Between Their Stories and Our Realities -- Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Daily Life
The Video Daily Life presents the lives of two women, Roxana and Laura.
Roxana works in a supermarket. She is a cashier and suffers many humiliations every day. She is forced to hide her pregnancy, as she fears being fired for it. Eventually she is fired unfairly when she does resists the company's abusive and discriminatory policies.
Laura works as a secretary in a private school. During her free time she also teaches adults to read. She is a lesbian and is fired from her job because of her sexual orientation.
Daily Life outlines difficulties and conflicts in the workplace, including employees' exploitation and various types of gender discrimination.
Approximate duration: 15 minutes.
How is the story of Daily Life related to the Women's Convention?
This video focuses especially on Article 11, where the right to work is set out as an inalienable right of all human beings. The article requires that governments which have ratified the Convention take all necessary measures (laws, action plans) to eliminate all discrimination against women in the field of employment, and particularly to end labor discrimination on the grounds of marriage or maternity.
Daily Life is also related to Article 12, which addresses health and discrimination, and to Article 5, which deals with stereotypes and cultural norms that limit the opportunities of women in the working world.
A. Raising Awareness and Sensitivity
The coordinator can propose a circle exchange to share emotions triggered by watching Daily Life.
The coordinator may present words that represent different emotions, for example: sadness, hate, impotence, hope, pain, joy, anxiety. She or he can then encourage participants to choose from these and other emotions to create sentences that represent their feelings about what they saw in the video.
Participants may then share some of their own experiences related to the stories in the video.
Reconstructing the Story
The coordinator can invite the group to reconstruct each story in the video. She or he can present the following guidelines:
Divide the group into two teams.
Each team will receive one of the following cards:
Both groups can try to reconstruct the stories of their character. The objective is to gain an understanding of both experiences represented in the video.
Within the groups, each story can be discussed, focusing on the feelings that each story produced in the participants. Then each participant can share any personal experience related to labor discrimination. This way the participants can create a connection to the video's characters.
Finally, the group can share their work and conclusions.
B. Analysis and Comprehension
Discrimination and Work
Discrimination against women is common in the workplace. Women often do not receive the same pay as men for doing work of equal value. They often do not have access to the same opportunities for promotion and training, and are discouraged from taking up certain professions or responsibilities. At a certain age, it becomes difficult for many women to find work because employers consider them likely to become mothers. In many instances, a woman is considered less capable if she has children, with a greater tendency to be absent from work.
The coordinator can divide the group into two teams, giving CEDAW Article 11 to each team. One group can work with the first part of the article while the other group works with the second.
Participants can assume the role of movie script writers. The following cards can be passed out to each group:
The groups can draft a script which includes case studies and real experiences of discrimination, as well as dialogue for the video project.
Each group can present its production.
Although biological reproduction is linked to a woman's specific functions (gestation, childbirth, nursing), many societies automatically assign to women the tasks of child care and many domestic household responsibilities related to the maintenance of the family. These tasks, unpaid and undervalued, have been classified as feminine in nature.
Any analysis of women's employment must consider these domestic responsibilities because they affect the participation of women in the labor force, requiring women to complete two (or more) jobs at the same time.
UNICEF uses the expression "invisible adjustment" to explain the situation. When governments make cuts in social assistance programs, the gap is most often filled by women, who increase both their paid work and unpaid workload. (IDB 1990).
To focus on women's double workload, the coordinator can invite the group to:
Imagine some of the tasks Roxana will have to do when, after leaving her new job, she returns home to take care of her baby.
Discuss the chores that participants normally do at the end of their workday.
The group can then discuss the following statistic:
The value of unpaid work done by women in their communities and their homes equals between 10% and 35% of a country's production, or gross national product. The value of this unpaid work equaled $11 trillion in 1993.
Even though women, as a group, suffer from discrimination based on their sex, this discrimination acquires specific characteristics according to social class, ethnicity, religion, age, physical characteristics, sexual orientation, etc. Discrimination is complicated and influenced by diverse factors. People may be discriminated against for several characteristics, doubling or tripling discrimination based on their societal position. In the specific case of women we can present some examples: woman and poor; woman, lesbian, and overweight; woman, old, atheist, and black. Combinations are easily multiplied, becoming more and more complex every time.
The coordinator can propose to the participants the following:
Reflect on Laura's and Felisa's lives, focusing on the following question: Besides being women, what other personal characteristics or social situations cause them to be discriminated against?
As the discussion goes on, the coordinator can introduce the concept of Double Discrimination, which particularly affects women. For example, women are discriminated against because of both gender and poverty, gender and race or ethnicity, or gender and sexual orientation.
After the discussion, the coordinator can distribute magazines, pamphlets, or catalogs that are available in the participants' communities and that contain different images of women. Images from television may also be used. Instructions are to:
Consider the model of the "ideal woman" in our culture and portrayed in the media. Discuss the consequences or problems that this model may bring to women. What kind of statement does this model make? Compare the model with the experiences and the lives of the participants.
To conclude, this cultural model may be related to the concept of Double Discrimination.
