Q&A: “Women Work in Both the Productive and Reproductive Sectors”

Posted on 12 March 2010 by admin

The CSW trade union delegation.

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.

2 Comments For This Post

  1. Beverley Smith Says:

    In early societies men hunted and gathered while women tended the young and gardened to feed the family. In traditional economics men made the laws about they valued only roles men had, made money flow only to those roles, and defined ‘work’ only as roles that generated money. As a result women doing their full share, their half in the home, were deemed to not be working at all. In 1995 at Beijing all member UN nations signed the Platform for Action to finally address that gap in economic theory and to recognize and tally the one-third to one half of the GDP in every country that is due to unpaid labor, usually done by women. It is very disheartening to see the CSW not even live up to its only liberation principles when it still uses terminology of male paradigm economics. When it speaks of advances for ‘working women’ and clearly only means women who earn outside the home, it itself is using the narrow definition of work that ignores women’s traditional roles.

    I have made a complaint at the UN that my own country Canada has not adequately widened the definition of ‘work’ to value the care roles of the young, sick, handicapped, elderly and dying, roles vital to any society and usually done in the home, by women, and unpaid. In my country we also have tax penalty on those women because in economics terms they are even deemed unproductive, not contributing and lazy. There is no greater insult to women than when we are still devalued for our work in the home and it is just shocking to see a women’s organization use the same insulting terminology.

    Ladies, suck up your courage and dare to say all mothers work, and that the expression’ working woman’ is redundant.

    If we do anything this generation to liberate women it must be to get governments to value all our roles not just our paid roles outside the home. And it may be that our very first hurdle to get over, our very first obstacle to address is our own terminology and attitude.

  2. Lynne Kent Says:

    I am so pleased to see someone express this so eloquently. It is clear that in Canada we do not value mothers or, for that matter, women who do not act like men. We still value and aspire to male roles and demean women who do not. How do we make that shift in society to value the extraordinary work women do in the home as well as outside the home?

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