How quality of life matches up in the global sisterhood

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN

Val Finney, is a 36-year-old mother of two from Widnes, Cheshire.

She considers herself lucky compared with many other working women in Britain today, writes Matthew Brace.

A telesales operator, she is paid the same as her male colleagues (pounds 8,500 a year) and she has similar promotion prospects. At home, her husband does "his fair share of housework".

But she says her experience is untypical and that working women in Britain still get a raw deal compared with men. "First of all, child care is non-existent. Luckily my children are 14 and 16 now but if they were younger I just couldn't afford to work," she said. With the majority of state- run nurseries in her area having closed down, she would have to send them to a private one which would cost her around pounds 20 a day for each child.

"There's absolutely nothing in Britain to encourage women to have children and work compared to other European countries. They even have creches in their supermarkets there," she said. "Here women have to traipse round the shops with children screaming.

"Our government has tried to get women back to work after they have had children but then they don't provide any facilities for them once they get there."

Discrimination is nothing new to Mrs Finney. At school she was excluded from woodwork - a boys only lesson - and restricted to domestic science and sewing.

She thinks things are changing and she sees women getting more ambitious but she also knows equality is a long way off. "On the work front it's still a man's world. There's still a lot of the tradition of the man being the bread-winner while the woman's job is still regarded as pin-money. I find that very unjust."

SWEDEN

Viktoria Bi, 23, a dental nurse from Palsboda, has a one-year- old daughter and is expecting her second child.

Since the arrival of the feminism movement in the early 1970s, Mrs Bi has witnessed the remarkable advance of women in Sweden, writes Mary Braid.

Strict anti-discrimination laws have given way to female recruitment targets and a controversial proposal for quota legislation. Today, half Sweden's cabinet is female and 40 per cent of MPs are women. Mrs Bi feels the benefits of female emancipation closer to home.When she became pregnant with her first child the Swedish state made things easy.

"You are paid 90 per cent of your salary for 12 months after you have your baby," she said. "Then if you go back to work there is no problem. You can have your child looked after from the age of four months in inexpensive nurseries subsidised by the state. I know as a woman I am privileged to live in Sweden."

Swedish women still think the country has a long way to go before all things are equal. While the expansion of paid maternity leave and near-universal child care has encouraged 80 per cent of women into work most have failed to break male dominance in senior and middle management.

"My friends still complain that women do more in the home, that employers are more likely to choose a man than a woman for a job and that men still earn more than women. I hope things will be better for my daughter," Mrs Bi said.

But feminists worry that decades of achievement are threatened by unprecedented economic uncertainty which has caused cut backs in public spending.

BANGLADESH

Mosammat Aleya, 27, has two young children and lives in Dhaka.

Mosammat Aleya works just to survive. Her husband Mizanur Rahman, 35, works in a garment factory but does not earn enough to keep his family, writes Mary Braid.

Ten years ago when she first went to work Aleya was criticised by her family, but economic pressure has altered traditions. "At first people used to look at me when I went to work but lots of women go to work every day now."

With the pressure Aleya is under it is not surprising that the country's feminist movement is yet to make an impact on her. Aleya rises at 4am to do her housework and prepare breakfast for her children and large extended family. After taking her children to school she walks a few miles for an 8am start at another garment factory.

The hours are long and she is not in when her children get home. The eldest, 11, has to look after his brother, five. "I bought them a stereo and a television so they could confine themselves in the house and not loiter around," she says.

Tough times also mean a smaller family. Aleya uses contraception and is determined to have no more babies. A large slice of the couple's income goes on a private tutor for the boys and they moved from the suburbs of the city to improve the family's chances. But Aleya still wants more for her children. "I hope they become something some day," she says.

Although feminism has not yet grabbed her she supports trade unionism and despairs of the lack of interest among her fellow workers. "Even in our factory we are not united in our common cause," she says.

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