For International Women’s Day on 8 March, the International Social Security Association (ISSA) interviewed Ms Hamdah Al-Shamsi, Advisor of the Chairman of the Board at the Public Authority for Social Insurance, Oman. As a member of the ISSA Bureau and different ISSA technical commissions, Ms Al-Shamsi has made important contributions to advance international cooperation on social security, and she is passionate about gender equality in social security and society.
How do you see the state of gender equality in social security today, globally and in your country?
We still have a long way to go towards gender equality. In many countries, women are not close to being equal with their male counterparts. Let us take education for example. Many girls do not have access to education because of a lack of schools in remote areas, they marry at a very young age or they are taken out of school to help the family.
Female workforce participation is low in most countries due to the lack of a woman friendly environment in the work place. Women either do not enter the workforce or leave early because they are the main caretaker for children, old or sick family members, and even for neighbours in some cases. For this reason, women have low or no income, and equal pay for an equal job is still a dream for most women.
In Oman, the government is making efforts to increase the workforce participation of women but participation is still low. Education in Oman is free all the way to higher education, and Omani women are on average more educated than men are, but most women opt to stay home and take care of the family. This is partly driven by the general income level being high, and that in Islam men are obliged to support their female family members regardless of their financial situation. In terms of social security, women are allowed to leave the social security schemes much earlier than man, which means that they do not stay long enough to accumulate adequate pensions.
How can social security institutions play a key role in progressing towards gender equality in social security?
Social security organizations need to promote awareness among women of the benefits of social security and what their entitlements are under these schemes. The whole of society needs to work to remove barriers to the workforce participation for women. For example, safe childcare institutions where mothers can leave their young children are required. We also need to improve the workplace policies and procedures to give mothers more time to spend with their children, and to inform about maternity leave and flexible working hours, which we do not have here in Oman.
How can international cooperation between social security institutions, through ISSA, make a difference in this area?
There are good practices on gender equality measures from some countries that could be exchanged and discussed between ISSA member organizations. More ISSA events focusing mainly on gender equality issues may be required.
What role can women play within social security institutions, as leaders and role models?
Women leaders in social security can influence the decision process in their organization when it comes to policies that could help closing the gender gap in both extension and adequacy of coverage. They can also be role models for their female colleagues in making wise career decisions and sticking longer in the work place to be able to advance on the career ladder. Female leaders could act as mentors to younger female colleagues as well.
What is your message to women on this day?
First of all - Happy Women’s Day to all . I want to remind my fellow women all over the world, that we are the luckiest generation of women in the history of humanity. We are blessed with so many opportunities that we need to avail in order to contribute to the betterment of humanity wherever we are. Women can start by setting their priorities right when it comes to worklife balance and try to be present 100% present in their jobs. They need to take any training opportunity offered by the employer and invest personally in developing their work skills and competencies. Women need to work smart, not hard.