In Canada and around the world, March 8 is celebrated as International Women's Day.
International Women's Day and trade unionism are historically linked. The day was initiated to commemorate the 1908 strike of women garment workers in New York, and has evolved into a world-wide movement to celebrate advances and demand improved rights for women and girls.
As part of this fight for social justice and equality, the BCGEU has bargained for provisions in collective agreements that make life better for our women members: wage parity, bridging of service, enhanced maternity leave, health benefits, and other protections.
Within the BCGEU, our current membership is two thirds women, and over half the membership of the Provincial Executive is women. But strengthening female members to become leaders wasn't always the norm. According to Bruce McLean's history of the BCGEU, "a 1976 breakdown of employees in the union's public service bargaining unit showed 36 percent of them to be women… A union analysis of officers elected by its public service membership at the same time showed 17 percent women… The overall picture, covering the component, area council and local levels, was that 20 percent of the union's officers were women."
We have come a long way toward ensuring our leadership is an accurate reflection of the gender balance in our union, including electing the BCGEU's first woman president in 2014.
However, we all know the fight for women's equality extends beyond the borders of our work – in B.C., women have not achieved wage parity in all areas, they are more affected by poverty than men, and women struggle against discrimination in all areas of life. We will continue to fight alongside our community partners to demand improved conditions for all women.
We wish all BCGEU members a happy International Women's Day, and hope that you will join us in continuing to fight for justice and equality!