Gender inequality for women breadwinners in BPOs prevalent: survey

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A mother carries her child through a flooded area in Maguindanao. She is said to have lost her home “due to armed conflicts.” Women take the brunt of the work due to gender stereotypes in the Philippines’ business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, a survey on gender inequality commissioned by two non-government organizations (NGOs) has found. (Photo by Vina Salazar/Oxfam Philippines)
A mother carries her child through a flooded area in Maguindanao. She is said to have lost her home “due to armed conflicts.” Women take the brunt of the work due to gender stereotypes in the Philippines’ business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, a survey on gender inequality commissioned by two non-government organizations (NGOs) has found. (Photo by Vina Salazar/Oxfam Philippines)

Gender inequality plagues the Philippines’ business process outsourcing (BPO) sector. This is according to a survey commissioned by non-government organization (NGO) Oxfam Philippines, who partnered with Miriam College’s Women and Gender Institute (WAGI). The initiative was also supported by fellow NGO Investing in Women.

Even though most of the 232 respondents (including 17 participants for focus group discussions [FGDs]) said that they are for gender equality, the study showed that women are burdened with more unpaid care work (UCW) than men due to gender stereotypes.

“[...] as the number of COVID-19 cases [increased] dramatically over the past years, particularly nitong [these] past two years, so did as well the demand for invisible and unpaid labor as most people were forced to stay at home during the lockdown and community quarantine, yet while this was the case, the crucial contribution of unpaid care domestic work remain unaccounted,” Leah Payud, Oxfam Philippines’ Resilience Portfolio Manager, said in an interview with Yahoo Philippines.

Randee Cabaces, the group’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning, and Social Accountability (MELSA) Manager, echoed Payud’s findings. He added that the “traditional view” that men should be the breadwinners influenced employment statistics.

“Because of that we really see or posed [sic] the impression of the need for women to explore more involvement [in the] economic field in terms of supporting their families' concern in earning income,” Cabaces explained.

When it came to the reasons behind the study, Payud recalled the results of a 2020 Oxfam rapid care analysis (described as a means “to improve the design of a wider programme through gathering evidence to promote the recognition of care work and the identification of practical interventions” by the group).

Here, women spent 13 hours in UCW, and “so the crucial contribution of unpaid care and domestic work have [remained] unaccounted [for], largely absent in the Philippine government COVID response.”

It is because of this that, according to Payud, Oxfam Philippines commissioned the study “to inform the policy recommendations in relation to our campaign on investing in women particularly influencing gender norms in times of COVID-19 looking at women as breadwinners and men also as care workers, I mean doing unpaid care or domestic work.”

Commenting separately on the findings, Ericka Renee Langit, a part of Gabriela Youth-UPLB’s membership committee and one of their prop writers, told Yahoo Philippines that she wasn’t “disheartened” but was worried about the implications.

“It just shows how the Philippine society is progressing to an inclusive and equal society. However, underlying perceptions and actions based on Philippine traditions still continue to persist such as gender roles in leading and jobs, household chores are still done by most women and the world with not just male and female as genders are still taboo,” Langit explained.

WE-Care Project participants Camilo and Gina Escorial (both from Libungan Town, Cotabato City, Mindanao) resting after doing household work. (Photo by Jed Regala/Oxfam)
WE-Care Project participants Camilo and Gina Escorial (both from Libungan Town, Cotabato City, Mindanao) resting after doing household work. (Photo by Jed Regala/Oxfam)

By the numbers

Oxfam Philippines revealed in a separate statement that while 78% of respondents are from Metro Manila, 15% of respondents are from Cebu, with Payud highlighting that the respondents are “urban millennials.” Cabaces explained that the group initially wanted to partner with BPO firms “with the support from [their management teams] to be able to invite BPO employees as a response to our survey.”

Payud, on the study’s focus on urban millennials, described them as being “really into BPO [work],” and that Oxfam Philippines wanted to “capture” and compare their gender narratives (all aged around 23 to 28 years) with Generation Z workers. Additionally, they hoped to see how urban millennials challenged gender norms at home and at work.

Although 462 individuals qualified to answer the digital questionnaire (itself taking cues from Invest in Women’s Social Norms, Attitudes and Practices [SNAP] survey), time constraints, as well as incorrect contact information and lack of feedback from participants held WAGI back.

Recalling the results of their FGDs (dividing men, women, and non-binary participants from each other), Cabaces said that men were expected to do “the more physically demanding tasks” such as heavy lifting and grocery shopping. Meanwhile, women are treated as the “light of their homes'' stereotype by having them cook, do the laundry, and take care of the children, the sick, and the elderly.

Cabaces said that it’s almost the same problem in the workplace, as men are given more “intellectual tasks” that involve decision-making, while women are emphasisogiezed the “feminine touch,” such as dealing with people.

To put things in perspective, the baseline study revealed that 46% of the respondents (including non-binary participants) “shared housework equally with partners, other household members, and/or paid staff.” When it came to caring for children, 42% of them share the workload with their partners or other household members.

However, 46% women agreed that childcare should be a female’s responsibility, compared to the lesser 35% who agreed. Meanwhile, 43% of the male respondents (plus one non-binary) agreed with the sentiment that “earning the family income is a man’s responsibility.” Results of a five-point scale showed that 50% participants believed that “there are some work roles that are better suited to men and some to women.”

Also, around 11% of the respondents felt “disapproved” in a workplace dominated by a specific sexuality and only 13% said that they always felt discriminated against or harassed.

