Selina Rust interviews GEMMA ADABA of the International Trade Union Confederation
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12 (IPS/TerraViva) Thirty women union delegates representing a million working women in their membership came to the CSW here to advocate on behalf of women’s rights at work around the globe.
TerraViva correspondent Selina Rust spoke to Gemma Adaba from the ITUC about the progress of women’s rights in the workplace.
TV: While working women have made significant progress in getting decision-making jobs in the industrial world, they are still lagging far behind men in the developing world. How wide is this gap, and how could it be rectified?
GA: It varies a lot from country to country. Even in the developed world, women feel that there is still progress that needs to be made. In governments as well as in the public services and in the private sector, we have to work very proactively on affirmative action in the professional life and put it equally in decision-making.
The developing countries have not really instituted systems of affirmative action but they have made progress. So many developing countries have begun to look at procedural instruments they can use to advance gender equality in decision-making.
TV: How successful are trade unions in protecting the rights of women in the workplace? Are there still any major institutional barriers to overcome?
GA: In pretty much all countries we still have basic structure discrimination. Whereas men are situated manly in the productive sector, women work in both the productive and the reproductive sectors. Basically, you would find that men have all the time that they need to focus on advancing professionally in the world of work. But women have to combine those concerns about advancing in the world of work with all of the concerns of caring for their children and other family members. And of course, that takes away a lot of their time. It is also unpaid work.
TV: Many countries offer paid parental leave for the husband and/or the wife to care for their children at infancy: a privilege mostly practiced in Scandinavian countries. Will this trend ever catch up with the rest of the world?
GA: We certainly hope it would catch up. With the trade union movement we have been promoting the ILO convention 156, which is the convention dealing with equal responsibilities between women and men in terms of family care. This convention sets out the whole framework, and it is necessary for countries to ratify this convention, to incorporate it into their legislation and then implement it.
We think that there will be progress. We have been doing a lot of work in that area, like sensitising people and governments about pay inequity, gaps and structure discriminations.
TV: What has changed in terms of women’s rights at work since Beijing 15 years ago?
GA: I think this is manly about awareness of structure discrimination against women. I think a lot of analysis has been done which actually demonstrates that policies are not gender neutral. We have to incorporate gender equality objectives in order to advance gender equality. This message now is catching on among men who oftentimes are the decision makers. I think this awareness-raising and consciousness-raising is something that has been advanced.
TV: Have working women benefited from the current two-week session of the Commission on the Status of Women?
GA: We faced major challenges and obstacles to engage within the U.N. during this two-week session.¬† Lots of people came to this meeting with great expectations and the U.N. was just not equipped with the necessary physical structure to receive all these people. Due to the renovations, we had a lot of access restrictions, which means that we have not been able to engage as meaningfully as we could have.
But within the trade union movement we have been following in particular the resolution on the economic empowerment of women. We have tried to put in some amendments that focus on the issues of women’s rights and women’s rights at work, like the right for collective bargaining, and the right to access to resources, education, training, health as well as credit.
TV: In which sectors has gender equality been largely achieved and in which are there still barriers to overcome?
GA: In the teaching and health sector for example, we do have a majority of women. But in highly professional fields, like doctors and engineers, we still have to bridge the equality gap between men and women.
The segregated sectors, like the mining sector, the car-making industry, machinery and the transport sector, are still dominated by men. But there are women’s committees that are trying to find ways to advance women in sectors that have been traditionally segregated in favour of men.