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8 March 2019

Skills have no gender

This International Women's Day we are looking for your support of #skillshavenogender

You might remember Rosie the Riveter. Flexing her muscles in a boiler suit and cheery polka dot headscarf, she was created as a propaganda tool to draw women into skilled factory work during the Second World War but endured long after as a feminist icon. Her slogan was “We can do it.”

Yet decades later, RosIe the Riveter, or Paula the Plumber, or Isabella the Industrial Mechanics Millwright, or Aisha the Aircraft Maintenance Technician, are still relative novelties.

That is not to say there has not been great progress. At WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 we saw Marah Masupa competing for Zambia in Concrete Construction, and Caroline Söderqvist of Sweden in Aircraft Maintenance, both occupations traditionally seen as a male preserve. 

The statistics show how much remains to be done to redress inequalities

In WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 only ten per cent of teams had at least 50 per cent women competing. For 44 teams (86% of Members taking part) it was less than a third.

A quarter of the 50 skills had no women taking part at all. How many skills had male competitors? All of them. When women did compete, though, they did well. Of the 38 skills with female participation, women won medals in 16 of them.

We should hardly be surprised by this. A broader picture of the world of work shows just how poorly women, and especially young women, are faring. Studies by UNESCO, the United Nation’s Education and Science Organization, show that women hold just 17% of technology jobs.

It’s not hard to see why. In an age when vocational education and skills are a pathway to a better life, UNESCO reports that of the 750 million adults who lack even basic literacy skills, two-thirds are women, and mostly young women.

That immediately impacts on the world of work. The development agency Plan International estimates that of the 628 million unemployed young people worldwide a majority are female and without any education or training.

There are all sorts of reasons: poverty, lack of resources, childbearing, geographical isolation, and cultural expectations that women should stay as homemakers and carers for the very young and the very old.

Creating gender equality

WorldSkills has the power to help change this. It educates young people to the potential of vocational education and a career in skilled occupations. It develops and maintains standards and training at the highest level. Right now, a major push is being made to engage in Africa, a region where skills, so desperately needed, really do have the power to change lives.

And WorldSkills has something unique. Unlike other major international competitions, like the Olympics or the World Cup, it draws no distinction between the sexes. It shows that in the world of work, men and women can and should compete side by side on equal terms. Whether it is Wanda the Welder, or Franco the Florist: Together, they can do it.

WorldSkills also believes that governments around the world must do more to remove inequality in the workplace. Recent analysis by the World Economic Forum showed that there are considerable gaps between female and male access to economic resources and opportunities. The degree of these inequalities varies from country-to-country but wherever they live women consistently earn less, have fewer jobs, and are in less senior roles than men.

HeForShe is a global campaign that was launched by UN Women to engage men and boys as advocates and stakeholders, to break the silence, raise their voices, and take action for the achievement of gender equality. 

63 WorldSkills Members support HeForShe:

Armenia; Australia; Austria; Barbados; Belarus; Belgium; Bangladesh; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; China; Chinese Taipei; Colombia; Costa Rica; Denmark; Egypt; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Hong Kong, China; Kazakhstan; Croatia; Hungary; Iceland; India; Indonesia; Iran; Ireland; Jamaica; Japan; Kingdom of Bahrain; Korea; Latvia; Malaysia; Mongolia; Morocco; Namibia; Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Oman; Palestine; Poland; Portugal; Principality of Liechtenstein; Romania; Russia; Singapore; South Africa; South Tyrol, Italy; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Thailand; Trinidad and Tobago; Tunisia; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States of America; Vietnam; and Zambia