Monthly Archives: August, 2012

Kenya: Social Watch heads another fight against impunity


Issue 99 – August 24, 2012

Kenya: Social Watch heads another fight against impunity


James Maina Mugo, a local member
of Social Watch, sent this letter to
the Kenyan authorities

Kenyan police did not pay due attention to the disappearance on March 31 of Agnes Wanjiru-Wanjiku, a 21-years old woman from a hotel in the town of Nanyuki. Her body was found on June 5 by a cleaner in a septic tank behind the hotel. Despite the pressure by relatives and civil society organizations headed by Social Watch, the authorities are responding very slowly to the growing clamor from the grassroots that accuse British soldiers and fiercely criticize military cooperation agreements between Nairobi and London.
Read more

The Czech Republic is persisting with policies like those that led Greece into crisis
Conditions of life in the Czech Republic worsened last year, but the Government is persisting with policies like those that led Greece into its current crisis. This bleak analysis comes from the fifth annual report by the country’s Social Watch coalition, which also questions the budget cuts that have been made and highlights their negative impact on families and on the national economy. Other critical points it examines are political corruption, tax evasion, gender inequity and serious deficiencies in environmental protection.
Read more

Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab sentenced to three years imprisonment
Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR, focal point of Social Watch) and Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), was sentenced last week by the Bahraini Lower Criminal Court to three years imprisonment for “involvement in illegal practices and inciting gatherings and calling for unauthorized marches through social networking sites”, for his “participation in an illegal assembly” and for his “participation in an illegal gathering and calling for a march without prior notification”.
Read more

India: Trade policies are not ‘gender neutral’
In India, where economic, social and gender inequalities persist historically, and where trade policies are not ‘gender neutral’ the impact of trade policy on women must be paid serious attention to. Ranja Sengupta, senior researcher with the Third World Network (TWN), is worried that as the country climbs up the ladder of an emerging economy, the health, education and food needs of women get affected.
Read more

Can Africa and China Learn from Each Other?
The present global financial and economic crisis gives China an opportunity to consolidate its relationship with Africa, said South Centre advisor Dr. Lim Mah-Hui at the 18th meeting in Beijing of the Afreximbank Advisory Group on Trade and Export Development in Africa.
Read more


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Made possible thanks to the funding and support of Oxfam Novib and the Flemish North South Movement – 11.11.11

Yes, Virginia, There is a Gender Wage Gap Bryce Covert on August 15, 2012 – 10:26 AM ET


I would love to agree with Ramesh Ponnuru’s latest Bloomberg column, in which he argues that the gender wage gap—in which women on average still make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes—is not caused by discrimination. Ponnuru argues that, rather, it’s caused by different choices women make in their career paths and family formations. Wouldn’t it be great if the gap didn’t exist because women are held back and given less, but because they simply want different things? And it’s certainly true that the fact that women are congregated in a different set of jobs and often have to leave the workforce when they have children plays a role. But even this can’t explain away the gap. 

Ponnuru cites research by conservative economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth and a consulting company showing that the gap all but disappears when factors such as women working fewer hours, going part-time or taking breaks from their careers are taken into account. But the Government Accountability Office has already examined this question. The GAO tried to figure out just how much of the gap could be explained by these sorts of factors. To do so, it first performed a quantitative analysis using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a nationally representative longitudinal data set. It also supplemented that work by interviewing experts, reviewing the literature and contacting employers. 

What did the study find? It’s true that a variety of factors come into play—among them work patterns, job tenure, industry, occupation, race and marital status. But when it stripped all of these out, it still found that women earned about 80 percent of what men did. “Even after accounting for key factors that affect earnings,” the authors report, “our model could not explain all of the difference in earnings between men and women.” While it couldn’t definitively say what caused that 20 percent gap, plain old discrimination was one of the few possibilities it highlighted. 

The idea that women are paid less because they choose certain industries or occupations also doesn’t get us very far. Among the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s list of nearly 600 occupations, women make less than men in all but seven of them. And even in those where women make more, the difference is often as slight as a couple of dollars a week. They even make less in each industry: among the BLS’s thirteen industry categories, women make less than men in every single one. What this means is that even in “women’s fields,” men are going to rake in more. In fact, men have been entering traditionally female dominated sectors during the recovery period, and as the New York Times noted, they’re meeting with great success—“men earn more than women even in female-dominated jobs,” it noted. Women can enter engineering all they want, but their pay still won’t catch up to men’s.

