They came, singing and clapping, from all over South Africa — and together they made history.
It was the first time that the women of Cosatu came together to talk about their problems — and what it means to be black and a woman and a worker in South Africa.
The Cosatu Women’s Conference took place at the Rand Showgrounds in Johannesburg. It lasted for three days, from the 2 2 – 2 4 April.
MESSAGES OF SUPPORT
Workers from all over the world sent messages supporting the Cosatu women. Letters came from Sweden, Holland, Italy, Britain and Norway. Even the ANC’s women’s section sent their greetings to the women at the conference.
Some women came from far away. Three comrades came from Namibia. They came from the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW). Helene llonga lives in Windhoek. She is the chairperson of her local Domestic Workers’ Committee. She 18 says: “I was chosen by the union to come to the conference. I was very excited. We were very happy to come here to share our thoughts and to learn from our comrades in South Africa.”
SPLITTING INTO GROUPS
The women sat together and listened to what the Cosatu leaders said. They then split up into four groups and started talking about the women’s struggle.
• The first group talked about women at work — in shops, in factories, on farms and domestic workers. They spoke, for example, about how women sometimes do the same work as men but are paid half as much. And sometimes women want to do such work, but they are told they cannot because they are women.
• The second group spoke about women in the unions. They discussed why women do not take part in.union activities as much as men do — and why there are so few women in leadership positions. They spoke about – the many problems that women face which make it difficult for them to do these things.
• The third group spoke about health and safety. Women must often work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. They can do the same work as men. But they are different to men because they must bear children. This causes many problems for working women.
• The fourth group looked at the problems of women in the community. They talked about women in rural areas and in urban areas. But women all over share the same problems — like housing, childcare and uncaring husbands.
MANY DIFFERENT IDEAS
At the conference they talked about ways and means of bringing women together to solve their problems. Some said, “Cosatu must organise women to take the struggle forward”. Others said, “No, it is for the women’s organisations in the community to organise women.”
Said one Cosatu member: “We were not surprised that there were some difficulties. It was the first time the special problems of women at work, in the unions and in the community were looked at seriously.”
But people agreed that women’s organisations in the community should carry on their work. They would work together with Cosatu women, and Cosatu women would work with them in the community.
They decided that women from different unions must come together to solve their problems in the Cosatu Women’s Forums. And they agreed to take the issues of women to Cosatu’s next National Congress.
At the end of the day the women stood together and sang the national anthem. Then they shouted with one voice: Amandla!
SOME OF THE RESOLUTIONS
The conference made many resolutions. Here are just some of them:
• Women should have the right to be pregnant and give birth when they choose. Pregnant women must have full job security and be given at least 8 months paid leave.
• There must be research and education about the dangers to health at work, especially dangers to women. Union members should set up health and safety committees in their workplaces to fight for better health and safety conditions.
• Cosatu must campaign to educate men not to beat or rape women. Cosatu must work with other organisations to fight for the right of women to have an abortion.
• Cosatu should educate its members about AIDS.
• Farm workers and domestic workers should also get unemployment fund (UIF) money like other workers.
• Cosatu members must be educated about women’s issues. They must know that women can also do union work, and so they must elect women to positions in the unions.
• Cosatu must fight to get equal work for women and men, with equal pay. This would form part of the Living Wage Campaign.
local — nearby, nearest to you
conference — a big meeting
issues — problems, things to speak about
resolutions — the things people at a meeting decide to do