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Get Real
Gender discrimination in our midst

By Solita Collas-Monsod
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:56:00 03/05/2010

Filed Under: Elections, Gender Issues

ALONG EDSA, A POSTER PROCLAIMS ?BABAE?Tagumpay ng Bayan? (loosely translated, ?Women?the Nation?s Triumph?), in celebration of women and their ?month??the period where attention is focused especially on them according to a law or some such, as in ?Fire Prevention? month. And there is certainly much to celebrate. After all, the Philippines is the only Asian country in the top 10 (of 134) countries included in the World Economic Forum?s Global Gender Gap Index (GGI), which measures economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival of women. And it has held this position since the GGI was first constructed (for 2006), although it has fallen in rank from sixth to ninth place.

Still and all, we don?t have very many opportunities to best other countries?in a good way, that is?the United States, for example, ranks a mere 31 compared to our 9. On the other hand, we shouldn?t really be carried away that we are better than the United States in this regard, because the latter has been a laggard?it is in the same sorry boat, for example, as Iran and Tonga and Somalia and Sudan?in that it is one (and the only industrialized country) of eight countries in the world that have not as yet ratified the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).

The reader may recall that this country in 1992 passed the Women in the Nation?s Development Act, which essentially prohibited all forms of discrimination against women and which approved probably the first development plan for women. And just over six months ago, we passed the Magna Carta of Women, which has been billed as the gender-equality law (which makes me wonder what the 1992 law was?someone must tell me the difference).

But even as we start feeling good about ourselves, let us be reminded that there are many pockets of gender discrimination that can be identified, and if one thinks that these must be occurring within the so-called marginalized sectors of society, think again. Gender discrimination is alive and very well, it seems, right in our midst?or rather, right in the midst of Philippine Air Lines.

I recently obtained a copy of a primer distributed by the Flight Attendants? and Stewards? Association of the Philippines (Fasap), and reading it certainly will jar anyone out of any sense of complacency about the status of women in the Philippines. I sincerely hope that the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women will sit up and take notice, because this discrimination is an outrage.

Most experienced airlines passengers will tell you that the flight attendants of PAL are that airlines? only saving grace?it is not an exaggeration to say that their charm and solicitude for their passengers are legend, and make up for the many shortcomings and deficiencies in the plane?s equipment and other amenities. And yet, in spite of the yeoman?s role they play smoothing over the ruffled feathers of their passengers who, after suffering flight delays, find out that they are further subjected to in-flight inconveniences? can?t read (no lights) or watch TV (out of order), or even sit back (something wrong), or go to the can (out of order)?these flight attendants apparently are getting the short end of the stick from their management, in violation of the Constitution, Cedaw, the Magna Carta of Women, and even our Labor Code.

Let us count the ways, per Fasap?s primer (?Sexism and Gender Discrimination Against PAL Flight Attendants?):

There is the matter of what the Fasap (and all right-minded people) considers an unreasonable retirement age limit. They point out that while Cebu Pacific, Zest Air, Air Philippines and other local carriers follow the Labor Code (voluntary retirement age of 60, compulsory retirement age of 65), PAL?s female flight attendants hired before 1996 are forced to retire at 55 years of age, while their male counterparts can work until 60 years old.

It gets worse: those hired after 1996 will be compulsorily retired at age 45, and those hired after 2000 will be retired at age 40. And while this compulsory retirement age applies to both sexes, this is small comfort?two-thirds of flight attendants are women. But more important than that, the implication is that flight attendants are considered (by management?I certainly am not aware of any survey made as to what the passengers think) as sex objects along the lines of guest relation officers, rather than professionals who are there to see to the flight safety and comfort of their passengers.

But the worst is still to come, in the form of PAL?s pregnancy and maternity policies for flight attendants. The unfortunate soul who gets pregnant is placed on pregnancy leave?without any kind pay and the suspension of all perks?starting from the third month of pregnancy. And having effectively suspended the pregnant flight attendant, she is further penalized because the period of leave without pay as well as maternity leave is deducted from the flight attendant?s Years of Service, which means that her retirement pay is reduced. To add more insult to injury, paternity leave does not adversely affect the male attendant?s attendance record.

So much for the importance of families in our society. And so much for ?Babae?Tagumpay ng Bayan.? As far as the flight attendants are concerned, it might as well be Tapakan ng Bayan.

The Fasap primer ends with a reminder: Flight attendants are safety professionals. They are not mere decorations to an aircraft for the visual enjoyment of the passengers. They have a right to be treated based on merit and performance, not age and gender.

Amen.

(Note: I called up senior vice president Beda Badiola to ask for PAL?s perspective on the issue. He neither returned my call nor sent any text message.)



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