What of the idea that women are paid less because they don’t ask for more money? Ponnuru argues that “women are less likely than men to drive hard bargains in salary negotiations,” which might explain some of the gap. But that idea is based more on stereotypes of women shying away from ambition than reality. Research firm Catalyst found that women do in fact ask for more money—they just aren’t rewarded for it. It looked at the career paths of thousands of MBA graduates, men and women, who were similarly ambitious about their career paths. It found that among those who moved on from their first job, “there was no significant difference in the proportion of women and men who asked for increased compensation or a higher position.” But there was a big difference in how much they ended up making—the women had slower compensation growth, and the gap got wider and wider as their careers progressed. 

Another recent study focused on the manager side of the equation: are they rewarding men and women who seek raises equally? Turns out the answer is no. When managers were told they had a limited pot of money to give out in raises to employees with the same skill and experience levels, managers gave men raises that were two and a half times larger than women’s when they knew they’d have to negotiate. In short: women ask, but they don’t receive.

Ponnuru does acknowledge that women’s personal choices may be constrained by social expectations and structures. Indeed, when talking about the fact that many women drop out of the workforce to care for children or end up cutting back their hours, we’re not just talking about fully equal options. Many women don’t have a lot of other financial options—single mothers whose childcare costs outpace their wages, parents who can’t afford the incredible cost of childcare, the fact that we are one of the three nations of 178 that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave (not to mention paternity leave). That’s why his claim that “there’s no reason to think that women will ever, on average, have the same preferences as men about combining employment and parenthood” is doubtful. We haven’t given them the chance.

So does this mean, as he tries to claim, that we can’t look to employers to fix the gender wage gap? Should we throw up our hands? It’s true that this is a complex issue that can’t be solved with one silver bullet. But there are things that need to change in the workplace. Salary secrecy is a big one. How are women going to fight discrimination if they’re barred, as about half of all workers are, from talking with their coworkers about pay? Employers also have to fix a broken career pipeline that keeps equally ambitious women in lower pay jobs and prevents them from reaching the top ranks. Other solutions have to come from the government, such as guaranteeing paid family leave, increasing childcare support so parents can afford quality choices and raising the minimum wage, since the vast majority of those workers are women. 

Surely the gender wage gap is a complicated issue. But dismissing it as a figment of feminists’ imagination, which seems to be a new conservative meme, is disingenuous. We can disagree on the solutions, but we shouldn’t be fighting over the basic premise.


Update: Ramesh Ponnuru (very quickly!) responded to this piece, and I appreciate his civility. He doesn’t dispute the findings of the GAO study I cite, but isn’t convinced that the remaining 20 percent pay gap is due to discrimination. In some ways that’s fair – the GAO is careful to say that it can’t definitively pinpoint what’s causing that remaining gap. It’s incredibly hard to prove that it is in fact widespread discrimination. But I think some of the other points I made make a pretty good case that discrimination is going on. Take the study of managers: it was clear that they were biased against women, giving men raises that were more than double what they gave women. There have been other studies along these lines, like one that showed people identical resumes but with some mentioning that the applicant was a mother and others mentioning the applicant was a father. Fathers were offered $6,000 more than non-fathers in compensation; mothers were offered $11,000 less than non-mothers. Studies like these expose our deep-seated ideas about women in the workplace, held by men and women alike, that impact hiring and salary decisions.

He also points out that I didn’t respond to the one piece of legislation he condemns in particular, which he calls the “comparable-worth bill called for by NOW.” I’m not sure what bill he’s referring to – in the press release he cites, NOW mentions both the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1519/S. 797) and the Fair Pay Act (H.R. 1493). The Paycheck Fairness Act seeks to end pay secrecy – allowing employees to talk to each other about their compensation so that women can be made aware of any potential discrimination – and clarifies and strengthens the definition of what counts as a justification for pay disparities while beefing up the penalties for businesses that fail to provide equal compensation to proactively deter it.

Given Ponnuru’s description, however, he likely means the Fair Pay Act. He claims that the bill would “force employers to change the pay scales for different jobs” and that “[t]he government would be invited to decide appropriate pay levels, one lawsuit at a time.” That’s not quite what it does. It amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to prohibit discrimination in compensation on the basis of sex, race or national origin, while allowing exemptions for “seniority systems, merit systems, systems that measure earnings by quantity or quality of production, or differentials based on bona fide factors that the employer demonstrates are job-related or further legitimate business interests.” It also prohibits firing or discriminating against employees for opposing anything the Act makes illegal or assisting in an investigation, and it calls for the EEOC to study and report its effects. That doesn’t sound like the government dictating wage scales – particularly given all of the exemptions for actual performance. If a company is paying a woman less than a man for any reason other than quality or quantity of work, seniority, merit or other defensible factors, what could possibly be the justification? 

