Labour Wrap: Women’s oppression and the wearing of orange

IT WAS a stirring and timely lecture that Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary general of the United Nations, delivered in Cape Town last weekend, says Terry Bell in his latest Labour Wrap.Delivering the 15th annual Nelson Mandela lecture, she outlined the ongoing discrimination suffered by the female half of the human race.

Bell notes that it was an occasion when the auditorium was liberally sprinkled with the colour orange in scarves, blouses, dresses and ties, orange being the “bright and optimistic colour” chosen to represent the struggle for gender equality. Having written last week about the systemic exploitation of children, Bell felt chided for not having included women in that column.  

He pleads guilty, noting that women are not only the child bearers, but also, overwhelmingly, the child rearers. And they are the greatest sufferers in the “lunatic race to the bottom” that the present economic system forces workers to engage in.

However, Bell also notes that he is not “overly moved” by arguments about the dearth of women chief executives of major corporations. A boss of whatever gender or ethnicity remains a boss, he says. As such, all are subject to the same pressures and “good bosses in trade union and worker terms tend to go bust”.

For Bell, the “awful tragedy” of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013 eptomises the horrors workers face, along with the inevitable gender bias. In April 2013 an eight-storey bulding collapsed, killing 1 134 workers and injuring 2 500 more, the overwhelming majority of them young women between the ages of 18 and 20.

The building was already known to be unsafe, but the workers were ordered in because the factory owners, operating to tight profit margins, were under pressure to meet delivery deadlines imposed by major clothing brands. Those same global brands then tried hypocritically to deny any responsibility.

In the nearly five years since that tragedy, Bell maintains that little, if anything, has changed. And nothing will change, he says, if all that happens is that those concerned do nothing more than wear orange on the 25th of every month.

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