By Phumzile Mashishi
This is part 2 of a two-part post. Read the first part here.
Members voices emerging
In 2011 we established provincial forums to create a process of consultative dialogue. We called these dialogues “Makgotlas” or “Lekgotlas” drawing on the idea of traditional community councils. In our South African context “Lekgotla” describes a place where people meet to engage in dialogue on topical issues. The five forums launched were on HIV/AIDS, TB, Occupational health and safety, young workers, nurses and Gender. These forums gave our members on the ground a voice, and a space to engage with various issues. The resolutions from these forums were recorded and through the help of the LRS we identified that the gender and young worker forums are important forums that need ongoing support.
The GALP process came at the right time, providing space to think about and plan the gender and young worker forums. We included 2 young workers in our peer learning team and we tried to ensure that there was a gender balance in our team. In this process of dialogue, we built another layer of leadership in the union. The representatives of forums became part of provincial executives and whenever the Provincial Executive Committee meets, each forum is expected to give feedback on their challenges, activities and plans.
One example of this feedback is in Mpumalanga where a young worker representative organised and partnered with a high school on an awareness campaign on HIV/AIDS. The partnership with the school continued and the principal invited the young worker representative to talk to a class where a learner who had disclosed her sexual orientation was being discriminated against by other learners. The learner had reached the point where she was staying away from class. Our worker representative at that stage did not have much awareness or information about the gay and lesbian community but she emphasised that every citizen has the right to choose their sexual orientation and that the learners needed to respect and support each person as human beings. She was also able to counsel the learner and the learner was able to go back to school.
There is no doubt that this exercise of dialogue started raising consciousness on gender equality, HIV/AIDS and women’s empowerment. With the GALP process we were able to take the process of consciousness-raising further. Our peer learning team’s consciousness and perspectives have also been shaped by our interaction with the other member organisations in the GALP process: these included an organisation working with Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersexed people; BCAWU a predominantly male trade union organising in construction; SADSAWU a predominantly female union organising domestic workers; and DOCKDA, a rural based organisation focused on micro-credit.
The consciousness raising in our provincial forums has gone a little further and the Provincial Forums are getting actively involved in their communities where their eyes and ears are more open to issues of gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS and TB, women’s issues. They are now more open to strategically engage with relevant platforms and to create partnerships with organisations dealing with these issues.
Getting buy-in from our senior leadership was a cherry on top for this GALP process. Through our verbal feedback and written reports we tried to create an awareness and to sensitise our members on the need to be trained and to actively participate in dealing with power relations. The range of issues we want to take action on include reducing inequalities, advancing women leadership, advancing labour rights for women, dealing with sexual harassment, dealing with issues around women and migration and around disability. Indeed our members came to the party, and it was encouraging to see the General Secretary of our union sending out a message for a women’s day celebration. The general secretary encouraged worker participation in various meetings and workshops pertaining to young workers, gender equality and women empowerment, and he made suggestions on how to nominate representatives. Previously these issues were not prioritised. Now there is a department responsible for these issues. The next steps are implementation and getting a budget approved.
Further examples of leadership buy-in and support were the General Secretary’s request to our media person to feature the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) International Women’s day message on our union’s website; our president’s actions to ensure the participation of our trade union in the Big Debate TV show discussion on gender-based violence — five HOSPERSA representatives became part of this TV debate — 3 males and 2 female representatives; that we have a vice president for HIV/Aids and TB and gender — this has played an important role in the consciousness raising process.
Another significant example of leadership buy-in is the involvement of top leadership in the workshop we organised with the ILO on HIV/AIDS and TB and gender equality. Top leadership were sensitised on mainstreaming these issues into the organisation. This meeting was history in the making for us as a union. We spoke openly about how much we needed to develop women to take up decision-making positions in the organisation. We are indeed marching on because even though there is still a lot to be realised, the journey has started and there is no point of return.
This process is taking us back to the core, original mandate of the labour movement where members are encouraged to speak for themselves, get solutions, set the agenda for programmes for themselves, and where the role of the leadership is to listen and to participate together with members. This reminds me of the Brazilian writer Paulo Freire, who in his book “Education and Oppression” states “If we can develop that momentum then naming our world leads to action”. More than that, Freire says “This critical examination of the world — reflection and acting upon the world to change it — action becomes fused into a single, continuous liberating process”. He describes this as praxis. Freire summarises this when he says: “men are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection”.
No union can survive without the consciousness of its members, by its members and for its members.
Phumzile Mashishi is a participant in our Gender Action Learning process in South Africa.