CUPE delegation members outside UN HQ (L-R): Veriline Howe, CUPE 2191 Vice-President; Stacey Connor CUPE 2073 President; Candace Rennick, CUPE Regional Vice-President for Ontario; Annick Desjardins, Executive Assistant to CUPE’s national president; Kelti From March 9 to 15, CUPE joined 180 union women from over 42 countries to fight for the rights of women and girls at the 63rd annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York City.

This year’s session focused on social programs and public services as the keys to fighting inequality. Public services that are inclusive, accessible and available to everyone can transform the lives of women and girls, especially women who experience poverty, racism, ableism, and other forms of oppression.

CUPE was represented by Candace Rennick, CUPE National Executive Board Regional Vice-President for Ontario; Veriline Howe, CUPE 2191 Vice-President; Stacey Connor, CUPE 2073 President; Gina McKay, CUPE 2348 executive member; Annick Desjardins, Executive Assistant to CUPE’s national president; and Kelti Cameron, CUPE International Solidarity staff person.

Our delegation took part in UN and civil society sessions on many topics including the uneven impact of privatization on women; the need for public services that include LGBTQ2+ people, women with disabilities, and migrants; and the global campaigns for tax justice and to end gender-based violence. On Friday, March 15, CUPE delegates and other union women walked out of the meetings to join striking New York City students demanding urgent action on climate change.

Creating space for women, and those who identify as women, to share their often-marginalized experiences and their calls to action was of immeasurable value. It was an emotional and empowering week.

CUPE joined the Canadian labour delegation, as well as participating as members of the Public Services International (PSI) delegation. CUPE is a member of PSI, the global trade union federation representing public sector workers.

Rennick was part of a Canadian Labour Congress panel of union leaders making the case for public, universal and accessible child care.

“Governments are here in New York to talk about what kind social protections and public services are needed for gender equality. Well, they’d better be talking about child care. Because until access to affordable child care is treated like it’s a right—until governments stop regarding child care as an individual parent or family responsibility—until they decide to deliver child care as a universal public service, we aren’t going to achieve gender equality,” she said.

Desjardins spoke on a panel about the global impacts of austerity on women. She highlighted the role of social movements in fighting back. “Rights-based legislation protecting women in Canada - social protection, labour standards, health and safety laws - did not fall from the sky. These protections were hard fought for and won by trade unions and civil society,” she said.

Public child care is one of the priorities in a global union statement to the UNCSW on behalf of 85 million women workers. The statement calls for social programs like maternity leave, unemployment benefits and public pensions to meet the needs of all women. It highlights the danger of privatization and calls for alternatives to austerity, including global tax justice to pay for public services and infrastructure. And it calls on governments to uphold and advance labour rights and protections.

Over the week, our delegation made new connections and strengthened relationships with women from other unions as well as many community allies. They’ve returned home motivated to keep working for gender justice, including supporting the global campaign for the International Labour Organization to adopt a strong international treaty to end gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work.

Read more about the events at the Public Services International UNCSW blog.