Women should not be barred from any job

Women should not be barred from any job

A pilot trains on a flight simulator at the Bombay Flying Club’s College of Aviation in Mumbai, India. (Reuters)

If there was ever a hashtag that resonates with the majority of today’s women it is #TheFutureIsFemale. Whilst acknowledging that this slogan is at least 40 years old, it holds more weight today than ever before.

If the future is indeed female, it is quite concerning that there are still places and occupations around the world where women cannot work. Despite the great strides most countries have made to encourage more females into the workforce, there are still many jobs from which they are forbidden, sometimes by law, or discouraged from undertaking. This is especially widespread in the manufacturing, construction, energy and mining fields.

The reasons behind these constraints are multifold. They range from the legislative to the cultural, the physical and finally the stereotypical. According to the World Bank, there are 104 economies with labor laws that restrict the types of jobs women can undertake and their ability to choose where they work. These restrictions affect almost 2.7 billion women around the world.

The most common arguments against women working in certain fields is that they are either too dangerous or they require the physical strength and ability of a man. While the argument holds true to a certain degree, we need to think of the way these manual labor jobs have been designed. In other words, when they were designed, they were considered from a male’s perspective, with the automatic assumption that they would be undertaken by men. As such, had these occupations been intended with both genders in mind, they would have been easier for women to occupy them. 

The notion that women are not capable of doing what men can is a stereotype that was shattered nearly 80 years ago during the Second World War.

Asma I. Abdulmalik

On the other hand, there are concerns over women’s safety that often hinder any chance she would have had. For example, in Malaysia, women are not allowed to transport people or goods around the streets after a certain hour at night. In Vietnam, women are prohibited from driving tractors of 50 horsepower or more. 

According to a World Bank report that examines laws and policies hindering women’s employment and entrepreneurship, there are 18 countries where women still need their husband’s permission to work. These include Jordan, Iran, Qatar and Yemen. 

Even when women don’t require their spouse’s approval to work, they may still encounter difficulties finding jobs in certain fields. For instance, women in many economies are legally barred from working in factories. In Argentina, women are not allowed to polish glass. In China, women cannot work in mines. In fact, according to its labor laws, the “China Mining and Technology University has a male-only entrance policy.” According to the same World Bank report, in France it is illegal for women to perform labor activities that involve carrying loads heavier than 25 kilograms. 

When there are no legal restrictions or safety concerns, many occupations are still considered inappropriate for women. In Kazakhstan, for instance, women cannot cut, eviscerate or skin livestock. 

The notion that women are not capable of doing what men can is a stereotype that was shattered nearly 80 years ago during the Second World War. The war would most likely have ended differently had it not been for the thousands of women who worked in factories building airplanes and ships and producing ammunition and weaponry. Women also worked as air raid wardens, fire officers, and as drivers of fire engines, trams and trains. They were not just nurses, as many movies depict. 

The World Economic Forum argues that it could take another 100 years for the global equality gap between men and women to disappear entirely. We can help close this gap by giving women equal access to jobs, regardless of our gender bias. Gender equality also means job equality. Thus, instead of restricting women’s ability to join any field, we should tackle the reasons behind these concerns. For instance, where women’s physical abilities are a hindrance, we must consider redesigning the jobs to accommodate them. With technology and automation changing industries, we can certainly bring in changes to make jobs less physically laborious and more appropriate for women. 

In addition, banning women from occupations deemed unsafe for them, like working late at night, is certainly not a panacea. We should focus on mitigating the reasons why working at night is unsafe and enforce laws that create safe working environments for women at any time of day. 

Gender discrimination in any job translates to a loss in productivity. There are no legitimate reasons to keep women out of certain fields anymore. All economies understand that increasing women’s participation in the labor force will reap economic benefits. In fact, the International Monetary Fund estimates that gross domestic product would increase by 9 percent in Japan, 12 percent in the UAE and 27 percent in India if women’s labor participation matched that of men’s. 

While most countries have introduced great reforms to increase women’s access to the jobs market and expand their economic opportunities, especially in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, there is still much progress to be made. This is one area we can fix today. 

  • Asma I. Abdulmalik is an Emirati civil servant and a writer interested in gender and development issues. Twitter: @AsmaIMalik​
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