Salcedo Town, Eastern Samar local and WE-Care Project participant William Daep has lunch with his family. (Photo by Vina Salazar/Oxfam)
Salcedo Town, Eastern Samar local and WE-Care Project participant William Daep has lunch with his family. (Photo by Vina Salazar/Oxfam)

Cabaces said that “stereotypes can be also the basis for systematic discrimination especially at the workplace,” adding that “they are also often one of the reasons [for] violence and direct physical verbal violence like harassment physical sexual abuses of the workplace against women and other people of the SOGIEs [Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression Equality].”

Speaking of SOGIE, Langit added that there is a need to prioritize the passage of the SOGIE Bill, which aims to enforce the rights of individuals of different sexes and genders.

“As a woman and having friends who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, celebrations of us shouldn't be boxed within [just Pride Month] or be used as profit or clout when the commemorations [are] about to begin. [...] We already are aware of it, why not embrace it fully? We cannot expect for a person to immediately accept change but one should be open to it,” Langit commented.

Adding on Cabaces’ example of women being held back from getting higher positions, Jhuvilyn Dormitorio, Oxfam Philippines’ Portfolio Officer for Advocacy, recalled the struggles of solo parents.

“[BPO employers] don't give them flexibility in terms of their work in the area, and that makes them add more stress on the care responsibility [sic] at the same time demanding yung mga [the] workplace[s] nila. They have the policies that actually limits [sic] their whole potential as a person and as an employee,” Dormitorio explained.

These sentiments reflected the statistics in childcare work. Compared to unpartnered males (57.41% of the respondents), 68.13% women without partners tend to their children more. There are also men compared to women who “do not participate in childcare work,” with respective statistics being 37.04% and 20%.

“The hidden effect of continuing Filipino traditions, especially our roles in the household as a man and a woman, is patriarchal and misogynistic traits [sic], and this is perceived in both sexes. And truly, it is quite sad that despite opportunities to grow and flourish is [sic] somehow equal to all genders, this is more open to men,” Langit lamented.

She added that employers should be able to do more in molding and enforcing the values of workers, referencing an incident involving a Grab Philippines driver who was suspended for a homophobic remark when referencing the K-Pop group BTS.

Employers have the absolute power to start a discourse in reevaluating our values and how our upbringing can affect everyone. I believe employers should take responsibility [for] the mistake that their employee [made] as it reflects that there is something wrong, and as employers they should do some interventions,” she continued.

Salcedo Town, Eastern Samar local and WE-Care Project participant William Daep has lunch with his family. (Photo by Vina Salazar/Oxfam)
Salcedo Town, Eastern Samar local and WE-Care Project participant William Daep has lunch with his family. (Photo by Vina Salazar/Oxfam)

The bigger picture

Even though the majority of respondents received support services (e.g. counseling, legal and medical services, etc.) and work benefits (e.g. allowance, healthcare and safeness programs, etc.), Cabaces and Payud said that discrimination, harassment, gender-based violence, and even stereotyping remain issues.

“[...] sa urban millennials nga meron na silang awareness na dapat ni-reredistribute [ang mga trabaho]. However, mayroon pa rin nagsasabi na noong nagkaroon ng redistribution pero naniniwala pa rin ang mga babae na dapat trabaho nila iyon, so alam mo may ganoon pa ring social norms,” Payud recalled.

(“[...] with urban millennials, they are more aware that there is a need to redistribute [work]. However, there are still those that, even with redistribution, they still believe in things such as only women can do this certain type of work, so you’d know that there are still those social norms.”)

She added that the participants also struggled with mental health concerns while working from home, due to lacking in conducive spaces to fulfill tasks. This is despite having employer-organized initiatives such as online Zumba sessions and emergency financial assistance being available to workers.

It is because of these that WAGI called for inclusive workplace policies that promote gender equality, with Payud saying that the group will coordinate with policy makers and BPO companies in combating workplace stereotypes.

She also hoped that the study would also serve the members of the LGBTQIA+ community, saying “ang kagandahan ng research na ito (the beauty of this research) [is] it really goes beyond the binary classification.”

In concluding the interview, Payud said that she and her colleagues uncovered something else along the way.

Ang message na palagi nating bitbit ay sa larangan, yung gender roles na gusto nating i-break is that men as breadwinner[s] and women as caregiver[s], but we found out through this campaign that we wanted to promote that the capacity [of] women as breadwinners and men as caregivers,” Payud reflected.

(“The message that we always carry in the field is the need to tear down the gender roles of men as breadwinner[s] and women as caregiver[s], but we found out through this campaign that we wanted to promote that the capacity [of] women as breadwinners and men as caregivers.”)

Encouraging other groups to look further into issues related to the BPO sector, Cabaces hoped that communities would embrace new gender dynamics.

“It’s really the idea of people within a community adapting behaviors or these practices that are really outside of traditions, or accepted or traditional and how this deviant behavior could in a way be quite adaptive in terms of providing alternatives or solutions on issues that are being encountered within a new context or changes in their environment like what we’ve experienced during the recent pandemic,” Cabaces concluded.

In wrapping-up her thoughts, Langit reflected on her dealing with “internal misogynistic traits” in her early teens, saying that “I did not remain there as I was willing to listen and understand. And now being part of an organization who raises genuine women rights, we should not accept that because we deserve more.”

She then called for both local and national government units to “intervene” and collaborate with communities in developing national policies.

In the end, she called to “educate not hate.”

“Challenge the system, do not hesitate to call out [wrongdoing] but it should be a path to educating those [on] the other end,” Langit concluded.

(UPDATE: Revised credits for Oxfam Philippines, Invest in Women, and WAGI in first and second paragraphs.)

Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.

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