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I.M.O.W. Team

Do Women Have Equal Opportunities in the Workplace?

When it comes to major events in world politics, this year has been an active one, with news focusing on Barack Obama s’ Presidency to the global economic recession. The economic activity had more direct impact as it affected jobs and the economic situation in every state. Economic recession may be described as the case where there is negative growth in an economy of a region or country leaving impacts on many sectors.

As women do comprise half of the world’s population, they are most likely to be hit by the economic crises and will experience a downturn in their employment. This in turn will also affect their families and their lives. Moreover, women still have to deal with discrimination due to lack of gender equality.

In Malta, like other member states in the European Union, women still face economic problems and few women are represented in managerial positions and in parliament. Women who work are being confronted with many difficulties, including the gap in wages between men and women.

In 2007, the European Commission acknosledged that this gender gap still exists in the labour market, and is caused by many factors. The most common on the list is the face that women's work is undervalued, even though women who earn less are performing  jobs of equal value, sometimes requiring the same skills.

Separation in the labour market is another contributing factor. Women tend to work in different jobs or sectors that are less valued and offer lower pay than jobs normally dominated by men. The most common sectors are health work, social work, cleaning jobs and care jobs, whilst women are underrepresented in managerial or senior positions.

This segregation of jobs is linked with traditions and stereotypes. Women are always associated with child or caring professions and fewer women are found in the area of science and technology. The closing of the gender gap between man and women will benefit both employers and workers while promulgating profits to the economy and enhancing social justice.

Another problem is that women face greater difficulties when trying to balance work and family. Family and care responsibilities are not equally shared by parents, and sometimes women cannot afford to employ childcare workers or daycare facilities.

Child care services in countries in the EU are not responding to the needs of parents. The Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimir Spidla said, ‘We are far from reaching our targets on childcare facilities and need to step our efforts! Adequate and accessible childcare is crucial to allow parents to work, to strengthen gender equality and to reinforce social inclusion.’

Then, there are other women who cannot work at all: women with a disability, women with low levels of education and women with a criminal record. For these women, opportunities are limited, and often they end up relying on the state for financial support, or involve themselves in criminal activities.

Some of these women end up in the long list of my case load as a social worker. Throughout my profession as a probation officer within the criminal justice system, I have worked with both women in prison and with women serving community service sentences. The crimes committed are frequently drug related, including theft and possession of drugs. Other crimes are fraud, child neglect or child abuse and prostitution.

In the majority of cases, my clients have low levels of education or are illiterate, which makes it even harder for them to get a proper job. Crime becomes the only way for survival. During their time in prison they might have had vocational training or literacy classes but the biggest obstacle remains getting them employed.

The criminal conduct and the prison record stand in the way as most employers do not employ them out of fear that they might be at risk of being robbed or cheated. To add to this, women are confronted with a multitude of problems, including family isolation, drug addiction and homelessness. If not supported, these women will sooner or later end up in the streets plunging into crime and prostitution.

Employment is a must for women coming out of prison as women are given the opportunity to lead an independent life away from crime. This should be a priority on political agendas and for women's rights organizations. If not, these women will keep on facing discrimination and will not able to achieve equality or live a decent life in the community.

Although women are an integral part of the economy in any given society and state, women are still not being treated equally and offered equal opportunities in the work sector. On the contrary, women are still being the target for cheap labour and are regarded as inferior to men.

We will arrive one day but we, women need to gather our forces and keep struggling for what is ours and our rights. Getting more women in managerial jobs, and other high positions will ensure that women s’ needs are addressed which will one day bring equality. The road is long but not impossible.

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