Women and the World of Work
TWO DECADES AGO the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing adopted a visionary and far-reaching Declaration and Platform for Action on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
What progress there has been since then must be tempered by the reality that it is far less than what we had hoped to see by now.
In the areas of national gender equality policies, and legislation against discrimination based on sex, much has been accomplished. Nevertheless, progress on the ground remains elusive.
Globally, only about half the world’s women are in the labour force, compared to nearly 80 per cent of men – a figure basically unchanged in 20 years. A large gender pay gap hasn’t narrowed much, with women still earning on average 23 per cent less than men. And new evidence is emerging that mothers suffer a wage penalty, often over and above the gender pay gap.
The percentage of women in top management and in positions of political leadership has improved. But women head up only five per cent of Fortune 500 companies, and only one out of 12 governments worldwide. The percentage of women who work as self-employed or unpaid family members has declined. But women remain over-represented in low-wage employment.
We cannot accept that at current rates of change, it may take more than 70 years for women to achieve equal pay status with men. Nor can we accept that one out of every three women today will suffer some form of physical and/or sexual violence that cripples their ability to work.
On this International Women’s Day, it’s time to ask the hard questions. This anniversary should spur us to act, to rethink and to innovate.
What needs to be done?
– Support maternity protection and work-family policies: despite some progress, globally more than 800 million women workers, or 41 per cent, still don’t have adequate maternity protection, and take-up rates among men of parental leave are low. Could we not design maternity protection and work-family policies that are more inclusive, and supportive of gender equality?
– Address the issue of care work: The services and facilities that recognize, value and support such work, either paid or unpaid, are generally lacking. Could we not promote a new ethos of “care for work, and work for care” expressed in policies dealing with issues such as maternity, paternity, childcare and elder care needs?
– Support women’s entry into the labour force: many women wish to enter the labour market. Could we not give more attention to active labour market policies and create a supportive workplace culture that breaks down occupational segregation, values equitably the jobs dominated by women, and supports quality jobs for women and men
– Act early to close the gender gap: the gap begins in childhood and compounds through the life course. Quality education, training and skills development for girls and boys, women and men, needs to be ensured, together with effective strategies for youth employment.
– Equality for women at work benefits everyone. We need to show men why they need to be part of the conversation, and part of the solution.
Including men in gender equality strategies will be necessary to accelerate change – gender equality is about all women and men, and benefits individuals, families, workplaces and societies.
Promoting decent jobs for women is imperative, now and for the next generation. The future of work must also deal with the future of women at work. It is a matter of rights and what is right for women and for sustainable development.
*Guy Ryder is Director-General, International Labour Organisation.