Young women making decisions - March 2011
"We always turn towards men, thinking they can make everything possible; we forget that we too can be leaders ourselves. We can be peace negotiators, mothers, wives, sisters, colleagues ..."
So says Thulile Motsamai, trade union representative at the Birchwood Executive hotel in Johannesburg, and one of the key players in the Decisions for Life campaign in South Africa.
Know Your Rights
Thulile is involved with helping young South African women gain awareness of their rights and develop within the South Africa Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union, SACCAWU. The Decisions for Life campaign is an International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) project aimed at young women, which informs them not only about their rights in the workplace but also in their homes, at school, and elsewhere, in order that they can make informed decision about their lives. Thulile has been active in taking the message to supermarkets, cybercafes, to the streets, children’s homes, shelters for women who have suffered domestic violence and the unions themselves.
"We are trying to reach as many young people as possible, because if your CV shows that you have no work experience, employers see you as easy prey, as a person they can underpay and exploit to the hilt. When you are aware of your rights it is different," says Thulile.
"We also take the opportunity to inform young women about the benefits of being unionised," says Thulile. "The image people have of trade unionists is usually that seen on television: middle aged or older men and women, hardly any young people. We try to change this perception, to show them that they have a place in the trade union movement, that their points of view can be heard, that they are just as important as everyone else, that age is of no consequence."
"Our message is really to say to women: "Take your own decisions", be it about moving house, starting a family, having sexual relations, getting married or not, etc. When we are capable of deciding for ourselves, we are capable of doing it in all other areas, such as choosing a job," she continues.
Make a difference
Thulile says the campaign has made a big difference in her workplace. "The campaign has helped build our self confidence and to demand our place as stakeholders in collective bargaining negotiations," she says. "Ever since we started taking part in negotiations ourselves, we have been able to raise the points that interest us the most and have our demands adopted. We have succeeded in negotiating a policy on parental rights, the signing of a policy on sexual harassment, a policy on health and safety, another on HIV, and have secured a commitment from the company to reimburse 50% of medical costs (which we are trying to push up to 75%)."
"I want to change something in the lives of young people, something to ensure that their views are heard and acted on," says Thulile.