Today is International Women’s Day, when across the world we celebrate the achievements of women and call for greater equality. As not only the UK’s biggest union for women, but the largest organisation for women in the UK, it’s a big day for UNISON and our members.
Everything that happens in our union begins with our membership – and as I told UNISON Women’s Conference only a few weeks ago, that means it’s the priorities of UNISON women that drive our agenda. I’m so proud of that – because achieving that was a battle that we fought and won together. 25 years ago, when UNISON was formed, we wrote a new rule book which enshrined the role of women in UNISON – leading in UNISON.
A majority in our democratic structures at every level are women. The majority of our NEC are women. Four out of five of our Assistant General Secretaries are women. The majority of our Presidential team are women. With a million women in UNISON, we are a union run by women for women – something we all can and should be proud of.
On this International Women’s Day, that’s cause for celebration – but it’s also a time to stop, reflect and chart a course to the victories that can and must be won for gender equality.
That means taking on sexual harassment – both in society and in the workplace. A recent TUC study showed that more than half of all women – and two thirds of women aged between 18 and 24 – have experienced sexual harassment at work. Of those who experienced sexual harassment at work, only one in five had reported it to their employer. Our union has to be at the forefront of cutting through the culture of harassment and the climate of silence which surrounds it.
It also means tackling the gender pay gap that’s a blight on our society – ensuring that work of equal value receives the same pay, and fighting to stop work largely done by women from being considered lower-skilled, and receiving lower pay. It also means getting more women into senior roles across our public services whilst fighting to ensure that poverty pay (which disproportionately affects women) is a thing of the past.
And it means ensuring that sectors like social care – where women are the vast majority of workers – gets the funding it needs and provides the pay and conditions care workers deserve. Each year social care becomes ever more important for our families and our communities, and yet too many women working in social care – amongst the most important jobs it’s possible to have – aren’t treated with the same level of care and support that they themselves provide.
So as we celebrate this International Women’s Day, all of us in UNISON should be rightly proud of what we’ve achieved together – and look ahead to the battles yet to be won. Because when UNISON wins, women win – today, and every day.