STUC Women’s Conference

By Jessica Grace Brown

The STUC Women’s Conference was held in Perth earlier this week.

The conference – held Monday and Tuesday at Perth Concert Hall – discussed several issues including the effects of the UK government’s proposed cuts, the recognition of menopause as a serious condition, maternity rights, childcare, the gender deficit in the workplace, and justice for rape victims.

Guest speakers included STUC president Agnes Tolmie and John Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

Also attending the conference was Ann Henderson, assistant secretary for the STUC.  She said: “For women’s concerns in the workplace to be heard and given good attention, trade union membership and collective organization is very important.  With women making up more than half the population, and being more dependent on local public services, then it surely makes sense to make sure that women are round the table, speaking up and contributing to policies that are being negotiated.”

The Conference Order of Business states “we cannot and must not go back to the days of men in smoke filled rooms telling us what is good for us.”  The re-launch of the 50/50 campaign – to achieve gender equality in trade unions, political parties and civic society – was discussed.  Similarly, the gender deficit within local and national government was discussed along with the promotion of trade unions in schools.

The motion addressing maternity rights states that the coalition is making ‘serious errors of judgement’.  Ann said: “Our shop stewards are already reporting a rise in the number of unfair dismissal claims related to pregnancy.

“Women report being afraid to apply for the time off on maternity leave, or taking only the bare minimum. This is not good for the mother, or for the baby.”  The conference agreed the STUC shall be campaigning to prevent the coalition’s changes to maternity rights.

‘Rape is always Rape’; a motion which aims to “proactively challenge any politician who attempts to redefine rape in an attempt to minimise its seriousness”.  This issue was raised in light of comments from politicians such American congressman Todd Atkin, who claimed women rarely become pregnant through rape as “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”  George Galloway claimed that having sex with someone whilst they sleep is just “bad sexual etiquette” and that having sex with someone once entitles you to do so even if they refuse later on.

The committee said: “while the opinions of these politicians are deeply disturbing, they are not out of step with average opinions.” A survey of 1,040 Scots in February 2010 found that 23% think a woman can be at least partly responsible if she is drunk at the time of the attack; 17% think a woman is partly responsible if she wears revealing clothing, and 15% said there should be some burden of responsibility for rape if the women was flirting.

The Women’s Committee is to encourage donations and campaigns of charity ‘Rape Crisis Scotland’, The Committee will also be trying to increase the reporting of rape to the police and in turn increase the conviction of rapists.

“For too long now the lives of women in the workplace experiencing the menopause has not been recognised as they go through this difficult stage of their lives.”  The conference discussed that the menopause is not seen by employers as a serious condition and therefore is not a reason for missing work.  Ann said: “The menopause is seen as something to joke about, but when delegates discussed the issue at this year’s Women’s Conference, the speeches in support were very clear with regard to the information offered to women.”  The Women’s Committee calls for employers to be informed and encouraged to adopt a new procedure sympathetic and fair towards menopause.

The conference discussed the STUC’s plan to press the government for free or low-cost childcare.  Ann said: “This would create jobs, as well as allowing women to remain in employment. We’ll be campaigning for an expansion of childcare provision in every locality, in the year ahead.”

Cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission has meant the closure of the Scottish helpline, which Ann noted as “a great loss”, and could also mean a loss of jobs at several offices including Glasgow.  The STUC is to campaign against these cuts.

“With such savage, rapid and all-encompassing cutbacks taking place,” – the coalition’s austerity measures have significantly cut financial support for disabled people -“disabled people’s rights are being pushed back decades.”  The STUC believe that support from the government is needed to give disabled people the same opportunities as others, and to “take part in life equally and with dignity”, and so committee will campaign against and block as much of the Welfare Reform Act as possible.

The full order of business is available on the STUC website: http://www.stuc.org.uk

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