UNISON’s 2022 National Women’s Conference had been arranged to take place in Edinburgh. However with the upsurge in the COVID Omicron variant, it was moved to a virtual event and branch delegates, Equalities Co-ordinator, Kathleen Kennedy and Women’s Officer, Kim McIntosh joined online. Kate Ramsden attended as a guest in her capacity as an NEC member.
Supporting grass roots women through mentoring and women only training
Kathleen Kennedy was the first Scotland speaker as she supported the call from North Cumbria Northumberland & Tyne& Wear Health branch for action to encourage more low paid grassroots women, including those from across the equalities groups, to become active in our union.
Conference backed the call, highlighting that around 80% of our members are women – many of them in low paid though essential roles. Action will include an expansion of women only training and mentoring packages for use in branches.
Kathleen spoke of the challenges facing women in rural branch like our own, but explained how, with the online world it has now become possible.
She highlighted the key importance of mentoring to support our women activists, and of women only training.
“Let me tell you, having easily accessible women’s training would be amazing, as we spent weeks and weeks trying to find out about training for women.”
Kathleen added, “In my branch I am lucky. My branch chair is my mentor and has always been around and I mentor the equalities officers. It would be so beneficial to have training and mentoring on an easily accessible site.”
“Let’s not get comfy,” urged Kathleen. “Give us the tools in a mentoring package so all women have the opportunities to become active in our union.”
Never forget to lift as you rise
Kathleen also spoke as women’s conference backed Scotland’s call to work towards developing a programme which will support and mentor women activists into leadership roles in branches and regions.
Scotland’s motion also threw a spotlight on devolution as it called on our union to recognise the different experiences of women in all 4 countries of the UK and the need to reflect this in all work plans at a UK level.
It recognised that sometimes there is the need for a specific piece of work which is only applicable in one country in which case it should be clearly highlighted which of the countries this applies to.
Entitled “Never forget to lift as you rise” the motion was moved by Scotland’s June Maguire who spoke of our pride at having our first woman General Secretary in Christina McAnea.
“We’re proud of these achievements, but we mustn’t only protect them, we must build on them to ensure that women have real equality in our union. We must build on them to ensure that women’s voices and experiences are heard at all levels of government, as representatives, negotiators, and leaders,” said June.
She pointed out that the motion reflected deep concern at the detrimental impact the recent actions of the NEC have had on UNISON’s commitment to equality, and to regions; that fundamental changes to the lay reps on the TUC General Council mean there are no longer any Black women on the UNISON delegation, or the voices of anyone who doesn’t live or work in England.
“Women are constantly let down by the failure of governments to address inequality, and now we have been let down by the failure of our NEC to recognise that their actions are contrary to what a million women members should be entitled to expect from their leaders,” slammed June.
“While we can see that women leaders in branches have a vital role to play, we need leadership from the top. We have many inspirational women in UNISON – but how many of our members get the opportunity to hear them speak, or to learn from them? We need our leaders who’ve reached senior positions, especially our National Women’s Committee (NWC), to be active in supporting and mentoring women activists into leadership roles,” she added, calling for the NWC to develop a leadership programme to deliver this objective, taking account of the devolution protocol in this and all other work.
Supporting the motion, Kathleen called on UNISON to ensure that our women members know they will get the facility time they need and not feel pressured into doing so much work in their own time.
She highlighted the importance of recognising that there is a difference between all four countries.
Adding that she had been taught the minute you are in a position in UNISON you should be looking for your replacement, Kathleen urged, “So come on. Rise and lift.”