Gender equity and social inclusion in the Pacific workplace

In August 2017, at the Pacific Water and Wastewater Association’s annual conference, Naea Beth Onesemo, CEO of the Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development in Samoa presented on Gender Equity and Social Inclusion in the Pacific Workplace to the Pacific Young Water Professionals in Samoa.

She was able to articulate the critical importance of Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) for the region and for international development, using humour and pertinent examples. Her presentation outlines the role that each of us has to play to move forward with implementing GESI in our work, by emphasizing the multiple benefits of inclusion.

Watch the full video presentation here.

Presentation topics

  • Leadership and recognising inequality in the Pacific
  • What can we do to remedy GESI. Our responsibilities.
  • How to get started in your organisation

Gender equity and social inclusion has traditionally been ignored. This is what it is about.

In the Pacific, one of our particular challenges is this issue of gender equity and social inclusion. I urge you leaders of today and of tomorrow, if we are to move forward as a community, we need the full participation of both sexes and to bring all of our people ‘onboard’.

People are traditionally discriminated against, based on their gender, age, sexual orientation, income, where they live, and so on. You see and hear it every day, and it is also happening within your workplaces. In the Pacific, this topic has only begun to be discussed during the last 10 years.

In 2015 a review of the world in relation to the Millennium Development Goals — and all the national reviews for the Pacific as well — have found the Pacific is highest in terms of domestic violence and family violence and has the lowest representation of women in decision making, especially in parliaments.

What can we do?

It is time to make a change, and we need to be the ones to say it. It is time for us to engage the talents of our women, our people with disability, the formerly marginalised groups, to ensure that we can move forward. That is the gender equity and social inclusion (GESI) approach.

It isn’t just about the women or the men; it’s also about all the other vulnerable groups and marginalised groups in our populations — persons with a disability, youth, rural households, low-income households, and everyone else that are generally excluded from decision making and developments.’

We need to bring in equity. Equity means:

  • the fact that you were born with a particular set of biological equipment has absolutely no relationship to how clearly you think and innovate, and how you feel and care, and what you can do; and
  • what’s in your head, what’s in your heart, what you can do with hard work, has no relationship at all whatsoever to whether you stand up or you sit down when you use the bathroom.

We want all of our women and girls, to have the same opportunities as the men and the boys. We want women and girls to be treated equally with males in the labour markets.

It’s easy to overlook inequality. This is how to recognise it.

In the Pacific, women comprise more than half of the labour market, half the population in most of our countries. Yet women continue to face issues of severe discrimination in the workplaces.

You may think your workplace is different, perhaps because you have one or two women in leadership positions. But gender inequality is often not obvious.

Look a bit deeper, underneath the surface. Do the rules and all the policies at your workplace genuinely affect both genders, as well as people with handicaps, the same way they affect non-handicapped males? That is, are they really neutral?

There is a tool for looking deeper. It is called ‘gender analysis’, and it needs to be done to assess every program, every initiative, to see what its impact will be on all the different people that are intended to use that particular service. They may be women, children, men, people with disability, people with chronic illnesses, and others.

In Samoa, the chiefs make the decisions, and they are nearly all male. When there’s a decision to be talked about, where are the women? “Oh, they’re not here to talk about water because they are carrying the water.”

  • It’s mainly the men who are making decisions about water, where the water tanks will be put and so on, though they are not the people fetching the water! The result is miscommunication.
  • What about equipment? Mr Macho was the one that tested it, but the one that actually uses the equipment is little missy over here or this disabled guy who can’t even reach it!

It is in your interest as leaders in water and sanitation technology to make sure you think about the user, and design installations accordingly. Think about those things. Involve all kinds of people in your thinking. Involve them in the decisions. Give them the feeling of ‘ownership’ so they have the understanding, the knowledge, to use water and sanitation technology, to manage them properly, so they don’t break and have to be fixed. Access for all. Different people, different needs.

It’s looking at the holistic picture, at all facets of the issue, not just the economic benefits, the social benefits.

Leading change

These are some of the things the Ministry has started doing:

  • We’ve passed a resolution that at minimum, 10% of the number of seats in Parliament are now reserved for women.
  • We have as a goal that by 2030 half of our CEOs will be our women, and half of the decision-making will be by women.
  • We have supported people with disabilities to start micro-businesses, and some of them have set up market stalls in front of the government building. Buying from them means they can put their children into school, buy food, pay bills and so on.
  • We’re supporting some members of these groups to go back into school so they can follow the pathways to jobs.

