The women at work initiative

Reviewing the place and conditions of women in the world of work and engaging workers, employers and governments in concrete action to realize equality of opportunity and treatment.

Changes in the roles of women and men and the nature of households, markets and societies are in constant flux. Shifting boundaries and values create tensions that are magnified by rapid globalization. Men and women experience the manifestations of these strains in their search for jobs or in accessing credit, technology and assets.

Globally, fewer than half of women have jobs compared to almost four-fifths of men. There is a gap of 25.5 per cent in the labour participation rate of men and women and the global gender pay gap persists at 23 per cent. Gender equality cannot be achieved when biases remain embedded in economic and social institutions. Importantly, social justice cannot be achieved without gender equality.

The initiative questions why progress on delivering on decent work for women has been so slow. Issues that are regularly identified as obstacles are: 1) stereotypes, discrimination, and access to work 2) absence of equal pay 3) unequal distribution and undervaluation of care work 4) combating violence at work.

Major outputs 2015-2017


  • Women at work: Trends 2016: The report provides a snapshot of women today and how they have progressed over the past 20 years. It presents an in-depth analysis of the gender gaps in the quality of work and explores the key policy drivers for gender transformative change.
  • Women in Business and Management: Gaining Momentum: The global report and conference were well received in London (April 2015). An Asian report and conference were launched in Singapore (July 2015) and subsequently for the MENA region in Oman (February 2016). Further regional reports and conferences are envisaged.
  • ILO-Gallup Poll: Gallup World Poll is collaborating with ILO so as to generate data on women and work. A report will be released in 2017, on the gender equality gains, gaps, obstacles and discrimination in the world of work.


  • ILO-Nordic Council of Ministers: A Gender Dialogue is scheduled for November 2016 to take stock of the Nordic gender models and experience, and foster exchange with experts from all regions to identify globally replicable elements.
  • ILO - Oxford University Human Rights Hub and University of Kent: Current legal frameworks need to be revisited to determine their effectiveness as these have not successfully contributed to women’s equality in the labour force. Research and a joint international conference are planned for May 2017.
  • ILO Meeting of Experts on violence against women and men in the world of work: Decent work cannot exist in an environment of violence. Violence needs to be addressed both as a rights issue and as a workplace efficiency issue. The Meeting’s conclusions will inform the June 2018 ILC standard-setting on violence.
  • Care and Jobs: Focus is needed on care work, both as a potential area of employment growth, as well as a means of supporting women’s equal opportunities. Further research on a range of care issues and a global dialogue are planned for 2016-2017.

Media and advocacy campaign

A systematic media and advocacy campaign is envisaged to enhance the delivery of strong messages on gender equality to both key partners and the public at large.

2018-19 and Beyond

Fresh findings from the efforts above will guide the ILO in charting a new course for action into the next centenary.