Public services: the key to winning gender equality
Gender Equality Gender Equality and Equity
Education, healthcare, a social safety net: these core services are irreplaceable in the struggle for gender equality. They allow women to challenge patriarchal systems and help us all move towards a more equal society.
We struggle for public services which are designed, funded and delivered using gender-transformative principles, broadening women's access to the labour market, removing barriers and ending the gender pay gap.
Public services rebalance the distribution of power and resources that enables patriarchy to prosper.
The fight for gender equality requires an intersectional approach which recognizes the varying forms of discrimination and inequalities which women face on the job and at home. Equal pay for work of equal value is key to transforming wage hierarchies and ending gender segregation in the workforce. We need to raise both the economic and social value of care work, education and healthcare.
Making public services gender responsive
We need to redress the historical gendered division of labour that places the burden of unpaid care predominantly on women and girls. Women’s unpaid work has routinely made up for the gaps in public services, for example the lack of child care, health care or services for people living with disabilities.
We must provide public services that address the specific needs of women and girls. Gender neutral public services have often resulted in indirect discrimination. Gender specific health services are essential as are public services to address domestic violence and histories of discrimination;
We have to create Public services that respect, protect, fulfil and promote women’s rights to bodily integrity, non-discrimination and to live free from violence;
Ensure public services address the intersectional nature of discrimination. Social determinants such as class, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and gender identity, migration status, geographic location and other social factors creates overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination in which gender discrimination is magnified.
States are avoiding their obligations, cutting funding and privatizing - while women pay the price.
This results in lower quality services, increased inequality and marginalization and an extra burden for female workers.
That's why PSI is leading the struggle for public services geared towards gender justice and sustainable development.
Thinking a gender-responsive approach to COVID-19 response
The current COVID-19 health emergency is exacerbating structural gender inequalities as well as the intersecting dimensions of structural discrimination. Within the framework of its global campaign, PSI will propose and build on responses formulated with the aim to reduce inequalities at an early stage and to ensure the preservation of human rights in equal conditions for all.Read More
Public sector employment is key in creating opportunities for secure, quality employment for women.
Yet within the public sector, we continue to see an historical sexual division of labour. Women workers are concentrated in front-line services for duties, such as care, health and primary education. Men are most prominent in the delivery of water and sanitation, energy, waste management and in emergency services. Unfortunately, working conditions and remuneration for work still remain unequal in public services across the world.
For us to have quality public services, and quality public services, we need to make sure these services are "Gender responsive."
Violence at work
Despite working hard to provide others with a better quality of life, many female public service workers face violence at work on a regular and alarming basis. According to a recent study conducted across 1000 public sector employees by injury at work specialists, Slater and Gordon:
experience physical violence at work
say they have experienced agressive or intimidating behaviour
experienced violence or threats on the job
For a world of work free from violence and harassment - #RatifyILO190
Trade unions around the world are demanding the ratitfication of binding international standards to stop gender-based violence in the world of work and the universal right to paid domestic violence leave.Check out the PSI Campaign
Building a Global Movement for Wage Justice
Beyond Equal Pay we must build a movement for Wage Justice: we must raise the value of women´s labour, while transforming the wage hierarchy that segregates women by occupations, plants them at the bottom of pay scales as well as addressing the continued sexual division of labour.
After a long history of struggle for gender equality, PSI reached a milestone in 2017, when a fully gender mainstreamed Programme of Action was approved at our Congress for the first time ever. This means that the fight for Gender Equality is incorporated into each sector and subject of our work. It puts our fight for economic justice and re-distribution of income and wealth and the center of our activities and promotes solutions to ensure women’s work is better valued.
In many countries, private sector wages for male-dominated industries are significantly higher than in public care services such as health, education, child and elderly care where women make up the overwhelming majority.
Transformative change requires a structural, intersectional approach to achieve real wage justice.
• Unfortunately gender, race and class all continue to warp the labor market workplace hierarchies and salaries.
• Wage inequality must be addressed systemically. True equality means raising womens working standards across the labour market – not just promoting a few more women into board rooms.
• This issue must be linked to the wider struggle for economic justice, to tear down the hierarchies which perpetuate all forms of discrimination and exploitation.
Equal Pay Strike
PSI actively supports trade-union militancy in favour of equal pay.Check out our coverage of the recent Glasgow Strike.
The key factors for gender responsive services
Freedom of association: Without these rights, decent work for front line public services workers is at considerable risk. The role of trade unions is fundamental in ensuring gender equity in the world of work, redressing power imbalances and protecting union organizing is key.
Wage Justice: The ongoing wage gap between the male and female workforce is historically constructed by the sexual division of labour. A transformative proposal for Gender Equality demands an intersectional approach which recognizes the varying forms of discrimination and inequalities which women face on the job and at home. Equal pay for work of equal value must recognize this, and transform wage hierarchies to end gender segregation in the workforce.
Raising both the economic and social value of care work, education and health public services will help eliminate a system which perpetuates these inequalities.
Increased Public Employment: Austerity measures around the world have decimated public services, and led to a severe underemployment in key sectors. Women workers have often had to pick up the slack. One key example is in the health sector where Nurse to patient ratios must be drastically increased. If governments don't take urgent action, the World Health Organization estimates there will be a shortfall of 18 million health and social workers worldwide by 2030.
“Gender responsive public services are key to ending gender divisions of power, control and labour as well as traditionally defined norms and roles.”
