More women today are in the formal economy than ever before. There are higher proportions of women in public services, and an increasing number of equal opportunities policies exist globally. However, while women’s participation in the formal labour market has increased remarkably in most parts of the world, women still face multiple forms of discrimination in the labour market. Women almost everywhere still continue to earn less than men for work of equal value; they have fewer opportunities in obtaining better paid jobs and often bear the unequal burden of family responsibilities. Discriminatory practices based on assumptions about what jobs are “appropriate” for women, or on women’s reproductive roles continue to exist in a number of countries.
Fifty years ago, the International Labour Conference adopted what is still considered the most comprehensive dedicated international instrument on non-discrimination and equality in the world of work. The ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) was forward-looking in its time, and remains as relevant now as it was in the late 1950s. Now is the time to celebrate fifty years of this key Convention, and the progress that has been made. It is also a time for reflection, as the goal of eliminating any discrimination in employment and occupation set out in the Convention remains a distant one. To be on the right track to equality, it is time to identify and remove the remaining obstacles.
Gender equality at work: a fundamental principle and right
Since 1919, the ILO has sought to guarantee labour rights and improve working conditions for working women and men. Equality is enshrined in the ILO Constitution as well as in the Declaration of Philadelphia, 1944. The constitutional principle of equality was first made operational in 1951, when the ILO adopted the Equal Remuneration Convention, (No. 100). Acknowledging that discrimination in remuneration cannot be tackled effectively without ensuring more general protection against discrimination in employment and occupation, the ILO adopted in 1958 the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111). The ILO’s commitment to the elimination of discrimination in the world of work was reaffirmed in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, 1998. The ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, 2008, also confirms that gender equality and non-discrimination are cross-cutting issues in all the ILO’s work.
The principles set out in Convention No. 111 have been almost universally accepted. The progress that has been achieved in the application of the principle of equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women and the leading role the Convention has played in the past fifty years should be heralded. This progress should be a further incentive to promote universal ratification of this key equality Convention as well as better implementation.