The Charter for Women – a brief history

The Charter for Women (link to the Charter) was officially launched on 1 February 2003 at a meeting in Unity House, the headquarters of the RMT, following which a Charter Steering Group was established, the aims of which were:

‘to work across the labour & women’s movement to publicise the Charter, engage in debate, challenge bad practice, oppose the oppression of women and to encourage organisations to affiliate to the Charter..’

The steering group adopted a constitution and met every two months, held regular AGMs which elected officers – among whom, over the years, were Megan Dobney, Mary Davis, Barbara Switzer, and Sharon Allen. Most importantly, the steering group sought to introduce and publicise the Charter in the trade union, labour and women’s movement from 2004 onwards.

The aim of the Charter was, and remains, to inspire a new and inclusive socialist feminist theory and practice that will motivate a new generation of women activists and revitalise the fight for women’s liberation. It suggests that one of the ways of doing this is to unite around a campaigning programme as outlined in the Charter for Women. The Charter did not and does not offer new policy but instead seeks to bring together the key demands for which progressive women are fighting in various arenas. It covers three broad areas, social policy, the labour market and the labour movement. It raises the main progressive concerns/campaigning points for which women have fought under each of the three themes. The aim was, and still is, to ensure that it would be discussed, adopted and promoted by the trade union and labour movement and by progressive women’s  organisations. Fringe meetings on the Charter were held regularly at TUC congress and the TUC Women’s Conference.

One of the results of this was that many unions adopted the charter or versions of it and were attracted to send delegates to three well attended Charter conferences (2005, 2008, 2011) to which as average of 12 unions sent up to five delegates.

By 2012 the campaign around the Charter had secured the affiliation of 27 trade unions (including 18 national unions) and several trades councils. Although we did not succeed in our aim of establishing local Charter groups, it was nonetheless the case that the Charter continued to exercise some influence within the labour movement in Britain and beyond. It was publicised by the European Social Forum and even got publicity in France at a meeting on the Charter organised by the CGT in Paris in 2005. It was adopted by the People’s Charter in Britain – the forerunner of the People’s Assembly. Subsequently the National Assembly of Women has become the custodian of the Charter.

The Charter was relaunched in 2020 under the aegis of the NAW.