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2012 National Women's Conference
4 October 2011

Conference knows the history of the struggle that women have fought for the right to equality for all aspects of our lives. From the days of the Suffragettes and the Women’s Social and Political Union women have fought for rights to education, equal pay, decent childcare, maternity and parental leave, health care, equal rights for part-time workers, and decent pensions for our old age.

We are proud that UNISON alone of all the trade unions has proportionality and fair representation enshrined in our rule book. Those of us who are members of the Labour Party have fought for equal access for women into political life through supporting women only shortlists, and ensuring that the Labour party created the Minister for Women as part of the Cabinet Office to scrutinise legislation for genre equality. The Public Sector Equality Duties and associated Equality Impact Assessments helped to deliver equality in the public sector for service users and providers including staff.

These achievements have been bought by so many women both famous and unrecognised, and in some cases at considerable personal cost, to place us where we are today. We are the descendents of those women and the baton has been passed to us to continue the struggle, and struggle it will be.

Our current Tory lead Coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats, is seeing the position of women in society facing an unparalleled attack. From day one the Coalition Government has targeted women. From the emergency budget which had a significant disproportionate impact on women than men, attacks on the benefit system, increase to VAT, threats to Sure Start, tax credits, and the threat to universal benefits, all predominantly affecting women. In addition, their attack on the public sector workforce will see the majority of those at risk of losing their jobs being women. For those women left, their terms and conditions, including redundancy, are under threat. Vital public services that women rely on are being decimated or prepared for wholesale privatisation. Openly we are seeing Ministers of the Government saying that if women chose to have children the responsibility should be theirs and not a burden on their employer. The so called Pension Reforms of this Government and seeing women paying more and being made to work longer for less benefits. Putting huge pressure on millions of women. The right wing media are buying into these policies and demonising public sector workers, the majority of whom are women, and lauding the tactic of setting women against women in new thing tanks aimed at vilifying the role of feminism in improving the lives of women at home and abroad. We have already seen Topshop introducing Topman T-shirts promoting domestic abuse which they have had to withdraw due to the complaints they generated.

These attacks are and will prevent women fulfilling their potential within society, whether that is in their communities or within their employment opportunities, and undermining the gains that women have made especially in balancing employment and their caring responsibility. For women and our women members we are going to be faced with the struggle not just to improve, but to fight to maintain the protection that we currently enjoy. The Tory ideology clearly has not changed and that is that women should be denied the opportunity to work outside the home.

Already in the North East we are seeing women’s unemployment reaching the highest level in 23 years, and with the highest unemployment rate in the country. Take on top of this the decimation to the Connexions Service and the huge hike in university tuition fees, and the abolition of Education Maintenance Grants, meaning the future for young women in the UK is bleak.

UNISON in the Northern Region has been campaigning with our other public sector trade unions against Government policy through the Public Services Alliance, and it has been UNISON women at the forefront of the local PSAs. It is imperative that UNISON continues to encourage our women members to come into positions of leadership within the Union. In the Northern Region, we are working through our Regional Education Committee to develop leadership courses for women. Women should be central in making the decisions that affect women whether that is in UNISON or Government or as local politicians.

The Northern Region Women’s Network has been campaigning for many years to encourage women to become involved in public life, whether that is working with our Regional Labour Link or encouraging them to take up public duties such as becoming school governors or local councillors, all of which develops women and reflects our role in society. One of our previous motions led to the UNISON “I don’t do politics” campaign.

It is imperative that UNISON women are at the forefront of the defence and promotion of women’s rights.

This Conference instructs the National Women’s Committee to:

1)Campaign with the relevant parts of UNISON’s structures to highlight the disproportional impact of Government policies for our women members;

2)Work with our representatives on the TUC Women’s Group to work with the other trade unions to campaign against the attacks being made by the Government and right wing think tanks that challenge the position of women in today’s society and seek to undermine the rights that women presently enjoy;

3)Fight to protect the employment rights of women members; and

4)Encourage UNISON regions to promote leadership courses for women members along with buddying and mentoring courses.