Transforming ‘work’: Linking Care, Gender Responsive Public Services and Women’s Economic Empowerment

By: Kedibone V. Mdolo , DENOSA

Public Services International (PSI) is a trade union that brings together more than 20 million workers, two-thirds of whom are women. It is a global trade union federation dedicated to social justice and fighting inequality, promoting human rights and universal access to quality public services for all. The main objective of PSI is to achieving gender equality at the workplace and in society. Our members are in Health care, Social protection, Municipal and Community services, Central government, and Public utilities such as water, waste recollection and electricity.

In answering the first that said ‘How are labour movements, particularly those of public sector workers, joining with others to demand public services that work for women and promote their economic rights?’ An introduction was giving that the theme “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work” is absolutely relevant, requiring urgent action at this time.  While all workers are affected by the current economic policies and climate, working class women bear the brunt of poverty, precarious employment and unemployment.  Labour unions have an essential role in defending and advancing workers’ rights and representing workers’ demands.

PSI and its affiliated trade unions at the global level are resisting with all our strength privatization. PSI argues that privatisation has failed and for really constructing   gender equality, essential services need to remain in public hands and PSI proposed that:

  • Public-public partnerships and public-community partnerships are a way of doing it, with a joint work with social movements.
  • One source of public investment in public services have to come from  taking effective action against tax fraud and putting in place progressive tax systems, as well as, fighting corruption.
  • Universal access to essential services (health, education, water, energy, social care, social protection, wage & security protection) Access to quality public services, including housing, healthcare, education, transport, water, electricity and sanitation.
  • Address the patriarchal way in which those services are delivered or organized. (Policies, institutions and practices; e.g. Safety?).
  • But also the fight for gender justice and GRPS, includes public sector women workers and the achievement of DECENT WORK (SDG8).

Some examples of the achievements of labour especially in South Africa that are contributing to Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work includes but not limited to:

  • The Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which provides for maternity leave and a small amount of family responsibility leave (although not meeting labour’s demand for 6 months minimum fully paid maternity leave)
  • The Employment Equity Act, including the code on equal pay for equal work and work of equal value
  • The Skills Development Act, giving employees a right to be developed
  • Ratification of the ILO Convention 189 for Domestic Workers, aimed at improving working conditions and advocating for decent work in the sector (albeit with challenges related to implementation)

On answering the question that said ‘What are the barriers related to delivering gender responsive public services and Public investment in public services? PSI recognised that funding for the public sector is being reduced at an alarming speed. And the strategy that must be used to source public funding is taking effective action against tax fraud and putting in place progressive tax systems that would provide the funds to build strong public services. There is lack of comprehension of the fundamental role of quality and gender responsive public services as an ethical and material base for the materialization of women´s rights.

This implies:  Universal access to essential services (health, education, water, energy, care and social protection); but also, address the patriarchal way in which those services are delivered or organized.  (Policies, institutions and practices. For example in the health sector public policies that do not allow abortion, anti-conceptive for teenagers, relationship between women workers of that services and women users of the services).

In conclusion, PSI & its affiliates emphasises that it is critical to note that legislation (papers) cannot implement itself, and neither can it address the structural inequalities in the economy.  Without the restructuring and transformation of this radicular inequality economy, including employment creation and redistribution of wealth, legislation will not fundamentally alter the lives of marginalised working class women, instant will tend to benefit those that are more privileged

Secondly, the impact of reduced or insecure incomes and problems associated with social security appear to be leaving increasing number of people without income or with a reduced level of income leading to food bank uptake (Lambi-Mamford, 2014; Mumbi-Mamfort and Dowler, 2014). And lastly, Labour organisations believe that commitment to women’s emancipation and substantive gender equality will be measured not only by decrees and pronouncements about women’s rights and gender equality but also by tangible and material measures that address patriarchal barriers to women’s full participation in the economy.

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