Education International
Education International

Global Unions’ Statement to the 50th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (United Nations, New York, 27 February to 10 March 2006)

published 20 February 2006 updated 6 June 2018

Achieving Gender Equality In Decision-Making; Challenging Gender Biases In The Education And Health Sectors

INTRODUCTION Achieving gender equality in the fields of education, health and work is integral to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Gender parity in decision-making at all levels is, in turn, a key mechanism to achieve gender equality. Keenly aware of these connections, global unions have lent their full support to international and national-level policies aimed at achieving the equal participation of women and men in decision-making, and in turn have adopted affirmative action measures in their own decision-making bodies . ACHIEVING GENEDER PARITY IN TRADE UNIONS In tandem with the increasing involvement of women in the global economy, many parts of the world have seen large numbers of women joining trade unions. This growth in the rank and file has not always been matched by a corresponding growth in women’s decision-making positions within trade union structures. However, this is changing. Increasingly, gender policies within the trade unions aim to increase the level and effectiveness of women’s participation in decision-making. Women from the trade union movement have increasing visibility, and are fighting for more and better jobs, but also for gender equality in all aspects of the working world, against any discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, age, national or ethnic origin, language, religious affiliation, among others. Some countries have used national legislation to ensure proportional representation on trade union decision-making bodies. This is notably the case for Argentina, while in Brazil trade union centers have agreed guidelines on quotas. In other countries, such as the UK and Canada, there are regular monitoring arrangements in place, whereby the numbers of women in elected bodies, on staff and in negotiating teams are registered. Public Services International, a global union federation (GUF), amended its Constitution in 2002 to allow for gender parity on all elected decision-making structures at international and regional level. In addition, all sponsored education programmes and delegations must comply with the principle of gender parity. All elected bodies are co-chaired, by one woman and one man. GLOBALIZATION AND WOMEN’S WORK Promotion of gender parity in decision-making is all the more important as unions seek to shape a strong policy response to globalization, given its disproportionate negative impacts on women workers. Globalization has had mixed impacts on women’s economic opportunities and rights. The restructuring of the public sector and privatization have had a negative impact on women’s employment opportunities and women’s ability to access employment. Globalization in some cases has given women access to more, but not better jobs, for example in the textile industry, and export processing zones, while at the same time leading to increasing violations of women’s social, political, and cultural rights, and the increasing feminization of poverty. It has further been associated with the expansion of religious fundamentalism, and new forms of militarism and conflict. In many countries, laws and policies regarding women’s social rights are being undermined, in part owing to the spread of neoliberal economic policies and trade agreements. The global labour market today continues to show a persistent gender gap:

  • Women do about 66% of the world’s work in return for less than 5% of its income.
  • Worldwide, over 60% of people working in family enterprises without pay are women.
  • There are more women than men working in low-status, low-paid jobs.
  • Even where women have made significant gains in paid employment, labour markets, remain strongly segregated, to the disadvantage of women.
  • No country in the world has achieved pay equity. The pay gap is 12% in Norway but in many developing countries, it is as much as 60%.
  • More young women than men (below age 25) are unemployed in Latin America and the Caribbean, Southern and Western Asia and Northern Africa.