I’ll reiterate that I don’t think it will take one thing to close the wage gap – although, contra his statement, I do disagree with his assertion that “there’s no reason to expect or want the gap ever to close completely.” We can close the gap, but we have to address the many structural factors that go into it. These bills would take solid steps toward that goal, but they won’t do it by themselves.



Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Nationality film viewing on August 13, 2012

Employment: Job market participation is lowest in the world By Abigail Fielding-Smith (Financial Times – May 15, 2012 3:50 pm)

Riham, a young Palestinian entrepreneur, discovered after graduating that, in common with many other Arab women, her education did not match the needs of the labour market.
Now, after receiving training from Education for Employment (EFE), a network of non-profit organisations in the Middle East and north Africa (Mena), Riham is setting up her own company, but her success story is far from typical.

Only 25 per cent of working-age women in Mena are estimated to be participants in the labour market – either employed or looking for work.
And although the region has made significant strides in female literacy and education (school enrolment rates are now almost equal between the sexes), its women’s labour market participation rates are the lowest in the world.

According to Tara Vishwanath, lead economist in the World Bank’s Mena poverty reduction group and lead author of a forthcoming report on women’s economic opportunities, this cannot be explained away as a lifestyle choice.
“When women are looking for a job, it takes them much longer than men,” she says.
“The most overwhelming reason is not that they choose not to work, but the constraints they face in the labour market limit their opportunities.”

The same patterns of economic exclusion apply as much in conservative, Saudi Arabia, as they do in supposedly cosmopolitan Lebanon and legally liberal Tunisia.
The reasons for the so-called “Mena paradox” are complex but are thought to boil down to the way the limitations of the labour market interact with social and cultural norms.
“You have states and communities that are incredibly patriarchal,” says Lina Abou Habib, the director of CRTD-A, a Lebanon-based NGO campaigning for social justice and gender equality.

“You merge this with economic policies that do not produce jobs, where women’s unpaid work is not recognised as work, then, as a result, you automatically get the lowest participation of women in the formal economy and in the job market.”
Partly because of the lack of opportunities in the private sector, and partly because its practices are seen as more family-friendly, the public sector has been a big employer of women in Arab countries. In Egypt, it provides 56 per cent of jobs for urban women.
However, with countries trying to rein in public sector spending, this is not a sustainable pathway for women’s economic integration in the long term.

Moreover, say analysts, over-reliance on the public sector has encouraged a mismatch to develop between skills and the labour market, with many women graduating from humanities programmes that are of limited use outside the public sector.
The private sector job growth rate in the region also struggles to match the flood of new labour market entrants, and women are hampered in competing for these jobs due to social and cultural factors.

“It’s about more than training and skills – it’s also about access to social capital and networks,” says Jasmine Nahhas di Florio, vice-president for strategy and partnerships at EFE, which works with employers to provide training to get young people into work.
“That is what vulnerable young people in general are missing, and women in particular, because they’re not congregating in the cafés.”

As well as difficulty gaining access to private sector jobs, women can view them as “unsafe”, says Ms Vishwanath.

Some businesses require women to work later at night than it is socially acceptable for them to be travelling, or, in the case of small companies where the other employees are male, are seen as exposing themselves to sexual harassment.

Women’s participation in the formal labour markets of the Arab world is a misleading indicator of their economic activity, however.

“Women do work, but they work in sectors that are not regulated,” says Ms Abou Habib. “They work in sectors where they are invisible.”

The exact size of the Arab world’s informal economy is hard to gauge, but it is thought to account for a large slice of overall employment, particularly among women.

In Yemen for example, the UN Development Programme’s Abdo Seif estimates that 80 per cent of the agricultural labour on smallholdings is conducted by unsalaried women working on behalf of their families.

Strengthening the rights of women in the informal economy would be one way to improve their economic empowerment, analysts say. There is also a need to give women better access to credit to try to boost entrepreneurialism.

But improving structural conditions to make existing employment opportunities more attractive to women is also seen as vital, whether it is creating safe, affordable public transport or reforming workplace regulations.

Ms Di Florio of EFE says: “We have started a labour rights programme specifically for the needs of women, because employers were making them work overtime, and that particularly affects women,” says , which aims to place as many women as men on its training schemes. “Being out for too long and coming back late is not socially acceptable.”

In spite of the obstacles, there are grounds for optimism, experts say.
Although the turmoil that has wracked the region for the past year has contracted economic opportunities, some hope that the political awakening experienced by women during the Arab spring will provide the impetus to drive change.

“We’re still seeing a lot of things forming,” says the World Bank’s Ms Vishwanath.
“There are tremendous opportunities, as well as risks.”