Worldwide: Listen to women’s concerns

It is hard to imagine that however developed or undeveloped a country might be, women have same complaints or concerns, which they think at a certain point, should not be real issues since they need just a simple touch to let them cease to be.
L-R : Trisha-Singapore ; Kathy-Philippines ; Zsuzsi-Hungary ; Zanele-South Africa
L-R : Trisha-Singapore ; Kathy-Philippines ; Zsuzsi-Hungary ; Zanele-South Africa

It is hard to imagine that however developed or undeveloped a country might be, women have same complaints or concerns, which they think at a certain point, should not be real issues since they need just a simple touch to let them cease to be.

Recently we celebrated women’s day, and not being at home did not make a big difference for some of us (women) who are currently in some corners of the world trying to make ends meet. We were taken care of by those who understand what it means to be a woman.

Certainly it requires one to be gentle, some gentlemen bought flowers and distributed to each one of us in a class where we are pursuing similar goals of analyzing policies. It was amazing.

Then suddenly I heard one guy mention something questionable yet obvious, he questioned: “so you have only one day in the entire year?”

This was like reminding me that some people do not know that women indeed need a special day, just like some people would at least need to celebrate one day in a year as their ‘birthday’, ‘marriage anniversary’ etc.

This doesn’t mean that other days of living are not acknowledged; neither does it mean that people only remember you on that day. Anyhow, it means you need a special day.

As a result, I bring to you the most important reasons women need to be celebrated at least once in a year as special species from their male counter parts.

Before you get taken up by the similar challenges women from at least different parts of the globe point out, at one moment, have time to think about the ups and downs women undergo, with no exception whatsoever.

Then you will realize that there should be time to celebrate women internationally, since there are those who are always under the oppression of gender discrimination. The challenges are encountered in all sectors: health, social and economic and political.

The Sunday Times carried out a survey on Women from different continents (Africa, Asia and Europe) and professional background (Lawyer, Doctor, Journalist, etc) who made the assertions:

Zanele Hlatshwayo from South Africa: Women in South Africa are facing challenges and discrimination in relation to HIV/AIDS, particularly regarding their sexual and reproductive health care.

This includes lack of information regarding HIV and pregnancy, difficulties with the use of contraceptives, negative attitudes towards childbearing, and problems in accessing safe legal abortions.

Maternal mortality

Maternal health has also has been under the spotlight in South Africa after an analysis of maternal deaths was released in July, showing an increase in the country’s maternal mortality rate (MMR).

Over 4,000 maternal deaths were reported in ‘Saving Mothers 2005-2007: Fourth Report on Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in South Africa’, a 20 percent rise from the 3,406 deaths in the previous three-year period. The top three causes of death were non-pregnancy related infections caused mainly by AIDS (43.7 percent), complications of hypertension (15.7 percent) and obstetric haemorrhage (12.4 percent).

Researchers found that nearly four out of every 10 deaths (38.4 percent) were avoidable. They identified non-attendance and delayed attendance as common problems, together with poor transport facilities, lack of health care facilities and lack of appropriately trained staff.

Governments need to play a more active role in protecting women rights through special laws.

Kathy Villegas from Philippines: On Reproductive Health of the everyday Piney, empowering the Filipino women, the ‘pinays’ can benefit from more societal support. There is still much to be desired in terms of giving all women equal status.

While the educated and better off women enjoy more opportunity, the majority still struggle from the burden placed upon them. Fertility rate remains high (3.2 in 2006) and so is the unmet need for family planning (16% in 2006). Teenagers comprise more than a third of these women whose family planning needs are unmet.

As a result, majority of deaths among newborns and there happen to be too many pregnancies that are too soon. Similarly, most of these mothers are too poor and uneducated, and are unable to access the health system in a timely manner needed.

There are several efforts from the government to put in place Reproductive Health and Safe Motherhood policies but implementation is still wanting in terms of reaching the neediest.

While the Department of Health seeks to maximize its reach, the welfare of women is not a function of this agency alone. Other government agencies, such as the Social Welfare, Labor & Employment are also doing their best in making sure that women are protected and are placed in the most advantageous place possible.

