Votresalaire - debates generate a step forward for women in Niger - December 16, 2015

On 16th November in Niamey, Niger, in a Votresalaire.org/ Niger Debate covered by local TV and radio journalists, nine men and eleven women (one employer and 19 employees in different sectors) discussed the difficulty for women to access the job market. What are the solutions? The idea that came out of that debate is to set up a taskforce of employers and trade unions, which should focus on how to make it easier for women to be hired.

During the WageIndicator conference in August 2015, trade unionists and specialists from different areas of the world (Guatemala, Colombia, Hungary, Spain, Senegal and Niger, among others) took part in a workshop on working mothers in Niger. In an extremely interesting and multi-language debate, what came out was that the issue for working mothers in Niger is not in the law, because Constitution, labour law and social security protect working mothers, and law is usually applied. The problem lies rather in the difficulty for women to enter the job market, and maternity in Niger is an indirect hurdle to women’s opportunity to find a job. The reason is that women in Niger have many children (up to ten, or even more), and to avoid having too many people on maternity leave (and to pay for it), employers tend to find ways not to hire women. Moreover, half of maternity leave pay has to be given by the employer.

A few months after the conference, three debates were held in Niger to discuss this topic and try to find solutions to improve women’s conditions in the labour market. The first debate was held on 2nd November in Tillabery, the second one on 4th November in Dosso, and the third one on 16th November in Niamey.

In every debate there were around 15-20 participants, one employer and several employees from different sectors: in the first debate there were half men and half women, in the second one only 3 women, in the third one a majority of women. Discussion was held at two levels: at the level of law and at the level of cultural/social rules. As to law, participants were informed about the importance for Niger to ratify the ILO Convention number 183, because this would force social security to pay for 100% of maternity leave, which would make it less costly for the employer to hire a woman.

Debate was particularly strong on the social side of the issue, i.e. the number of children.  What emerged in debates is that rural women like to work but a big family makes it rather imposible, so awareness of the importance of birth control is important (in big cities family planning exists already). Women and men are aware about the fact that having numerous kids negatively affects children’s good health, education and well-being, as wages in Niger cannot guarantee a decent life when there are too many children in one family. However the cultural resistance is still there, even in the trade union CNT.

In the last debate in Niamey, where TV and radio journalists participated to cover the event, more was said about how to continue the work in the country. The idea is to increase trade union’s commitment in sensitizing workers about Convention 183 and women and men about birth control for a more decent family life. This can be done with education and with campaigns, which should involve politicians, religious associations, groups of young people, artists, women associations, employers, media and trade unions. It will take time to change something that is so deeply-rooted in Nigerian culture, but creating awareness in men and women is the first step. The next challenge is to set up a taskforce of employers and trade unions which should focus on how to make it happen that women can work.

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