CLOSING THE GENDER GAP IN EDUCATION Investing in education and closing the attendant gender gap are key to long-term development and improvements in living standards for all. Women’s education in particular is critical to securing intergenerational transfers of knowledge, thereby paving the way for long-term gender equality and social change. A single year of primary education correlates with a 10-20% increase in women’s wages later in life. And an extra year of education has been shown to reduce by 5-10% a woman’s risk that her children will die in infancy. Education International is deeply concerned at the gender gap in education, particularly in Southern and Western Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. In countries where resources and school facilities are lacking and total enrollment is low, families tend to maintain boys in school and girls drop out. In some countries only 75 girls are in school for every 100 boys. Gender disparities also tend to increase at higher levels of education. According to the 2005 UNFPA State of the World Population Report, of some 65 developing countries with full data sets, about half have achieved gender parity in primary education, compared to about 20% in secondary education. Only 8% have achieved gender parity in higher education. If this slow rate of progress continues, the target of eliminating the gender gap in education by 2015 will be missed yet again, and the world will listen once more to the lame excuses of governments that made grand commitments at international level, only to forget about implementation when once they returned home. PRIVATIZATION, GATS AND THE HEALTH SECTOR CRISIS With regard to the public sector, a number of serious concerns have also been raised. Public sector restructuring, privatization and liberalization have led to a decline in the quality and investment of public health services and the creation of a two-tiered system, providing private health services for those who can afford to pay, and leaving the public sector under-funded and under-performing. In many industrialized countries, health workers, the great majority whom are women, are leaving the profession because of low and inequitable pay, heavy workloads, stressful working conditions and demoralization. Fewer women are opting to join the profession for the same reasons. At the same time, there is increasing demand for elderly care, both at community and institutional levels. Today, virtually every country in the world records a shortage of health staff. It is women, both as workers and as care-givers, who must bear the brunt of the situation. Women’s work in the caring professions is consistently under-paid and under-valued. Traditional job evaluation systems often discriminate against those jobs mainly performed by women. There is a global need to review existing job evaluation systems, develop guidelines and new models and to provide training and capacity to government, employers, trade unions and civil society organizations. The UN system, in particular UNIFEM and the ILO, should take the lead in promoting best practices in this regard, and in providing resource materials and training programmes, in partnership with the trade union movement. THE SERVICES SECTOR AND INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION To fill the labour shortage in the health sector, industrialised countries are actively recruiting experienced health workers from developing and transition countries, thus depriving already under-staffed and under-resourced health systems of much needed staff. Developing countries with higher income levels are also recruiting from lesser-developed countries, with similar “skills drain” effects. Other social services and education are losing large numbers of skilled workers as they migrate to work abroad, thereby compromising the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in the areas of health and education, as well as the closing of the education gender gap. The migration of health workers out of Africa is seriously compromising the implementation of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS programmes in the region. It is estimated that about 600,000 more nurses are needed to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa but at the same time, 25,000 African health professionals migrate to developed countries every year. . While recognizing the right of individuals to migrate, global unions maintain that migration policies should not be used by receiving industrialized countries as a means to avoid obligations to provide decent employment conditions in the health sector aimed at retaining personnel, nor could they be construed as a component of a viable, long-term development strategy for developing countries. Research conducted by Public Services International clearly reveals that the great majority of workers who migrate to work abroad would prefer to stay and contribute to the development of their home country, if only they could earn a living wage. Individual decisions should be made on the basis of equal opportunity for quality health care employment in their country of origin, and accurate information about employment conditions abroad. Furthermore, the GATS Mode 4 which focuses on temporary migration of skilled personnel while failing to incorporate a social dimension in terms of decent employment, workers’ rights, social protections and long-term development, should be removed from the agenda of the WTO. TRADE UNION RECOMMENDATIONS Global unions therefore strongly recommend that governments:

  1. Adopt a gender-sensitive, rights-based approach to migration policy, based on the ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration, ILO Conventions 97 and 143 on migrant workers, and the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families which all governments should ratify;
  2. Agree that the issue of temporary movement of workers (Mode 4 of the General Agreement on Trade in Services) should be taken off the agenda of the World Trade Organization;
  3. Support the proposal for the WHO General Assembly to adopt a code of practice on the international recruitment of health personnel;
  4. Adequately fund health services, providing Quality Public Services in order to attain the Millennium Development Goals;
  5. Implement the ILO’s decent work agenda, including the ratification and full implementation of ILO Conventions 100 (Equal Remuneration), 111 (Discrimination), 156 (Workers with Family Responsibilities), 175 (Part-Time Work), 177 (Home Work) and 183 (Maternity Protection), and provide effective follow-up to the ILO Conference Resolution on gender equality, pay equity and maternity protection adopted in June 2004 ;
  6. Ratify and implement the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against women (CEDAW).