ICTU Women’s Committee hold a seminar and conference on alternate ears. As last years conference was in Wexford it was the turn of the NI members to host this years Seminar.
It was two days, not of motions but of workshops and keynote addresses, an attempt to empower, inform and entertain delegates. As with previous years PSEU had a strong delegation in attendance.
After being welcomed by both the Joint Chairs and Belfast Trades Council who reminded us once more “Let us be the change we want to be in the world”, In fact Kerry Fleck from the trades Council went on to speak eloquently and passionately on the effects of austerity on Workin class women and how there are now a plethora of active women’s groups in Belfast. Kerry reminded us of the change in discourse of groups like the IMF who are calling for an increase in the minimum wage and that inequality is the achilles heel of neoliberalism.
Ethel Buckley from SIPTU spoke of the Ethical Work Initiative and of the involvement of President Michael D Higgins in pushing this valuable campaign. #ethicswork is their hashtag
David Begg then gave what is his last official speech as general Secretary of Congress befor Patrica King takes over on International Womens Day this weekend. David spoke of the “widening gap between rich and poor which may threaten economic and political stability….and so it should” He pointed to the Nordic countries as the most economically and social cohesive models and said that “our mission is to project ideas for a different, better, fairer, society.” On international Womens Day this year there will be women leaders of ICTU, TUC, ITUC and ETUC which is a great achievement for the movement.
ICTU President John Douglas reiterated this theme, these are the most challenging times in our history and welcomed the fact that Patricia King is taking over – “Patricia is the best trade unionist on the isand of Ireland” John opined.
Zuzanna Muskat-Gorsta from the ITUC spoke eloquently in her non-native tongue on Gender Equality. “From Poland it is deeply risky to say, ‘I’m a feminist”.. Zuzanna echoed Naomi Klein’s recent thoughts that climate change is strongly linked to Global Inequality and that Green Jobs is the way forward. We also heard how that Gender Based Violence is increasing and amongst that Forced Labour and human trafficking in a violent act.
The seminar split into workshops and the perception of women in Public Life heard of groups in both North and South that are sing education to help equalise the balance of gender participation in Political Life. Some startling figures came out. 16% of dail seats are held by women – an all time high! and 96th in world ranking. 0% of Senior Judges in Northern Ireland are female.
Belfast Lord Mayor then spoke of the way she never though of gender until becoming Lord Mayor and how suddenly her clothes seemed as important to print media as her actions. The office run Lord Mayor for a Day internships and Joanna gave an inspirational speech on disability and her hopes for the future.
Caroline McGuigan of Suicide or Survive gave the keynote address for the afternoon. This shows how the Seminar is different from so many. Suicide and mental health is a strong concern for society and obvioulsly then for trade unionists. We all konw people looking for help and were reminded that we need to listen to people because they are experts. http://www.yourmentalhealth.ie is there to assist people. Voices from the floor said how people are flat in the workplace, austerity has beaten them down. We have to try and assist in whatever way we can.
The day finished with a screening of Inez: A Challenging Woman – this documentary gave a short insight into the work and battles of human rights activist and trade unionist, Inez McCormack, ICTU’s first Woman President and trailblazer for many. It is a sad yet inspirational tale as, like so many other tributes, we wait for the people to pass away before celebraitng their life. The respect for Inez amongst people at the Seminar is palpable and it was a great way to celebrate her achievements.
Day 2 had less time allocated but was no less informative. Annie Campbell from Womens Aid NI detailed awful statistics around Gender Based Violence. According to PSNI stats there’s 1 doemstic abuse incident every 19minutes with 1 domestic abuse crime every 41. IN the time it took me to write this there were 2 incidents and 1 crime. 2.5 times more domestic abuse than burgalry with over 95%directed at women. Austerity is bringing challenges as it can lead to unsustainability.
It’s hard when this is just a topic at a conference attended by hundreds of union activists to understand the severity if this issue but with these stats you can be sure there are victims and perpetrators as members of all unions in attendance. Awful.
The final piece before the wrap up which was given by PSEU’s Melissa Brennan was a panel discussion with guests from cosc, womens aid, white ribbon campaign, cpsu and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. There was a varied discussion on violence perpetrated by men and howmen avoid vulnerability. Most comments from the floor related to the proposed upcoming visit to Ireland by Juien BBlanc. Blanc has been denied access to the UK and Singapore. He was deported from Australis and is planning on speaking at a €2,000 per ticket event in Dublin in June. He is a self proclaimed ” leading international coach in dating ” and all impressions are that he condones violence. His social media diatribe is insulting and if he does make it to the country you can be sure there will be a strong presence outside the event.