DURBAN, South Africa (AFP) - The rights of women and homosexuals were highlighted Wednesday, the third day of a week-long congress in South Africa of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions [now the the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) ].
ICFTU, which represents 125 million workers from 145 countries, spoke out for the first time against the discrimination of homosexuals, to the discomfort of several delegates, notably those from Africa and Asia.
In a report presented to the 1,200 delegates meeting in this east coast city, ICFTU condemned discrimination against gay men and women and said it would work to identify and expose homophobia in the workplace.
An ICFTU study obtained by AFP showed that homosexuality is illegal in 86 countries and carries the death penalty in Sudan, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan.
Homosexuals suffer harassment at work, with about one-fourth saying they had been fired because of their sexual orientation, according to the study.
Some unions from Africa and Asia rejected the criticisms.
"We don't have this problem because nobody is homosexual in our country," said secretary general of Mali's UNTM, Siaka Diakite.
Roger Tapsoba from Burkina Faso's CSB said "we should start to talk about" this issue, but added that in his country "homosexuality is considered an abomination."
A delegate from Gabon insisted that Christianity, his country's religion, did not allow homosexuality.
Another from Taiwan said his union was against homosexuals but was fighting sexual harassment.
Other countries, including South Africa and Zimbabwe, said their unions were working with gay rights groups to lobby pharmaceutical companies for cheap drugs to treat HIV/AIDS-related diseases.
The rights of women were also raised at the congress Wednesday. About 2,000 people, mostly women, marched to the venue of the meeting to protest poverty and violence against women.
"Trade unions fight poverty and violence against women!" read placards displayed at the march in English, French, Spanish and Zulu.
The march was part of the World March of Women, which will see similar marches across the globe until October.
"Women make up 70 percent of the world's 855 million illiterate adults, more than half of those infected with the HIV/AIDS virus in the age bracket 15-24," organisers said in a statement.
A memorandum was handed to ICFTU leaders calling for protection against all forms of violence, equal rights for women in the workplace and an end to cutbacks in social budgets and public services.
It also demanded the cancellation of the debt of all Third World countries and treatment and protection for people with HIV/AIDS.
Women make up 39 percent of the members of the ICFTU, which includes 215 unions.