This is not because the union believes in committees for their own sake, but because a branch women's advisory committee is a useful way of involving women in the union at workplace level.
A committee also provides the branch executive committee (BEC) with valuable input into policies and negotiations on issues that are important to women members, eg childcare, maternity leave, etc.
Branches have, over the years, experienced varying success in establishing BWACs.
This guidance is designed to help those branches currently without a BWAC to set one up, and to give fresh ideas and impetus to those branches where the BWAC is perhaps less active than before.
It is important to stress at the outset that the objectives of the BWAC should not be swamped by bureaucracy. Of course, there must be accountability and there must be a clear link to the BEC but the fundamental objective of involving women in union activity and making such activity enjoyable should not be lost sight of amidst more trivial details such as constitutional niceties and who takes the minutes.
Normally, discussion will take place among women members about the need for a committee.
The branch can then call a meeting or several meetings of women members at which elections can take place. Alternatively, a circular could be issued calling for nominations and/or volunteers from which members of the committee may be appointed.
Some branches have found it more practical for women BEC members to coopt interested women members to form a committee and some have held elections at local meetings based on stewards' constituencies and restricted the voting to women members only.
In general terms, the committee should:
The BWAC is responsible for setting its own programme of work, based on an assessment of the concerns of women in the branch.
Some BWACs have felt that the best way to do this is to send out a questionnaire to all women members and ask them to identify what their priorities and opinions are. Such a method also provides a further opportunity for women to put themselves forward for membership of BWAC.
Listed below are some suggestions of ways to encourage the participation of women in branch activity.
Meetings can be organised for women to express their views about what the union is or isn't, could or should be doing.
Open-ended questions such as "what do you think of your union?" or "what should your union be doing for you?" should have the effect of attracting all shades of opinion and debate.
Such discussions provide the perfect opportunity for union activists not only to listen to what women are saying, but also to present the gains the union has made in such areas as childcare, part-time workers' provisions, paternity, maternity and family leave.
Women who may otherwise steer clear of formal union meetings, may be interested in attending meetings on particular issues of concern and these issues may well be identified by means of the questionnaire mentioned earlier.
Consideration should also be given on occasions to holding meetings on topics other than the normal policy issues. Issues such as health, the arts, sexuality, etc can produce lively and interesting meetings and be just as effective in generating interest and involvement in the Union and its work.
Does your branch issue a membership newsletter? If so, the BWAC may want to raise its profile by having a regular page or pages to inform members of its existence and activities. Depending on the energies and resources of Committee members, the BWAC may want to produce its own newsletter on a regular basis.
Branch meetings need to be "user-friendly" and with this in mind, attention needs to be paid to the following points:
Branch women's advisory committees play an important part in involving women in the work of the union.
We hope that this guidance will be widely discussed by branches who have yet to establish a BWAC, as well as those who have succeeded in setting one up but are perhaps lacking impetus.
We urge you to discuss the measures outlined in this leaflet and implement the ideas and suggestions contained within it wherever appropriate.
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