IndustriALL women leaders in South East Asia gathered for a regional conference towards gender equality and improved maternity protection at work.
Around 50 women leaders from IndustriALL Global Union affiliates in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines met in November to strengthen women and gender structures at all levels of national and local unions, and to improve maternal protection in each country. There is a high number of women workers in all of the countries, especially in the textile, garment, shoe and leather, and electronics industries.
The two-day conference, “Achieving Gender Equality and Improving Maternity Protection at Work” on 24 – 25 November, marked the start of a maternity protection campaign in the region. A study on maternity protection in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar was presented, showing the differences and weaknesses in the systems.
The study, involving some 1,600 women, revealed that in Cambodia, women’s representation on a policy and decision-making level is at least 40 per cent and in some places at least as high as 90 per cent. However, working conditions for female workers are far from decent and the level of maternity protection is well below international standards.
In Indonesia, many women work nine hours or more in one day, six days a week. 26 per cent always do night shifts. Seven percent of the women experienced unwanted transfer to another position because of pregnancy. Sixteen per cent were not allowed to take time off from work during pregnancy, and 23 per cent reported that their workplaces did not allow for breastfeeding when the women returned to work.
In Myanmar, the study established major limitations and challenges among workplaces specifically in terms of women and gender policy. Nearly all the workplaces covered by the study (97 per cent) did not provide opportunities for training and promotion, for example. 94 per cent of the women interviewed were not aware of any policies to combat sexual harassment and violence against women.
In the Philippines, 85 per cent of women had no difficulties accessing maternity benefits and experienced no difficulty when returning to work after maternity leave. However, for women who are contractual/agency-hired, the situation is worse – their contracts are automatically terminated when pregnant. And women in the informal sector or under non-regular forms of employment do not have any maternity benefits at all.
The current maternity benefits in the Philippines date from 1997 and lag behind other South East Asian countries in terms of number of days for maternity leave.
Participants at the workshop devised a concrete plan of action with strategies and activities for the women to implement in their own countries. They also affirmed their commitment to push for ratification of ILO Convention on Maternity Protection, as well as gender quotas in their at federations and at local union levels.