Sophia's Peace Work

Monday, October 27, 2008

Two standards?

One of the staff (my roommate - a woman and one of the few who work for us) went home for the weekend to Baghdad and everyone seemed to blow a gasket. Emails are flying about, mobiles are ringing, people are wringing their hands, talk of firing the woman was in the air. I honestly didn't understand what all the commotion was about. She had spent the week, along with the other staff, working late and almost the entire staff was leaving for a conference, so she wanted to go home because she didn't want to stay by herself (not such an uncommon feeling for a young arab woman away from family and friends). She had recently been away for a three month leave and so was told she needed to be at work as there were some problems that needed to be dealt with at the lab and it was unfair to give her additional leave when no one else was getting it.

So ok, she has to be at work, but surely her weekends are still hers are they not? And if she is adult enough and daring enough to live by herself for a week (something that most Iraqi women would have difficulty with), then surely its her decision as to what to do with her time off.

For curtesy and for safety she should tell people what her plans are (this she did, though not to her direct supervisor, which would have been preferable .... ok, so there is a handslap for you, young lady) and she should find the safest way to travel (she used a driver she knew).

If she reports back to work on time for the start of the week ... what is the big deal? Ah, she was late! Three hours late because her driver could not leave when she wanted him to. Ah well, atleast send a message saying you'll be late, my dear. But I'm told she did not do this though when I asked her about it she told me she had sent messages to both the office manager and her immediate supervisor to warn them she'd be late.

Honestly, I'm not sure who to believe but I find myself just shaking my head about this stuff. We have so few women who work for us and more and more, as we seek international funding, we need to show that we offer equal opportunities for women ... but in a place like Iraq, where women do not have the freedom of men that's a tall order. You have to get the work done and often the easy way out is to get a guy to do the job. I sometimes feel that the managers, atleast unconsciously, would rather not deal with all the problems that result from having women work for us ... its tiring even for me. I came here to work on problems related to the environment not deal with silly interpersonnel problems between the men and women.

But for the women who left their families and support network to come up from Baghdad to work for us, it is important to remember that they took alot of risks. They were doing something out of the ordinary and they faced criticism for it. They and the men they worked with behaved badly at times with each other. Mostly because they were in a new relationship with one another and they didn't know what proper behavior was. They were just ignorant. Not malicious.

And I would say that the same was true of the management ... for, despite their intellectual understanding of the problems that women face here, in the end they seem to hold the women to two different and conflicting standards ... a traditional standard as dependent females who must be controlled and a more western standard as employees who can work and live under any conditions that management dictates.

In the end, I just see that the men in the office continue to advance and benefit from the work they do with us and the women continue to struggle ... one has been fired and the other is on the brink of losing her job for going home on her weekend.

Women who have been treated as children their whole lives and the men who have been taught to patronize and dominate these same women are going to have a long and difficult path to creating a more open and free society. I, as an outsider and mostly a spectator (but occasional participant in this whole mess), can attest in some small way to how painful that path can be.