Friday, March 10, 2006

On Pakistan International Airways (or Airlines)

PIA has advertised in Norwegian media as part of an effort to recruit new stewardesses. This is, basically, a good initiative on many levels. A Pakistani company recruiting in the West is an improvement on the theft of intellectuals by Europe from poorer, but well educated, countries. Nevertheless, there are some problems with this effort (more or less acknoweldged by the local PIA people in Oslo).

The issue is interesting, though, also in the context of the the recent cartoon feud after Jyllands-Postens publication of charicatures of the Prophet. Not because the causes or the cnsequences are similar, but because the PIA effort illustrates the scope for constructing a false picture of what happens, or comes from, Elsewhere. This entry as a warning of how easy it is to construct an offense.

To wit:

For the fun of it I took a little time to look properly at an ad that appeared in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, seeking stewardesses for PIA. The reason I played around with it (it can be found at, at least as of 10 March 2006) is that seems to me a perfect illustration of how what is perfectly ordinary in one cultural setting can become entirely unacceptable in another.

Now, on the thing itself:

There are a number of elements in that advertisement that might be offensive to many Norwegians, and some of them are probably illegal.

Now, we can deal with this in several ways. It can be ignored (relatively safely, few Norwegian women would feel tempted by a company quite as crass and offensive as PIA). It can be referred to the relevant authorities (which, I gather, is actually being done), where the matter would be studied, remedies proposed, penalties (if applicable) imposed, and the advertiser given the opportunity to mend his ways (I think it is relatively safe, in this case, to use the male pronoun).

Or, we can go off and burn the Malaysian Embassy.

The actual advert cannot be reproduced here, but the following are the most offensive highlights. Obviously, and in fairness, the ad also has a number of perfectly non-controversial clauses and requirements. And advertising for staff is respectable in and of itself.

The point of this exercise is to illustrate how easy it is to take a document of some sort which has made an appearance in one context and build a case against it in another context. The PIA advert is probably completely uncontroversial in, to take a random example, Pakistan. There are probably some who would object, but not in sufficient numbers or sufficiently seriously, to have the ad pulled (Aftenposten, where the PIA thing appeared, has said it regrets accepting the ad).

Anyone with sufficient writing and PR skills could turn the list of elements set out below into the basis for a serious bout of anti-Pakistanism, and get people agitated about it. The reason it won't happen is partly because there are institutions to deal with in more sensible ways.

Anyhow, here is the list:

1. "Join PIA as Flight Stewardess." - the headline.

This headline insists that applicants have to be female, male "stewardesses" doesn't make sense in any language. This excludes the male half of the population from even applying for the positions, however much they might want to "see the world". The gaffe is repeated, reinforced on compounded in the following paragraph

2.. ".talented young girls." (my italics)

Few people would take offence at a requirement that job applicants need to be - or at least ought to be - talented. Comments have already been made on the exclusion of men from this opportunity, but here the field is narrowed further. The applicants have to be young, (defined, subsequently, as 20 - 25 years of age).

Quite a few people in Norway would be seriously offended by this. To be excluded from a profession, such as Flight Stewardess, by having an age over 25 years is not only silly but discriminatory and against all values of Norwegian society, where "ageism" has been increasingly a matter for concern. And, in any case, there is no practical reason for the limitation imposed. And it is probably illegal.

3.. "Nationality: Norwegian".

It is illegal, and highly offensive, to discriminate among people on the basis of their nationality. It is also questionable what is meant by this. Does an applicant have to have Norwegian citizenship as a minimum requirement, or does ethnicity come into it. Can African women resident in Norway apply? If they have citizenship? Or is it a matter of recruiting blonde, blue-eyed attractions to the company.

Whatever the reason, and absent an argument about, say, national security, the nationality requirement is highly offensive, insulting to many and most probably illegal.

4.. "Marital Status: Single"

Since when does PIA have the right to interfere in people's marriage and family plans? Whether a person is single or otherwise is irrelevant to his or her ability to perform a particular job.

If for some reason, PIAs scheduling of flights presents problems for staff of various categories, it is up to PIA to take the steps necessary to alleviate or obviate the problem.

To require applicants to be single is a transgression against Norwegian women (and, indeed, all women). It is highly offensive and quite possibly illegal.

5.. "Users of spectacles and candidates with skin problems need not apply"

What is this nonsense? For decades, people have tried to make sure that people are not discriminated against because of physical infirmities or similar causes. And what is a "user of spectacles" - someone who uses reading glasses in bad lighting conditions, or someone who is blind without them? And "skin problems"? Is a rash on a knee sufficient reason for rejection, or are we talking whole-body psoriasis? The point is that is offensive to exclude anyone from the job market or a segment thereof for reasons which have no bearing on their ability to do the job for which recruitment is being carried out.

It is also illegal.

6.. "Two full postcard size standing photographs, one with front and one with side pose"

As there is also a requirement for passport photographs (in the paragraph immediately preceding this), it is not immediately clear what these post card size photographs are meant to illustrate or document.

The only possible explanation, in the absence of other information, is that the recruiters wish to inspect the body of the applicant in as much details as can be achieved within the bounds of decency.

But it isn't decent to inspect girls' bodies for recruitment purposes. In fact, it is highly offensive, to the individuals involved, to most women in Norway and in fact, most of the population of Norway. It constitutes a grave insult to Norwegian women and is, probably, illegal.


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