There is a lot more to be done

I challenge you to make the connection between quality, quantity and access. It matters.

  • Access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has traditionally not been funded as well as other aspects of water resources management. Unfortunately, in the Pacific, only 51% of our population are accessing improved water supply. And only 31% are accessing improved sanitation.
  • Poor sanitation and poor access to water are positively related to high levels of mortality of infants and children under five.
  • We need to focus on WASH in schools. UNICEF has a number of programs in this area.
  • There are areas of the Pacific where up to 20% of girls do not attend school because leaders have not dealt properly with the issue of menstruation management and response. Menstruation is a topic not many people want to talk about it in public, but it happens, regularly, and it’s important that sanitation and hygiene facilities take those needs into account.

Sanitation is private behaviour but it has some very, very public consequences, as you know.

What each person can do

If you want to do big things you’ve got to dream big and then start doing them. Aim for the moon and you will land on the stars. But if you aim low you’ll end up lower.

  • My challenge to you is 50–50 male-female by 2030 in your workplaces. You can do it. All it takes is willpower and some changes to your policies, and some support. Start it in your own unit, your own workplace.
  • Support mothers and fathers in their child-rearing. It is not for us to say something is “not my problem”. It is our job to ensure that our mothers and fathers have a chance to be good parents because our workplaces are family-friendly; that when mothers and fathers have child-rearing responsibilities, we try as much as possible to ensure they have the support in meeting those responsibilities as well as contributing to the work of your workplace. Without that, children can end up being delinquents and in jail and that affects us as well. In the Pacific, those people are our responsibility.
  • How we socialise our children, how we raise them and nurture them and the career paths that we guide them towards that influences them to be the ones that say: ‘the Pacific needs everyone on board’. To move forward we need all our people ‘onboard’.
  • When you’re designing programs and implementing them, ensure that all the voices are heard. Ensure that you go out of your way to facilitate everyone having the opportunity to be heard. Water management, water infrastructure, all of that needs to be GESI sensitive. Sanitation and hygiene, the same thing, and emergency response and recovery.
  • Eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination in your workplace. Sexual harassment is not funny. It’s our responsibility to ensure that the workplaces that we have now and that we’re going to send our children to in the future are places where everyone can be happy to go to work in each morning. That it is a place where all their talents can be put to good use without having to deal with the usual harassment.

You will need to get your senior leadership’s support

  • Do some research, have some conversations with your leadership group and make the business case to convince them of why this issue is important. Point out the economic benefits, and the human rights benefit. Convince your leadership and get their agreement that this is important to them and that they see it’s going to improve their bottom line.
  • Once you have their buy-in, then start mapping out your strategies, how you address the issue, you identify and analyse where your workplace is at, in terms of this issue. Design your programs, do the situational analysis.
  • Then you can map out some changes that you might make, and find the resources for them and move them forward. And monitor — do the usual project implementation steps.
  • You may have to start very small and demonstrate the benefits in a project you lead, or in your own work unit before you can bring the senior leadership in. Look at doing something differently in designing and implementing this wider access and involvement. See what the benefits are and then make the business case based on that to your leaders.

Know your own attitudes

Learning comes from interacting. It is very important that you for yourself identify what it is that you know about this issue, and what your particular feelings or beliefs are about this issue because you need that knowledge before you can move forward as a leader. If you’re trying to manage and lead others, first of all, you have to manage and lead yourself. And before you can do that you have to really know yourself: your strengths, your beliefs, your weaknesses. If you don’t know that, then you’ve got nothing to work with.

Our task is to ensure our citizens have the chance to live happy, productive, good lives. You and I in the Pacific can help lead all our people who have got skills and knowledge to ensure that they and our future generations have better lives than we and our parents did.

But before we can do that we have to truly understand ourselves and what it is that we’re working with. Then we can go to our senior leadership teams and get their ‘buy-in’. That is actually the first step because otherwise any strategy or policy will get undone eventually.

I urge all of you as young leaders, if you want to be the fantastic leader that I know you have the potential for: understand this issue, take it on board, test apply it in your work units and hope you can scale it and grow it to your whole organisation and in the future your whole country.

This presentation and related content was originally part of the Kini Interview Series. Kini is a retired brand of the AWP and IWCAN.

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