Gender inequality

THE issue of gender inequality is not peculiar to Pakistan. Realising that such discrimination prevailed in every sphere of life everywhere, the International Labour Organisation framed the Equal Remuneration Convention (C 100), 1951. This was followed by three more conventions on gender equality: the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (C 111), 1958; Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention (C 156), 1981, and Maternity Protection Convention (C 183), 2000.

Recently, the UN issued a gender equality and women`s empowerment report, which observes: `Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. There has been progress over the last decades, but the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. Women and girls represent half of the world`s population and therefore also half of its potential. But gender inequality persists everywhere and stagnates social progress.

C 100 makes it obligatory upon the member states to `ensure the application to all workers of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value`. Seventy-two years have lapsed since the release ofthis convention, yet, according to the UN, women `still earn 23 per cent less than men globally. On average, women spend about three times as many hours in unpaid domestic and care work as men`. Women work for eight hours a day but the household responsibilities keep them busy too.

C 111 has also been ratified by Pakistan.

Each member must ensure `equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, with a view to eliminating any discrimination in respect thereof`.

In the late 1970s, I was working at an MNC at Daharki. A woman, who had graduated in chemical engineering from the UK, came for an interview for the position of operations manager. She was capable and ambitious and had no inhibitions about working with male colleagues. However, the management did not offer her the job as she would be the only female working at the plant.

There are certain jobs, especially in industrial establishments, viewed as gender-specific, for instance, the job of industrial relations manager, who has to negotiate the labour union`s charter of demands periodically. During discussions union officials, in the heat of the moment, may utter words considered inappropriate in the presence of women. According to my own experience, though, the presence of womenin negotiation teams had a sobering effect on union officials, who would refrain from using foul language.

C 156 `applies to men and women workers with responsibilities in relation to their dependent children. Such responsibilities restrict their possibilities of preparing for, entering, participating in, or advancing in economic activity`. Their employers should be considerate and allow them the time required to see to their obligations towards their families without reducing their pay.

Besides, family duties should not be a valid reason for terminating employment.

C 183 prescribes that members shall `ensure that pregnant or breastfeeding women are not obliged to perform work, which has been determined by the competent authority to be prejudicial to the health of the mother or the child`.

Gender inequality is rampant in our society. People`s general attitude towards women remains a topic of critique in articles and editorials. Some observationspublished recently in this newspaper are summed up here.

Discrimination includes the fact that there may be about 3.5 million eligible women voters who are not registered on the electoralrolls.

Women don`t want to contend with the stares and harass-ment they face when they step outside their safety zones.

Pakistan not just features as one of the world`s most dangerous countries, it is, in fact, anti-women, and has been unable to enforce international conventions regardingtheissue.

Commenting on the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the jailed Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, the UN secretary general said the award was `a tribute to all those women, who are fighting for their rights at the risk of their freedom, their health and even their lives`.

Harassment of women at the workplace is one of the major issues affecting women`s taking up a job, retention, productivity, and advancement. The UN aspires to achieve gender equality and women`s empowerment by 2030. This appears to be a gigantic task and an ambitious target, but it will still be a great achievement if most of the developing countries are able to remove key gender inequalities by the deadline. • The wnter is a consultant in human resources at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi.