NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Women: Is Numsa male dominated?

16 July 2006, Posted in News

Numsa women not alone!

Numsa women’s representation in the union is not unusual. In 2000, The United Steelworkers of America (USWA) surveyed 800 of its women members to learn more about their concerns.

It found that:

women represented 20% of its membership

women were poorly represented – 18% were on executives at workplaces, 8% were in bargaining teams and only 7% were shop stewards.

women wanted to be more active in the union

47% of women were the sole breadwinners; 41% contributed half or more of the family income

the top three obstacles that prevented women from becoming more active were:- the need for education and skills development- the lack of a necessary support network- union agendas did not reflect the needs of women

women wanted to discuss issues like sexual harassment and domestic violence with other women

the top four issues they wanted the union to address were: dependant care, retirement security, higher pay and safety on the job.

Find the full survey at

By: Francois Quarrie

Go to a meeting of Numsa structures at local, regional or national level and men dominate. In KwaZulu Natal, only 3% of shop stewards are women but women membership could be closer to 20%.

Numsa regional secretary in KwaZulu Natal, Petros Ngcobo, believes that the perception that Numsa is a male-dominated organisation is “false”. Although there are few women in Numsa, this is on the increase.

He admits that “Zulu culture restricts the movement of women. Joining Numsa is not the problem.”

Ngcobo feels that “Numsa needs to identify companies with a large women membership, continue addressing issues that these women are faced with and even make it a special project.”

He suggests a special edition of Numsa News, pamphlet campaigns and the development of gender activists.

He also believes that office bearers should encourage women to actively participate by prompting remarks and showing support for women wherever women appear, especially at the local level.

“Numsa must develop female shop stewards and maintain the impact,” he says. Already there are four locals in KZN – Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle , Port Shepstone and Isithebe – that can openly boast of having a woman member amongst their local office bearers.

Nelspruit local organiser Enock Nhlapo on the other hand, believes that Numsa’s gender equality programmes are falling short. In his local, only three women are active out of a membership of 4000.

And even then, one of the women was abused by her husband for returning home late after a union meeting, despite the fact that her husband is a Fawu member.

Nhlapo says that in his view, only one workplace in his local, Assmang Chrome in Machadadorp, is in full support of gender equality.

His view is supported by Abraham Boy Mphela, an active Numsa shop steward and regional gender activist from Thos Begbie for 20 years.

“From ROBs to LOBs I have seen they don’t support this gender structure. I’m of the opinion that they want to see this gender thing dead and buried.”Optimistic

Isipingo local administrator, Nyani Buthelezi, a long-standing employee of Numsa and a gender activist is happy that the issue is high on Numsa’s agenda and is confident that “progress will be made”.

However, she says employment equity has only assisted in ensuring the employment of women. “Women are not yet comfortable; there is a lack of support and regular resignation of female shop stewards. Men still tend to control the relationship and women are still looked on as sex objects.”

This makes women vulnerable and afraid to attend union meetings that go on late.

Paulina Motladi a Numsa shop steward at PFK Electronics in Umbilo, Durban, was elected shop steward with another woman two years ago.

Her co-shop steward has now resigned – one of the factors that affected her resignation was the “inconvenient time for the local shop steward council”.

She too finds it “hard to attend late meetings. I must still see to my family. Although my husband is a Numsa member he becomes worried and irritated when I return late as I live far from my workplace and there is a real danger for us as women,” she says.

She recommends that if Numsa wants more women to join and be active, “it should target companies with a large women membership and concentrate on delivering service to women. And make it convenient for women to attend by holding local shop steward councils earlier with paid time off or organising them on Saturdays.”

Even in the workplace, she finds that she has to represent workers with “no support from the union. Before I became a shop steward, I thought that the union was what was missing in the workplace and that the employer would respect us once we joined a union. But now many workers are complaining and asking “˜why don’t we get another union because the employer doesn’t really respect us?’ Numsa is not fully reaching the people, and the work is so hard!”


Numsa is addressing gender equality. However, as the deputy president of the country put it, men need to continue promoting gender equality.

Ngcobo and Nhlapo agree that, “Numsa and Numsa women need to ensure that all concluded agreements promote women’s demands.”

We cannot ignore a Fawu husband abusing a Numsa wife. Cosatu has to intervene to set up or facilitate a process to debate the way forward.

The ANC has set down 50% quotas for women’s positions. Our vibrant democracy puts women in a favourable position and encourages them to participate actively.

Numsa women must demonstrate their support for such a policy by standing up against any kind of abuse at home and in the workplace. They also need to rise up and assist Numsa men to challenge the existing barriers.

Abesimame kuNumsa

U-Franscois Quarrie ukholelwa ukuthi kuningi okusafenele kwenziwe ukubhekana nokulingana ngokobulili. Indabuko nesiko kuvimbela abanye besimame ekutheni bahlanganyele ngokukhuthala, kanti ubugebengu nodlame olwenzeka kwabesimame luyabakhinyabeza ekuzeni emihlanganweni kuze kube sebusuku. Abanye abagqugquzeli bezinyunyana baphakamisa ukuthi amafektri anesibalo esikhulu sabesifazane kufanele kuyiwe kuwo futhi amagosa abesifazane esekwe. Ucabangani wena?

Vroue in Numsa

Ons moet nog meer doen om geslagsgelykheid aan te spreek, glo Francois Quarrie.

Tradisies en kultuur verhoed sommige vroue daarvan dat hulle aktief deelneem, terwyl misdaad en geweld teen vroue hulle daarvan afskrik om tot laat saans vakbondvergaderings by te woon.

Sommige vakbondorganiseerders stel voor dat ons op fabrieke met groot getalle vroue moet fokus, en dat vroulike vloerbeamptes ondersteun moet word. Wat dink jy?

Basadi ka hara Numsa

Ho sa le hongata ho lokelwang ho etsuwa bakeng sa ho rarolla ditaba tsa tekatekano ya bong, ena ke tumelo ya Francois Quarrie.

Meetlo le setso di thibela ba bang ba basadi hore ba se ke ba ba le seabo se mafolofolo, jwalo ka ha botlokotsebe le tshebediso ya dikgoka kgahlanong le basadi di ba nyahamisa ho ya dikopanong tsa mokgatlo wa basebetsi tse tla dieha ho fela.

Bahlophisi ba bang ba yunione ba sisinya hore difektheri tse nang le palo e hodimo ya basadi di lokelwa ho shejwa haholo mme di-shopsteward tsa basadi di tshehetswe. Na wena o reng?