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Around the world, Concern’s female staff are at the forefront of our humanitarian and support work – leading, decision making, problem solving, advising and assisting. But some of them face huge challenges along the way – from securing a job in the first place, to remaining in the role and progressing in their career. This is particularly true in countries where we operate with cripplingly high levels of gender inequality and where women experience barriers to the same opportunities as men.
Why does parity matter?
Finding a job is much tougher for women than it is for men. 74% of all men eligible to work globally are currently in formal employment. For women, it’s 47%, which is more than a quarter fewer. In some of the countries where Concern has programmes, the national workforce participation rate for women drops to shamefully low levels – in Iraq, it is 12%, in Syria, 15%, and in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, 22%. That means that significantly fewer women worldwide who could be working for a wage - like their male counterparts - are not.
Why does parity matter? Well, the choice to work in safe and fair conditions is one that should be afforded equally to women and men. And ensuring that everyone has access to this right is an important end in itself.
In many of the countries where Concern works, women are widely under-represented in the labour market. They are not being held back by lack of ambition or ability, but rather, cultural attitudes, gender biases and stereotypes, and barriers to education and personal autonomy mean that many are not treated fairly from the get-go.
Ramatou Jean Coffi, Concern’s Community Awareness Officer in the Tahoua region of Niger, has had to face one of the most persistent obstacles to gender inequality in the workplace - balancing employment with caregiving and domestic responsibilities.
She said she would not be in the role if it were not for shared family support, which kicks against the social assumption of her as sole care provider. It is particularly challenging when she has to spend days away from home in hard to reach parts of Niger.
"I work full time during the day,” Ramatou said. “When I finish, I go home, and there are household chores and duties in raising children. It is hectic. But we keep moving forward. My husband also participates in the tasks. He helps me with household chores.”
There are circumstances that prevent me from coming home every night as we work in faraway places. Sometimes I have to spend two to three days away from home. My husband helps me, and it is then his job to look after the house and children.
For many other women, though, their experience is vastly different to Ramatou’s and they continue to bear the double burden of breadwinning and caregiving without support.
Shifting the imbalance
It is also important to recognise that in the contexts in which Concern works many women have had fewer opportunities to obtain the same education or experience as men, and that as an organisation we must cater for their different needs in order to do the same job.
An example of this is where we expect rural community outreach staff to ride motorbikes. In many of the countries where we work, it is much less common and acceptable for girls and women to ride motorbikes. To ensure that women are not excluded from these roles, we provide motorbike training to all new members of staff where necessary, and appropriately sized bikes.
For Jolpana Ray, a community facilitator with one of our partner organisations in Bangladesh, possessing a motorbike and the skills to ride have brought with it a sense of empowerment.
“It is not common for a woman in this area to ride a motorbike,” said Jolpana. “Riding it was definitely a challenging step. I was often verbally abused but that didn't stop me.”
“This bike is important to me for my own empowerment. I work for women’s empowerment. I teach women about their rights, and if I myself am not empowered, then how can I help influence others?”
Having a bike means having freedom. Now, I can go to remote field locations very easily and it saves me time. I can travel anytime to anywhere, I feel like a free bird!
As well as supporting women who want to learn to ride a motorbike through funding licenses and lessons, Concern promotes other tried and tested best practices from our country programmes - in places like Malawi, Turkey, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo - to recruit more women, retain them and encourage their progression within the organisation.
These include recommending the use of affirmative action for women in the recruitment process by offering positions to the best female candidate, posting job advertisements in places where women are most likely to see them, and creating career paths to more senior positions for women through internship schemes and mentoring.
We have also taken steps – in partnership with the South African NGO Sonke Gender Justice - to retrain staff to identify gender inequitable practices and behaviours. And we are working to ensure that the workplace is a safe space where women and men feel able to talk about their needs, challenges and preferences, and where social norms can be discussed, challenged and positively role modelled.
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