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[June 2007]

Panama is a country in Central America with a population of a little over 3 million. I was there for a week this month to attend UNICEF's global training for Junior Professional Officers (JPOs). There were 26 participants from all around the world, and it was quite surprising to see how our tasks and responsibilities vary significantly depending on the destination.

What surprised me more, however, is how we all shared very similar experiences and concerns despite that variety in our work. Particularly among female JPOs who had to leave their spouses and beloved ones behind, the most discussed topics by far was how to balance our career and private life. It is a fact that the ratio of female professionals decreases tremendously as we go higher up the ladder within UNICEF. The organization currently addresses this issue through the spouse employment program in destination country, and leave without pay, etc. Yet for those whose spouses cannot leave their countries or those who seek continuity in their career, they may not be very realistic options. Given that employees traveling without dependents are relatively cheap labour (since they do not receive any dependent allowance or education allowance), it might make sense for the organization to seriously consider other means to retain them such as giving them extra annual leaves or home leaves.