It is opportune to take stock of the situation with respect to women’s status and gender equality in the world of work.
The available information paints a mixed picture.
There has been notable progress in the area of national legislation with most countries having incorporated the principles of equality and non-discrimination. Many governments have adopted active labour market policies to tackle discrimination against women and a growing number of employers’ and workers’ organizations are implementing initiatives on equal opportunity and treatment. A number of individual women have managed to advance and to break through the glass ceiling.
At the same time, stubborn and often profound gaps persist. Progress in increasing women’s labour market participation has been uneven according to our 2014 Global Employment Trends Report. In developed economies, women are expected to benefit less from the timid recovery projected in the medium-term – their unemployment rates will only gradually decline to 8.2 per cent in 2018, whereas for men it is projected to drop to 7.6 per cent. In North Africa women’s labour market participation rates in 2013 were barely 25 per cent, and in the Middle East not even 20 per cent.
Occupational sex-segregation and gender pay gaps persist. Women are over-represented in the informal economy, precarious work, and in low-paid jobs. For example in South-East Asia and the Pacific, vulnerable employment in 2013 affected women most (63.1 per cent as compared to 56 per cent for men). In the formal economy women’s share of decision-making posts remains low notwithstanding a pool of talent.
Services to assist women and men in balancing work and family responsibilities – particularly state-funded and quality childcare – are unavailable or inaccessible for many. Such care still largely falls on the shoulders of girls and women. Moreover, a large majority of women lack access to quality maternal and infant health care and other maternity protection measures – effectively penalizing them for their reproductive role. Risks and opportunities for women often vary depending on their colour, religion, social origin or skill levels. Women do not constitute a homogenous group. Consequently it is also important to look both at how different groups fare in the labour market and how they and women generally fare relative to their male peers.
The rights of girls and women are often subordinated; their economic and social contribution often undervalued and their perceived inequality compared to men sometimes regarded as immutable.
Not surprisingly, their work is also simply invisible – physically as in the case of domestic workers for example working behind closed doors. Or they may simply be absent from the data – which perpetuates their inequality.
It is time to do better.
Keeping on top of such issues is especially important in the context of an increasingly interconnected global economy, rapidly-changing labour markets, the impact of migration and challenges to the universality of rights and standards.
The ILO is renewing its own efforts to establish a solid information base that will be a shared resource to inform future action. With sound knowledge to back up evidence-based arguments, declarations and policies on gender equality will have far better prospects of translating into change for the better in the lives of many more working women. And this, we know, also means stronger families and communities and ultimately businesses and economies.
Today we recognize the valuable and indispensable contribution of women in the world of work. We join our efforts with all who are striving for gender equality: it is also our common challenge to ensure mutually reinforcing action to secure steady progress to this goal.
International Women’s Day 2014 - 8 March