Monday, March 15, 2010

Why a day for women

During yesterday I had no opportunity to write, but I received many messages and comments from close people, from the typical greeting by text message to people who said that the very existence of the International Women’s Day was, in short, a ridiculous: women, they said, are not disabled by our gender, why not a day for men, too?
Well, first of all, as my mother says, every day is Men’s Day. Secondly, the International Women’s Day is not another Hallmark celebration: Each March 8th we commemorate the death of 140 brave, young, working women who died in a fire in a textile factory in NY, within which were locked demanding better working conditions and decent wages. This date is devoted to the struggle of thousands of women throughout the world to achieve equal working conditions, civil rights, access to productive resources and recognition of their fundamental rights. This struggle was not easy, nor peaceful, but especially it isn’t over.
In Venezuela, from where I write these lines, 50% of women of working age are regarded as economically inactive, compared to 21% of men in the same situation. Of those, 2,988,161 women are dedicated exclusively to housework, while only 53,678 men take care of it. (Official 2009 data)
Coupled with this, the job discrimination is still considered a normal circumstance: of all economically active women, about 35% are engaged in paid domestic services, a work whose almost complete lack of legal protection, makes it a minefield for sexual harassment and exploitation. Approximately 60% of all economically active women are working in the tertiary sector, in activities related directly or indirectly with the “feminine”, such as education and public attention.
As if that were not enough, in Venezuela there is no specific legislation on workplace bullying: the criminal offense of harassment is intended to cover generic various forms of violence against women, and in it, different circumstances are mixed and typically, are not punished. Women are not only placed in low-income works, and their wages are still lower than those of men, but remain subject to reprisals and harassment by circumstances inherent in their status as women, as motherhood.
From the Ministry of Labor, where I work, each week I attend at least three women who have been downgraded in their work because of their pregnancies, or who are harassed with the aim of make them resign during the period of gestation.
In fact, if you analyze the INE data on income levels of employed population, by gender, there is clearly a variation in income levels by educational level. In this sense, in their 2004 report, the ILO said:
“Women earn on average 64% of what men earn. The income gap is more pronounced among the employed in the informal sector (who receive the equivalent of 52% of male earnings) and those with high levels of schooling “(…)” Women need education levels significantly higher than of men in order to have the same access to employment opportunities: four more years to get the same income and two years on average to have similar opportunities to access a formal occupation “(ILO, 2004).
To analyze the real impact of these figures, we must take into account that over 60% of poor households in Venezuela are headed by women. The feminization of poverty is a global phenomenon: women represent two thirds of the world’s poor population, and we can’t close our eyes to the reality that this is a consequence of unequal access to productive resources, in terms of fair employment and effective protection of their fundamental rights.
Act now: Women’s Human Rights and poverty. (ES) (AI)
The feminization of poverty (UN-Es)
The feminization of poverty (PyFG-Es)

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