Monthly Archives: February 2011

Focus Placed on Education as UN Women’s Commission Begins Annual Session

The UN Commission on the Status of Women’s  annual session kicked off today with opening remarks that address the necessity of educating women and girls as a tool of economic and personal empowerment. This is a recurrent theme throughout the literature regarding women’s issues worldwide, and I look forward to seeing what progress is made over the next two weeks as the session continues.

Of particular interest is the creation of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), which is an organization that aims to bring women into the fold in regards to decision-making at the policy level around the world.

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=37591&Cr=&Cr1=

Posted by Jennifer O’Neill

Women Still Face Barriers in Hong Kong

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/world/asia/22iht-women22.html?pagewanted=1&%2359;s%20rights&%2339&_r=1&sq=women&st=cse&scp=1

This particular article explains that Hong Kong is one of the most westernized cities in Asia, but women, despite being well represented at the university level and in civil service, are conspicuously missing in the top tiers of business and politics, which hold both the most decision-making power and pay. According to a study published in 2009, less than seven percent of women in Hong Kong hold executive directorships. Activists are frustrated by the dichotomy between the westernization of women’s roles: women aren’t required to marry and do have access to higher education, but traditional social norms cast women in the role of homemaker in addition to the responsibilities of their careers. Su-Mei Thompson, chief executive of the Women’s Foundation says “Hong Kong is lagging behind other developed countries in this respect,” however, studies by the same nonprofit indicated that only 12 percent of board positions in Britain were held by women, and 15 percent in the U.S. While these numbers are better than in Hong Kong, they it hardly indicate equality in the western workplace, either.

I think that it is the overarching trend for women’s traditional roles to disrupt career trajectories that could potentially take them to the “upper echelons of politics and business” or whatever career track a woman is following, not just in Asia, but in Western countries as well. I have read many development articles since starting graduate school, and while things may be changing slowly in some areas, it seems the general trend is still holds that a woman may have more access to education and career opportunities so long as her responsibilities to the home are still met. It is still the norm in the U.S. that even if both man and woman are breadwinners, most of the responsibilities of the household (cooking, cleaning, childcare, etc.) fall to the woman.

This article indicates that the trend in Hong Kong seems to be that women leave the workforce in their thirties, often to have children and take care of them at home. Unfortunately there is no way to change this; children will continue to be born and women, not men, experience pregnancy and need maternity leave to deliver and care for a newborn. What I think the system can do, and what the author of the article mentions, is make it easier for women to reenter the workforce (or stay in) by offering nonfinancial benefits like better maternity leave, vacations, or more flexible hours. I would also add that if the trend is for most women to leave the workforce in the middle of their careers, there should be a fight against stereotypes and discrimination for women who don’t want to be pressured into traditional roles of wife and mother and want to go further in their careers, contrary to social norms. Some experts are seeking to target the education system in this fight against gender discrimination.

One expert said, “Many companies see women with children as a risk…Mothers have to work that much harder to prove they can be relied upon — even if they have the same, or better, performance as their male colleagues. The senior women I have spoken to here talk not so much of a ‘glass ceiling’ but of an ‘invisible filter’ that prompts many women, eventually, to opt out of the work force.”

The thing I took away from this article was that Asia seems to be looking to the West for examples of gender equality in the workforce, but simply from women’s anecdotal evidence in our discussions in WOST 6000, there are myriad examples of discrimination in the U.S., from unequal wages, to women having to take off wedding/engagement rings during job interviews, to male professors telling female grad students that if they want to earn a PhD they should make sure they don’t have children in the next few years. It just doesn’t seem like the U.S. is doing leaps and bounds better to set an example for gender equality.  -Rachel