Organising – as the PCS mantra goes – should be at the heart of everything we do and for good reason. Without a strong organisational layer below them our negotiators are weakened – without members at their back the leverage that is exerted on our employers will be diminished. Even the most skilled negotiator will fail to bargain effectively without the collective strength of members behind them.
Members come into our union for different reasons and with different ideas about changes they want to see. We need to ensure our structures reflect that diversity. That's where branch women's advisory committees (BWACs) come in. They are a useful mechanism to get women involved in their union. Women make up 60% of our total membership, yet we still struggle to get involvement from women at every layer of our union. Setting up a BWAC can help involve women without the full-blown commitment of being a rep.
BWACs are an advisory body to their branch. They can offer views on policies which are necessary on flexible working, maternity and pregnancy, menopause, period poverty, combatting sexism, domestic violence and so on.
How do you go about setting one up? The existing constitution of your branch or group should have reference to BWACs or equalities groups. If it doesn’t, this is something that can be changed at a special general meeting or an annual general meeting. You can ask the chair of your branch how to do this. A model branch constitution is available within the PCS Rules.
The next step is to identify women members in your workplace who are interested in forwarding women’s rights in PCS or in their community. Invite them along to an initial meeting. Ask your branch secretary to seek indications of interest from women members in your branch and then send an invitation to establish the committee. Small numbers are quite normal in the initial stages but you can build on that.
Guidance on BWACs is available on the equalities part of the PCS website which you can use when setting up your committee. This guidance might be helpful in your initial discussion and planning session. Your plans might include providing training for women with your learning rep or contacting your health and safety rep to do an input to branch members or inviting a speaker from one of our affiliates. Keep it interesting and engage members by focussing on their needs and interests. BWACs can add vitality to your branch and provide an important woman only space to discuss issues important to women. The national women’s forum would love to hear how you get on developing these important committees. Let us know if we can support you and good luck.