One Day, Three Women: A WhatsApp Story About Work and Equality

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 11.33.14 AM

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 11.33.14 AM

The Managing Editor of an online women’s publication, Women’s Advancement Deeply, wrote this to their readers on International Women’s Day:

“Every day is International Women’s Day at Women’s Advancement Deeply. Unlike most media outlets, there is not a moment in the year where we are not 100 percent dedicated to covering the struggle for gender equality worldwide, particularly in the world’s poorest countries.

But March 8 is still special, so we’ve dedicated it this year to illuminating the daily lives of three working women via an interactive multimedia WhatsApp story.

Today of all days, we wanted to show that from the Ayeyarwaddy Delta to northeastern Nigeria or Karachi, working women face many of the same challenges in their pursuit of dignified work and financial independence. As women, we must all take on gender biases, the expectation to carry an unfair burden of care work and the threat of harassment as we go about our days. But Mar Mar Swe, a farmer in rural Myanmar, has faced all that plus the horrific toll of a major natural disaster. Elizabeth Joel Maiyaki must undertake her vital work under the threat of Boko Haram. And Sima Kamil works every day under the pressure of being the first woman in her country to do what she does……”

WRITTEN BY Jennifer Rigby

In our WhatsApp story for International Women’s Day, we used real-time updates to understand the challenges three women face during the course of a typical work day. Here we replicate the story with further insight into the obstacles that keep so many women from gaining stable and equal work.

9 a.m. Welcome to our WhatsApp story, bringing you updates from a day in the life of three working women. Over the next 12 hours, we will follow Mar Mar Swe, a farmer in rural Myanmar; Elizabeth Joel Maiyaki, a child protection worker in northeastern Nigeria; and Sima Kamil, the first female CEO of a bank in Pakistan, to see what kinds of challenges they face in their pursuit of stability and equality at work.

By 9 a.m., Mar Mar Swe, 43, has already been up for six hours. On market days, she gets on a boat at 3.30am to take her farm’s produce to the market in the Ayeyarwaddy delta, southwestern Myanmar. The trip takes an hour.

Swe has always been a farmer, working alongside her first husband until he died in 2003, and then taking the business on herself to support her two small children. On her watch, the farm has become more successful. Selling fish, her most lucrative product, can make her around 30,000 Myanmar kyat ($22.50) a day.

Swe, who has since remarried and had two more children, is the undisputed boss in her family. She’s had some tough times, but now she describes things as “getting prosperous.” She’s planning to expand into selling the trademark fish and fish paste of her region to Myanmar’s drier areas.

“I want to do it by myself,” she says. “The trading, the traveling, the return journeys. Maybe at that time I will ask my husband to manage my farm!”

9:30 a.m. Elizabeth Joel Maiyaki, the 32-year-old child protection worker, has been up since 4 a.m. to make sure her family is ready for the day ahead. Now she is on her way to meet with survivors of Boko Haram’s campaign of violence. She works for Plan International, giving support and supplies to women and children in Adamawa, one of the three states in Nigeria worst hit by the insurgency.

“We don’t go out very early for security reasons,” she says. “We wait until after 9am to know if there is any information regarding security.”

The militant group Boko Haram has been leading a campaign of attacks and abductions in the area since around 2009, killing thousands of people and displacing millions in its quest for an Islamic state.

In 2014, the group abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, Borno. Some of the Chibok girls have since been released, but the area remains dangerous, and particularly so for women and girls: Just last month, 100 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Yobe state, although some were later rescued.

Maiyaki has been working for Plan for a year, but she has spent her entire professional career in child protection.

“I’m a case worker, so I wake up every morning thinking about the children,” she says. “People use the conflict as an excuse to rape girls. Or there are cases of child abuse or a child is exploited because the abuser feels the child has no one to run to. That’s where I come in.”

10 a.m. Pakistani CEO Sima Kamil, 60, got up at 6am for a quiet coffee at her home in Karachi before her chauffeur arrived to drive her to the headquarters of United Bank Limited in the city’s business district. She uses the 40-minute commute to reply to emails and make some calls, usually arriving at work by 9am. By now she is often in meetings, although her daily schedule varies and can get “a little frantic.”

A report released last year by Women on Board Pakistan found that, when women with family connections were taken out of the running, less than 1 percent of director positions at the 505 companies listed on the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) were held by women (even with the family directors included, it was only 9 percent).

When Kamil got the CEO job last year, the reaction in the country was positive. Muneer Kamal, the chair of the PSX, told reporters it was a “huge step forward.”

Kamil hopes she will encourage young women to believe they can do similar things, because the representation of women in the formal economy in Pakistan is still “abysmally low.” But, she says, just being in the boardroom doesn’t mean she’s won the fight: “I will only think I’ve achieved something when I really succeed – not only did I get the job but the bank then achieved its objectives. So in the next two to three years, if we do that, that will be what really breaks the barriers.”

11 a.m. By 11 a.m. on market days in Myanmar, farmer Swe has finished selling her fish, eggs, rice and vegetables.

“Sometimes it’s difficult for me, as a woman, to deal with the other men in business,” she says. “For example, when we sell the paddy [rice], the men sometimes pretend they don’t understand my calculations and try to cheat me.”

But she always stands her ground.

“I don’t sacrifice myself for the leadership of men.”

12 p.m. In Karachi, Kamil’s day is packed with meetings, phone calls, emails and decisions to make as the head of an organization with 4 million customers that made almost $230 million profit last year.

Kamil says her seniority means being a woman does not cause her problems. But early in her career it was a different story.

“Whenever I’ve gone into a new role, I have been tested, and I think men do that. They see you and wonder why you are in this position. I walked out of my first job – I just left – when I saw the discrimination there,” she says, adding that she was lucky to have the background that allowed her to do that. She knows many women are forced by economic necessity to just “put up with it.”

12:30 p.m. Back in Myanmar, Swe has her only free time around midday, when she takes a few minutes to sit and eat.

Read the rest of the story here


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