Perhaps what requires more attention, is the creation of synergy among different government efforts and also the strengthening of the role of private sector in helping the ‘pinays’.

Further, there is a need to ensure that there is adequate opportunity for education, access to health, and a safer environment for women to maximize their role in the Philippine society.

These are the basic ingredients to ensure the empowerment of women and therefore are essential services that the state should provide.

Trisha Suresh, Singaporean:  There are some benefits given to pregnant women, but single mothers (mothers who have given birth before marriage) are not entitled to the same privileges. I can’t remember what this is exactly, but I know a friend of mine who is a single unwed mother could not get some days leave because of the fact that she was unwed.

The other problem in Singapore is the problem of balancing work and family life. The government did extend more maternity leave days some time last year, but employers are still known to either look unfavourably on newly-married women joining their workforce (because they expect them to have kids soon and will thus take a lot of maternity leave) or try to get rid (I say this blatantly) of women who are pregnant.

This I have personally experienced - a colleague got fired because she was going away on maternal leave. So what seems to need to change is the stigma and mindset.

Women also don’t want to have children or are having them later and later because, quite simply, they are working and focussing on their careers before children.

In terms of what policymakers can do, among others are: I think more maternal leave and definitely more paternal leave, recognizing the rights of unwed single mothers, and prosecuting employers who show discrimination.

The last is the hardest to prove in court, but is problematic. I know of friends who have been asked in interviews if they are getting married soon!

Zsuzsanna Vári Kovács from Hungary:  In Hungary, the state provides women with quite generous support. After giving birth they get 70% of their previous salary until the child is 2 years old (although the amount is maximized in two times the minimal wage).

If they want to stay at home after this, they can still apply for limited financial support (which equals to the minimum pension). This support is given to mothers with a disabled child (until he/she reaches 10) or twins (until they reach 16).

Being a “professional mother” is also possible if you have three or more children. In that case you get your “salary” from the state. Besides, every family gets a monthly sum after each child until he/she studies (max. until the age of 23). This financial system is accompanied by public kindergartens and a limited number of creches.

Although the picture looks rosy, the reality is that our fertility rate is 1.3. When you look at the factors why Hungarian women have no children, there are three main reasons.

First, the society has no trust and hope which makes people unwilling to start families. Second, the macro level (state) support facilities are inadequate, and third, the micro-level (family) support is inadequate.

I would concentrate on the second and third argument. I think in Hungary the biggest problem for mothers is employment. While most women are working before giving birth, their employment is drastically reduced afterwards.

The lack of part-time employment and the limited number of creche places make it difficult to return to the job market after delivery, hence many mothers stay at home for years. When children are bigger, they might return to the job market, but usually to lower positions.

The fact that women with younger children can’t find employment makes many young women reluctant to have children - either because of career prospects or more importantly because their salary is needed to keep their families afloat.

Besides formal employment issues, there is a problem with the way household tasks are distributed. As the attitude towards gender roles is quite conservative, Hungarian women are expected to do the lion’s share of domestic work and childcare.

This fact is unchanged even if a woman works, which makes her carry the double burden of her job and domestic duties. Understandably, many young women are not willing to put up with this and decide against having kids.

Ann Kwan,  Singaporean: Singapore offers mothers certain financial packages to offset the costs of motherhood, including vouchers for milk-powder and food (for needy mothers), care subsidies (higher for working mothers than non-working mothers), and other aid for single-mothers.

Singapore also has a great health care system, Singaporean women can use subsidized government health care when in need of medical assistance, when giving birth.
Perhaps one of the problems for young women here is teenage pregnancies and unmarried pregnancies and the stigma that comes with it. However, abortion is legal in Singapore.

Working women in Singapore often face the problem of deciding whether to focus on career or family. However, Singapore is trying to be more pro-family, and has mandated a certain length of paid and subsidized maternity leave, as well as protections for the woman’s job.

Most government offices have child care centers or creches attached.

It is up to you to choose what to do and not do as to make the world great for women. In case you still doubt how global women’s concerns ares, and you need to hear from an American and a Latin American, get back to the writer.

Otherwise it is as easy as that, and as complicated as that. Depending on the lenses you are using to look at it.