of sustainable development, and therefore should be supported by governments. They spoke of the new technologies allowing women to access information in a revolutionary way,and gave an example of a radio station in Africa that makes it's broadcasts into podcasts, so that women can download them onto mobile phones and share.
There was a call for the UN to better support these fledgeling stations, and to encourage more young women journalists to make the programming, so that it better reflects their needs. They spoke of how Freedom of Expression was essential to empowerment and used the expression: “connect, invoke, transform.” All good, and all perspectives that could easily have been supported by IFJ Unions and the wider Trade Union movement.
UNESCO then spoke of the recent survey they funded with INSI on the Global Survey on the Women Journalists, and referred to a hidden crisis of threats and abuse and the need for female journalists to work without fear of reprisals. All good, and extremely important to make visible. They were even honest about the fact that although 1000 women answered their global survey, it was only available in English, which certainly disenfranchised much of that globe.
But yet, but yet, here is where things got a bit muddled. They spoke of the need for governments to better protect female journalists, without referencing the fact that the majority of women who had responded to that survey said it was within the workplace where they had been most often abused, so the need was within labour laws. They ended by speaking about the UN Resolution to End Impunity of the murder of all journalists, not only women. A resolution that was the direct result of work of the IFJ, but that was not mentioned. And, as the session was closed without the opportunity to ask questions, it was also not possible to raise this issue, to make us visible.
co-Chair IFJ Gender Council