When women enter the labor force, they tend to get jobs in service industries, working for cleaning services, or as secretaries, receptionists, in sales, etc. Those employed in professional fields often have jobs that are undervalued social and economically, for example teaching. Women are discriminated against in terms of hiring, schedules, training, promotion, and family demands, especially if their children are very young. Men's work schedules are rarely affected by changes in family responsibilities.
The coordinator can present two posters with the following titles:
The participants can list general characteristics under each title regarding pay, positions, training, promotion, dedication, stability, unemployment, and other relevant issues.
This may be followed by discussion and debate among the participants. The coordinator may facilitate the debate by asking the following questions: Why did participants choose the characteristics that they did? What are the messages we send to our children and the games and toys that we encourage girls and boys to play with? Think about the messages sent in different environments -- family, school, and society. How does education affect our choice of employment and our performance at work?
NOTE: It would be interesting to incorporate Article 5 of the Women's Convention into the debate, so that participants can analyze it.
There is a widespread belief among employers that women are a more expensive and less productive workforce than men due to maternity leave, nursing, child care, and absenteeism due to family responsibilities.
The coordinator can ask participants to think about the video and the main attitudes of Roxana's employers regarding pregnancy. Possible consequences of these attitudes should also be identified, keeping in mind Roxana's life and the life of her unborn child.
The group can then be divided into two teams. One group can present the arguments of the employers NOT TO HIRE, or to fire, a pregnant or married woman.
The other group can defend the pregnant woman's labor rights, trying to respond directly to the first group's arguments.
The idea is to present and analyze the two positions, using tools and concepts learned in the workshop.
All human beings are entitled to adequate health care. Unfortunately, in many societies this right is not exercised equally by men and women. Women are prevented from enjoying their rights to health because of many factors: scarce or poor health services, violence against women, government health policies, inadequate sexual education, and cultural factors that violate the right to heath in all its dimensions (physical, mental, emotional, and social).
The coordinator can present the following statistics on a large sheet of paper:
Every year 20 million abortions are performed under unsafe conditions,
and 70,000 women per year die as a result.
Every year 585,000 women, more than 1,600 per day, die
from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Between 20% and 50% of women experience some kind of domestic violence
(physical, psychological, or economic) during marriage.
The coordinator can then present the following definition:
Health is not only the absence of illness;
it is a state of physical, mental, emotional and social well-being....
The coordinator can divide the group into teams and present the following instructions:
Within each group, participants can talk about their personal situations and times when they enjoyed complete health and well-being.
Think about the health of the main characters of the video and try to answer the following questions:
NOTE: Participants should always keep in mind all dimensions of the terms health and well-being: physical, mental, emotional and social. Finally, each group can summarize their thoughts and conclusions.
Sexual harassment is a type of violence, mainly exercised against women, born out of relationships of power. Especially in the workplace, women run the risk of being harassed sexually by other employees and superiors. Sexual harassment is much more common than statistics suggest because women often do not report it.
The coordinator can read the definition of "sexual harassment" in the glossary of this manual. Then, dividing the participants into pairs, she or he can propose the following:
Each pair of participants can describe an instance of sexual harassment they or someone they know has experienced personally. Describe expressions, attitudes, looks, or words that constituted sexual harassment, as well as the response of the victim. The experience can then be described to the group.
NOTE: The coordinator may introduce a newspaper or other article that describes a specific case of sexual harassment in the workplace. An example of a case from Cordoba, Argentina, is included below.
C. Strategies for Change
What could happen if ...
Many factors contribute to violations of workers' -- especially women's -- labor rights. Difficulties can arise at the time of getting or keeping a job, workers might not know about their rights, there may be a lack of advice and counseling, fear or social pressure. How can workers' right be assured?
The coordinator can divide the group into two teams. Participants can organize protests or resistance, or make formal complaints in response to the situations shown in the video (one for each team):
The teams can present the new scenes to the group. The group can then discuss the possible consequences of these responses, keeping in mind the relative strengths and positions of the employees and the managers.
Monitoring the Application of the Women's Convention
Monitoring the commitments made by our governments to human rights is a vital part of our role as citizens. It is important to understand how the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women works, and to develop the skills needed to monitor the Convention. Ensuring that all women, men, youth and children enjoy their human rights is the responsibility of the whole society. We must know our human rights, defend them, and claim them.
The coordinator can propose a round table to explain what a CEDAW Shadow Report is, why it is written, and who can submit one and how.
Then in small teams participants can choose a theme of the workshop and prepare a list of questions and answers to put into a CEDAW report. Some possible questions to incorporate:
These reports can be presented in front of the group. Together the group can thoroughly answer each question, starting with a diagnosis of the community. Send the document to government representatives. Monitor future government actions regarding discrimination against women generally, and the Women's Convention in particular.
Systematizing What Has Been Learned
The coordinator can propose that the group identify a central problem related to women's discrimination that has been discussed in the workshop. Write the problem in the center of a large sheet of paper.
Under the problem, write all the causes related to it. Above the problem, write all possible consequences.
To conclude, each participant can think of a way to use what was learned in the workshop in her or his personal life and community.
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