Gender-based violence and harassment: Public service workers are the frontline of government - and are often exposed to violence and harassment in the world of work, coming from employers, co-workers and third parties. Outsourced, casualised and precarious workers are particularly at risk given they could easily lose their jobs if they make complaints about harassment and violence. Women workers also experience intimate partner violence and, as the largest employer of women globally, governments can set an important standard by including Domestic Violence leave and protections in collective agreements.
Men also suffer violence and harassment in the workplace. Yet unequal power distribution and continued stereotypes make women much more vulnerable. Social and gender-based discrimination, prevalent throughout society, are often reproduced and exacerbated by workplace culture. This can perpetuate a subordinate position and potential violence against women, along with ethinc or sexual minorities.
This can harm working women’s physical and psychological well-being and lead to health problems. Unfortunately, the working lives of too many women are characterized by anxiety, depression, panic attacks, sleep disorders, attention deficit and memory problems, along with a wider sense of vulnerability.
Workplace violence affects all sectors, across the public and private workforce. But the health sector – where women make up the majority of workers – is among the worst. The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates that violence in this sector makes up a quarter of all assaults that take place in the workplace. A recent report from the United States reveals that 54% of emergency nurses reported experiencing violence in the workplace within the past seven days.
Patients and visitors are one source of the violence - however colleagues and superiors are also often part of the problem. Work-related violence intensifies in situations of war and economic crisis, and is also a consequence of privatization and austerity measures. These policies bring more deregulation, precarious work, job cuts and increase opportunity for abuse.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights how violence in the workplace is increases as a result of restructurings, insufficient staff, excessive workload, non-standard contracts and lack of adequate safety standards.
The victims of workplace violence are not only workers. Exhaustion, depression and the insufficient staffing ends up affecting the quality of service for patients and their families too. In this way, violence in the world of work also leads to negative flow on effects for our whole society.
When governments hand the public sector over to the market, implement widespread deregulation and cut what labour protections we have, violence and harassment increases and we all pay the price.
Rosalia Vazquez-Alvarez ILO Wage Expert
“In many countries women are more highly educated than men but earn lower wages, even when they work in the same occupational categories,”
What we know
The main causes for the gender pay gap come from the historical sexual division of labour and the subsequent undervalue of traditional women´s work
Women first entered the labour force concentrated in specific occupations that for centuries, haven´t changed much.
Women also take on a disproportionate share of unpaid work including in the home, exacerbating their undervalued labour
The barriers for women´s careers progression and for entering male dominated careers (especially in science, technology, engineering and Math) have not been removed.
Women earn less than men, even when they perform the same job and have the same or higher qualifications. Women´s educational advances have not bridged the pay gap.
The gender pay gap as a whole must be approached a matter of economic justice
We must make visible the unpaid and undervalued work which women do.
Women in the global workforce
Unions must lead the fight for gender equality
The Global Voice for workers in the struggle for Gender Equality
For more than a decade, PSI has helped lead the trade union presence at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
Through our participation, we have reinforced the importance of trade union and labour rights for advancing in women’s empowerment and also the strategic role of public services in this struggle.
We have worked closely with the tax justice movement to build the argument for financing public services that can allow women and girls to fully enjoy their human rights.
PSI has undertaken two pilot studies in Peru and Ghana that make clear how corporate tax evasion undermines our ability to close the gender gap and syphons off vital funding needed to invest in transformative approaches for achieving gender equality.
Adjoujiu Gueme Federation des Syndicats du Secteur Public du Tchad (FSPT)
"As Women Workers - and union leaders - we often find that when we try standing up for our rights, 'banana peels' are slipped in front of our feet."
Adjoujiu is the first Female trade union leader in Chad and has played a key role in advancing the struggle for workers rights in the public sector.
Check out the story of how she helped organise Chad's first ever Women's March: part of our One Day Film Series.
Follow Adjoujiu’s struggle to organize Chad’s first ever Women’s March - for the rights of workers, in the face of an oppressive regime.
Chad's Women's March | One Day Series
We're helping unions win
PSI provides the link between these levels by developing and sharing the research, campaigns and political influence needed to win
We struggle for equal pay
We lobby for ratification of ILO Convention 100 on pay - we're also a member of the Equal Pay International Coalition-EPIC.
We fight for funding
We know the struggle for tax justice is a feminist struggle. We link up with NGOs and Civil Society and fight cuts and austerity
We support female trade union activists
We hold regular training sessions to develop strong female leaders and have implemented rules to ensure our affiliates increase women´s participation at all levels of their organsiations
We shape global gender policies
We are among the leaders of the Trade Union Group at the UN Commission on the Status of Women and have been a strong voice in the fight for ILO standards on Violence at work.
We walk the talk
We have a gender parity policy, becoming the first global union to have 50% women in all decision making bodies.
We resist violence, harassment and oppression
The debate about violence in all its varied manifestations has expanded in form and content to the point where it has transcended its status as a ‘gender issue’ to become a core priority for our movement.
Want to fight for equal pay?
Join a Union. Find out if your country has signed ILO Convention 100 on Equal Remuneration. If they have, check out the ILO's recommendations, if not, start or join a campaign for ratification.
Interested in campaigning to end Violence at work?
A brand new ILO Convention (C190) is a key tool to end gender based violence at work. Learn more and join the campaign for ratification.
Are you facing problems of violence and harrasment at work?
Contact your local union. Find out if there is an independent workplace complaints system.