I was pregnant with my second child when I founded the Marketing and Business Development Committee at the Jordanian Pharmacists Association. The committee introduced a whole new perspective for pharmacists at all levels, from training for business ventures for young pharmacists to actual help in creating, structuring, and supporting pharmacists with business endeavors. The most important part of the program focused on illuminating facts and figures regarding female pharmacists in the workforce. More than 70% of the officially registered pharmacists in Jordan are females. And this percentage drops to 40% when they enter the work force. Even though 40% is still a high percentage for female presence in any career, the fact is that these women are predominantly found in the lower ranks of the work force hierarchy. Less than 8% of female pharmacists hold positions in higher management levels or decision making and capital investment positions. What we conclude from this is that numbers and statistics can be misleading. High numbers of women in a specific field could give us the illusion of equality in the work force, but, in reality, it has little effect in exacting actual change.
One of the main things I tried to do when I was chief of the committee was to cater meetings and events to the needs of women workers. This meant organizing meetings before 7:30 PM, providing women pharmacists with child care services when they come to training, activities, or meetings. Keeping in mind that many pharmacists are married couples, which often leads to the man attending extra trainings and social events, leaving his pharmacist partner at home to tend to household chores and childcare.
Though small, the changes we applied increased the participation of pharmacist women by a staggering 200%!
A simple action, which needed little to no effort changed the whole situation.
Sometimes big changes are a chain of small persistent actions and decisions along the way.
Gender equality is the state of equal access to resources and opportunities, including economic participation, decision-making, agency, and the respect that comes by giving value to different behaviors, aspirations and needs.
We all should work hard to achieve justice, not only gender equality, through influencing decision makers to construct a work environment conducive for working women as a priority before pushing women to enter the work force. Because we are living in an era of increasing equality, integrating professional and personal aspiration proves far more challenging especially when careers demand maximum time investment while simultaneously demanding women have children. Our partners largely do not share the household tasks and child rearing, so women find themselves with two full- time jobs.
Believing that men and women are different, not equal, biologically at least, would lead us to one of the controversial examples in legislations, which is the menstrual leave.
In a number of countries, mainly in Asia, legislation or corporate practice has introduced formal menstrual leave to provide women with either paid or unpaid leave of absence from their employment while they are menstruating. Countries with these policies include Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and South Korea.
For example, under Indonesian law, every female employee of both private and state companies has the right to take two days of menstruation leave each month.
China, too, has special regulations under its labor laws for menstruating women; during menstruation female workers are not to be assigned “work at high altitudes, low temperatures, or in cold water, etc.” Many companies also have their own regulations that allow two days of menstruation leave, but they do force women to take a urine test to prove that they are menstruating. In Korea, women are given a one day menstrual leave.
There are very few companies globally that provide female workers with paid menstrual leave. Studies of these companies have shown their polices have resulted in improved productivity and quality.
But this practice is controversial due to concerns that it indicates the perception of women as weak, inefficient workers, as well as absurd concerns that it is unfair to men.
Activist feminists worry that the idea of demanding extra paid days off hurts the fight to have men and women treated as workforce equals. Perhaps the solution is to give a few more days off to men and women alike, and let people decide on their own how to use them. There are already enough divisions between the sexes, do we really need to demand another?
Therefore, based on this example, when we talk about making policies we should take into consideration our own experience and culture, instead of pushing to implement others’ models.
It was clear that there were two points of views of the far east and the west. And we in the Arab countries should work to come up with policies that regulate the work environment taking into consideration our culture and experience.
We must keep in mind the importance of collaborating globally to prepare the work environment to be more friendly towards women. This guarantees that women can be in positions of management and authority if they please. But these decisions must remain the choice of individual women. It is not a question of to be or not to be. Not all women are ready, but lots of them are and thus creating work environments that answer to their needs must be created.