By Masingita Masunga

For three days this week at the Kievietskroon Hotel (east of Pretoria), commencing today, 20 June 2022, the premier labour federation, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), will host its 1st Elective National Gender Conference since it was launched 37 years ago. “This was guided by the COSATU Constitution that was adopted in 2018,” quipped Zingiswa Losi, COSATU’s President, “which now enjoins us to formally recognise gender formations within the federation and its affiliates as constitutional structures. This milestone could be attributed to the National Gender Committee of the Federation. This groundbreaking event happens in June, a month endowed with significant dates in our worker history: 3 June is recognised as the World Child Labour Day which we use to launch a week-long ‘Action Against Child Labour’. This for South African workers resonates with us as we commemorate Youth Month in which we pay tribute to the gallant youth of our country who embarked on an epoch-making moment by rising against apartheid education in 1976.”

The speakers at the conference will include Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister in the Presidency; Mmamoloko Kubayi, Minister of Human Settlement; John Jeffrey, Deputy Minister of Justice; Alice Gondwe-Siame, African International trade union veteran; Tamara Mathebula, Chairperson of the Commisdion on Gender Equality; Caroline Ntaopane, representative of the ActionAids S.A. Chapter; and Rev Bafana Khumalo, Co-executive Director Sonke Gender Justice.

The COSATU President eloquently indicated that this National Gender Conference has to guide and develop strategies for the Federation to prioritise young women’s leadership development and mentorship. “Our aim is to support young women to realise their full potential as young women worker leaders and as catalysts for social transformation. We believe that the Federation must invest in young women’s leadership to change the future of trade unions as well as to contribute to the national development agenda and the transformation of society as whole.”

The broad cardinal objectives of the COSATU Gender Conference could be tabulated as follows:
• To review COSATU’s work, gaps and achievements on gender equality in the workplace and in the federation.
• To advance the implementation of COSATU Gender policies and resolutions in the federation itself and their impact in the workplace.
• To ensure that COSATU’s gender programme responds to current and emerging issues that influence the entire ecosystem within which workers’ lives are impacted upon.
• To deepen gender transformation within the federation and the SA workplace.
• Assess and strengthen gender mainstreaming in the collective bargaining
agenda and agreements.
• Develop campaign strategies for the implementation of ILO C190 and R206, in
the workplace, trade unions, federation and in the national legislations.
• Validation of COSATU Draft 35-yr Gender Review.
• Validation of COSATU strategy framework to combat Gender Based Violence
and Harassment (GBVH) in the World of Work that integrated elements of
• Strengthen the programme of the young women leadership development.
• Develop a comprehensive campaign on equal pay for work of equal value
• Strengthen the campaign of Maternity Protection and ratification of C183
• Clear guidance on bringing Male gender champions as allies in promoting
gender equality and combating Gender-Based Violence, Harassment and Femicide (GBVHF).
• Development of a Gender Four-year plan of action for adoption at the September 2022
COSATU Congress.
• Development of Gender Resolutions for adoption by September Congress.

“Rigorous substantial debates are expected to take place since a number of strategic documents were developed and discussed within the federation and its affiliates in preparation for this National Gender Conference 2022,” says Zingiswa with a tinge of anticipation and confidence. These included the draft COSATU 35-year Gender Review; draft COSATU Gender Based Violence, Harassment and Femicide Strategy
framework (GBVH); as well as the draft COSATU Medium-Term Review.

Following this conference, COSATU will in September hold its 14th National Congress to evaluate and assess its work, adopt a four-year plan to guide programmes and campaigns, and further adopt gender-related resolutions that will strengthen its mandate on advancing gender equity and women’s empowerment in the union movement, at work and society in general.

“The COSATU National Congress is an opportune time to reflect on COSATU’s gender struggles since its inception in 1981, and to identify strengths and weaknesses in its policies, strategies and campaigns over the years. While what we have termed “A Struggle within the Struggle” – which speaks to advocating for women empowerment – has yielded an unprecedented result of having woman elected into the leadership of the affiliates and I elevated into the Presidency through gender parity at the National Office Bearer (NOB) level,” she said with a measure of humility and caution, “we still have to deepen this struggle for gender mainstreaming. The Federation has noted that its policy positions on gender and women leadership development have been unevenly implemented in the workplace, trade unions and the Federation itself. So the Federation will introspect and evaluate its progress on substantive gender equality in the world of work, trade unions, communities and further influencing development and implementation of national, regional and international legislation.”

This conference takes place within both international and national contexts. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference in June 2019 adopted the first international labour standard that represents an historic opportunity to shape a future
of work that is based on dignity and respect for all. The convention recognises the right
of everyone to a World of Work free from Violence and Harassment, including Gender-
Based Violence and Harassment.

Nationally, the South African government ratified the convention on 29 November 2021 and will therefore come into force as from 29 November this year. “It therefore follows that the necessary laws and policy measures on preventing and addressing violence and harassment in the world of work have to be in place,” says the Losi. “ As COSATU, we have a responsibility to raise awareness amongst our members and workers at large, lobby for the labour law reform to include C190 elements and ensure that C190 is reflected in collective
bargaining agreements. This National Gender Conference will therefore reflect on strategies for implementation of C190 and on collaboration with ILO on its Global
campaign to build support for C190 with its constituencies.”

abOVEnormal poster tribute to the COSATU National Gender Conference