Is the workplace better for women today?

Career. Panelists listen at a women empowerment talk and breakfast meeting recently. Photo by Godrey Lugaaju

What you need to know:

  • Women and career. It is 109 years since the first Women’s Day was celebrated in the US. Although strides have been made in the employment sector, there are still issues such as gender gaps and sexual harassment in the workplace that need to be dealt with.

Looking at statistics in Uganda and the world over, we can arguably say women continue to claim and make progress in earning their rights. As a matter of fact, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) noted that gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a pre-condition for sustainable development. Providing women and girls with quality education, healthcare, decent work, access and ownership rights over property and technology, and equal participation in political and economic decision-making processes, will lead to social, economic and environmental sustainability across the globe.

“More workplaces are being open to bringing women on board, which is a very good step in the right direction. However, does this translate into better working environments for women? In some workplaces, yes, but in many of them, certainly not,” Sylvia Mulumba, a social worker and advocate for women and girl’s rights at Women’s Initiative, an NGO in Masaka,” says.
According to her, though women now given opportunities to work, they still interface with gender issues that bar them from utilising and realising their full potential.

Workplace statistics in Uganda
According to a report titled Women and Men In Uganda. Facts and Figures, 2016’ by Uganda Bureau of Statistics ( UBOS), labour force refers to the current supply of labour for the production of goods and services in exchange for pay or profit.
This reported indicates that five in every 10 males in the labour force were employed compared to four in every 10 women, in Uganda.
It further notes that more women were engaged in self-employment activities (48 per cent) compared to men (38 per cent). Men tended to engage more in paid employment (51 per cent), compared to women (35 per cent). Additionally, more women (17 per cent) were engaged in family work than men (11 per cent).

The report also explained the difference in income status of men and women. “The occupation in which a person is engaged is usually determined by their education attainment and contributes to their income status,” it partly reads.
In this case, women tended to concentrate on service work (59 per cent) and elementary occupations (51 per cent) while men concentrated in plant/machine operations (95 per cent), professional work (72 per cent) and in works as chief executives/senior officials (68 per cent).

Key issues highlighted
Some of the key issues that inhibit women from thriving in their current workplaces include male dominance. The above-mentioned report by UBOS highlights areas such as plant and machine operations, crafts and related works, agriculture, and fisheries, as being some of the male dominated fields.
Further still, Mercy Kwizera, a human resource manager, shares that some employers still favour male employees to their female counterparts.

Career. Shamim Nakigozi, a mechanic, fixes a car. There are more women in male-dominated fields although a lot still needs to be done to boost the environment. Photo by Godfrey Lugaaju

“I will tell you of a scenario. Before I was promoted to this position [head of HR], I had a male colleague. I believed I was more competent than he was, but when they placed an internal advert, we both applied, and he was given the job, even when most people thought I would have been the right person. But I remained working hard. A few months down the road, he started getting problems with performance and soon, he was fired. And then I was promoted to that position,” she explains.
Personally, she didn’t think gender issues in the workplace were real, until her immediate boss confided in her that they had thought her male colleague was more capable, simply because he was male, and she was female. “I have held this position for three years now, so these gender things are real,” she shares.

Sexual harassment
This is one of the issues affecting women in workplaces. These include verbal harassment, sex for benefits and promotions, and bad touches in the workplace, among others.
“Currently, sexual harassment knows no boundaries of country, profession, or kind of work. That is how much widespread it is. Last year, for example, Cardi B, an American rapper, singer and songwriter, shared her experience about the sexual harassment in Hollywood and in the American music industry. A few female celebrities aired out the same concerns,” Bridget Namubiru, a lawyer notes.

Namubiru goes on to emphasise that workplaces need to establish strong channels through which employees can share their complaints on sexual harassment, be assured of their confidentiality, but also the perpetrators of this brought to book.

Hours of work
Additionally, a number of women find themselves in a dilemma of choosing between pursuing their careers and home responsibilities.
“The workplace is so rigid that a typical woman can’t have it all. You either have a career or family, or risk any of the two. I know women like me who have tried having both at the same time, but it is a strain. The fact is, whereas women can passionately pursue their career, they still remain mothers and wives with other responsibilities, and the workplace should be alive to this reality,” Gertrude Musoke, a mother, wife and high school teacher, says.

In an article by thebalancecareers, women are predicted to increase in the workforce but will also continue to have primary responsibility for home and family matters, and thus affecting work attendance negatively. However, employers are challenged to provide family-friendly solutions for working people who need flexibility for childcare and care for the elderly. These solutions may include; job sharing, parttime employers, staff working from home or telecommuting, among others.

Gender pay gap
“Very often, due to desperation, low bargaining power and fear, women are employed and paid less than a man would be paid for doing the same job. That increases the gender pay gap,” Namubiru further says.
This is a contributor in having employed poor people.
In the 2012/2013 Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS), employed poor were described as individuals forming part of the persons in employment but whose incomes fell below the official poverty line. There were more employed poor women (56 per cent) than employed poor men (44 per cent).
“Hopefully, the Minimum Wage Bill will come through for us to solve that problem,” Namubiru hopes.

Uganda has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs in the world, with 90.5 per cent of women borrowing and saving money to start a business, according to the MasterCard Index of women’s entrepreneurship report in 2017. According to the Index, however, one of the main challenges that continue to prevent women from starting businesses is lack of financial funding or venture capital.
Conclusively, Mulumba acknowledges that there is a lot of potential for women if and when these hindrances in workplaces are addressed. It is, however, important to note that there have been several strides taken to better the workplace for women by employers and other stakeholders over the years leading to more women in the workplace.


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