Geneva (ILO News) - The Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, asked representatives of governments, employers and workers attending the 100th International Labour Conference for a stronger commitment to the elimination of gender discrimination, and to consider it a matter of “smart economics”.
“Tell me how many talents have been lost because of discrimination? Unlocking women’s productive capacity and creativity is a win-win game for enterprises, workers, governments and societies,” said Ms. Bachelet at a special plenary discussion of the ILO Global Report on Equality at Work 2011, entitled Equality at work: The continuing challenge.
“Our approach is that eliminating gender discrimination is not only a matter of fundamental human rights, but is also smart economics,” added the Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women and former President of Chile, who is also Chair of the ILO Social Protection Floor Advisory Group.
Ms. Bachelet was a special guest at the discussion of the Global Report that included a Panel Discussion and comments by delegates at the annual ILO Conference.
“We still have a long road towards gender equality,” Ms. Bachelet said, adding that gender discrimination in the labour market can still be found in all countries.
“This 100th session of the International Labour Conference is also the 60th anniversary of the adoption of ILO Convention No. 100 concerning equal pay for men and women for work of equal value,” she said. But “unequal pay, based simply on the sex of the worker, persists as a major issue across all regions”.
“We must never stop moving towards the goal of gender equality,” Ms. Bachelet added. “So let us strengthen our commitment to achieving workplace and employment equality for all men and women”.
ILO Director-General, Juan Somavia said in introductory remarks that during the past decades “anti-discrimination legislation has come a long way. But discrimination is a complex monster. It evolves and changes. And it has many faces in different circumstances”.
In terms of gender equality, he said that, “despite progress, women’s pay still averages 70 to 90 per cent that of men. Discrimination related to pregnancy and maternity is still very common. And many girls still receive no education, just because they are girls.”
During the Panel Discussion the Minister of Labour Norway, Hanne BjurstrØm, said that “you don’t get equality just by hiring women in managerial positions, you must deal with the pay gap through instruments like collective bargaining,” adding that “if we invest in decent work and social protection this is a strong tool against discrimination and for equality.”
Iriny Lopes, Special Secretary for Women’s Policies from Brazil, said that poverty increases discrimination, and that in her country “the new plan on poverty is a fundamental undertaking and certain measures will be adopted to get rid of discrimination.” She added that “we need to have a clear view of those who are normally left out of mainstream development before we can move forward with true equality.”
Phil O’Reilly, Chief Executive Business New Zealand, said that a growing number of companies are recognizing the strong business and economic case behind the principle of non-discrimination. He said in addition to the obvious and compelling equity and human rights issues associated with non-discrimination companies are seeing that the larger, more diverse and prosperous the universe of potential employees and customers, the better it is for business. He added that a number of companies are directing significant resources through Public Private Partnerships at the ILO, or through alternative means to address workplace diversity. He encouraged Governments to partner with employer organisations to build broader understanding amongst the business community on the economic and social reasons behind diversity.
Rabiatou Diallo, General Secretary of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers said that despite the progress realized in the past few years, the Global Report reminds us that equality between men and women has yet to be achieved - ‘discrimination is a continuing challenge that traps society into crisis –a social crisis, economic crisis, a crisis of dignity and humanity ‘. She said of those trapped in extreme poverty, 61 per cent are women and highlighted that racism and ethnic discrimination persist even after the abolishment of slavery and colonisation. She noted that situation, while serious, was being countered and the workers movement continues to combat discrimination at all levels - individual, workplace and society at large.