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Women’s Human Rights in the Changing Work Place:By Sitshengisiwe Ndlovu




Picture:Courtesy of Google Images

In any economy women play multiple roles as workers, producers, traders, consumers and tax payers. It is therefore important from the onset to define what constitute the economy in the context of human rights visa vis women’s rights and women economic empowerment.


The economy is a gendered structure: By understanding the economy as a “gendered structure”, we explicitly acknowledge and identify the gendered powered relations that underpin the various institutions, transactions and relations that make up the sphere of the “economy”.[1] Within the economy there are labor institutions where: Women are also more likely than men to experience constraints on how they dispose of their earnings, and more likely to be restricted in their labour market activities by their socially ascribed responsibilities for unpaid domestic and care work. Hence, women’s increased participation in the labour force is not a straightforward story of progress in gender equality. Moreover, many of the factors that structure labour markets and women’s position within them are in turn shaped by broader policies and processes of social change.[2]


In the much publicized Oxfam Report revealed that 82, 7% of wealth created by international trade in 2017 was for 1% of the world population while 99% of the world had nothing to show for the much taunted globalization. The majority of these groups of people are the women. Developing countries rely on export oriented strategies designed around women as they offer competitive and comparative advantage to ensure fast economic growth.In some in some cases they are out-rightly a source of cheap labor[3].


Furthermore women are overly represented in repetitive tasks that offer no opportunity of skills enhancement and growth, and it is usually these tasks that are targeted for automation rendering women jobless in the process. Moreover the newly automated processes get to have men as supervisors due to the absence of women at managerial levels.


Productive and decent work for all (SDG8)by 2030 as envisaged by the global community might be an upward struggle if we do not challenge the status quo that is currently obtaining. Research as regards technological advancement in AI and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, indicates that the impact of the age of automation will not affect men and women equally: Overall, men stand to gain one job for every three jobs lost to technological advances, while women are expected to gain one job for every five or more jobs lost.[4], the research also quickly depicts a positive picture that high paying jobs with a thrust on social skills will be difficult to automate, and occupations like care aides, registered nurses and home health aides will actual experience growth in the periods 2014 and 2024.


Charles Kenny writing for Centre of Global Development seem to concur with the Rapid Response Briefing ,although he however cautions that if women are to benefit from automation, an overhaul of societal norms with a combination of automation policy should be considered, this is his summary: Past automation has been (broadly) positive for women’s average quality of life, economic empowerment, and equality.

2. Forecasts of the gendered impact of automation and AI going forward based on the current distribution of employment suggest considerable uncertainty and a gender inequality of impact that is marginal compared to the potential impact overall.

3. The bigger risk—and/or opportunity—is likely to be in the combined impact of automation, policy, and social norms in changing the type of work that is seen as male or female.

4. Minimizing any potential aggravating impact of automation and AI on inequalities in economic power in the future can best be achieved by maximizing economic equality today.[5]


The non- commitant summary suggest the complexity of the future of the work place visa vis gender equality.

As women organizations while we gear ourselves to embrace the advent of globalization, technology, gig and on demand economy all pitted against sustainability, we are wary of how these seemingly positive developments may reverse the gains so far attained in reducing gender disparities.


Joy Buolwamwini , Founder of the Algorithm Justice League ‘s research reveals how decisions made by machines may have gender bias emanating from how the machine was trained, and the outcome may depend largely on the markets and context the machine was trained for! These machines are not gender neutral and may easily exclude women thereby perpetuating inequality[6]


Klaus Schwab in his book The Four Industrial Revolution notes that ‘because men tend to dominate computer science, mathematical and engineering professions, increased demand for specialized technical skills may exacerbate gender inequalities’ He further outlines the cumulative effect, the job loses across the whole spectrum of job categories, will have on women and who by the way are not a homogenous group-‘specifically it will be put at risk single-income households headed by low –skilled women , depress total earnings in two-income families and widen the already troubling gender gap around the world.’[7]


How then do we ensure the preservation of Women’s Human Rights in the Changing Work place?

Trade has been correctly identified as an empowerment tool to uplift women from poverty. However it has been noted how international trade in the one year 2017 created wealth for 1% of the world population while the 99% who are mostly continued to wallow in abject poverty. We celebrate the Buenos Declaration on Trade and Women‘s Economic Empowerment, the WTO TFA and most recently the AfCFTA. Article 3e of the AfCFTA states one of its objectives as to “promote and attain sustainable and inclusive social economic development, and gender equality and structural transformation of the States Parties" .


All these mentioned trade agreements have mainstreamed gender however it is not enough to include gender trade agreements and leave it at that. We clamor for more accountability and ex ante assessments to ensure that work and trade aspirations of women are indeed being served by the Agreements. The UNCTAD Trade and Gender Tool Kit[8] is but one of the assessments that may be employed after of course compilation of gender disaggregated data.

The age of disruptive technologies is upon us and we need as women organizations, our individual women, and girls ensure the various stakeholders, policy –makers, government, come up with reforms on social –economic contracts, which will not only reflect the new dimension of work but also take cognizance that the women’s rights are not eroded.

To mitigate against the effects of job loses some developing countries have come with a concept called Universal Basic Income, where all citizens are entitled to a basic income that to an extent preserves their dignity. With further research this idea may be considered by countries in the same predicament.[9]

While we will amplify our voices in various platforms, raise red flags when women rights are being trampled, we will lobby for environments that seek to enable us as women, we will simultaneously as women take heed that What is sorely needed to unlock this vision is a willingness of the part of leaders – and workers themselves – to make the right investments in up skilling and reskilling. The largest returns will be to individual workers themselves --------------------------Men and women who are at risk of displacement currently have very different options for finding new jobs – women have about half the opportunities that men have. In the model we test in our report, combined reskilling and job transitions would lead to a slightly narrower opportunity gap and increased wages for 74% of all currently at-risk women, while the equivalent figure for men is 53%. There is an opportunity to close persistent gender gaps by taking a gender disaggregated view when it comes to reskilling efforts and ensuring that both women and men get training for an access to the most promising growing roles.-World Economic Forum[10]

[1] Trade and Gender Unfolding the Links [2] Gendered Impacts of Globalization Employment and Social Protection:Razavi [3] Seguino 2000 [4] Automation,Women and the Future of Work [5] Women and the Future: Fix the Present-Centre of Global Development [6] CNBC –Closing Bell. [7] The Fourth Industrial Revolution:Klaus Schwab [8] UNCTAD Volume1 Trade and Gender Linkages [9] Rapid Response Briefing :Women and the Future of Work


Article was first shared 26th session of the WGDAWG in Addis Ababa by Tshengi Ndlovu.

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