Global Employment Trends for Women 2008: More women enter the workforce, but more than half of all working women are in vulnerable jobs

More women are working than ever before, but they are also more likely than men to get low-productivity, low-paid and vulnerable jobs, with no social protection, basic rights nor voice at work according to a new report by the International Labour Office (ILO) issued for International Women’s Day.

Press release | 06 March 2008

GENEVA (ILO News) – More women are working than ever before, but they are also more likely than men to get low-productivity, low-paid and vulnerable jobs, with no social protection, basic rights nor voice at work according to a new report by the International Labour Office (ILO) issued for International Women’s Day.

“Global employment trends for women – March 2008” (Note 1), released on the occasion of International Women’s Day, says that the number of employed women grew by almost 200 million over the last decade, to reach 1.2 billion in 2007 compared to 1.8 billion men. However, the number of unemployed women also grew from 70.2 to 81.6 million over the same period.

“Women continue to enter the world’s workforce in great numbers. This progress must not obscure the glaring inequities that still exist in workplaces throughout the world,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “The workplace and the world of work are at the centre of global solutions to address gender equality and the advancement of women in society. By promoting decent work for women, we are empowering societies and advancing the cause of economic and social development for all.”

The report shows that improvements in the status of women in labour markets throughout the world have not substantially narrowed gender gaps in the workplace. The share of women in vulnerable employment – either unpaid contributing family workers or own-account workers, rather than wage and salaried work – decreased from 56.1 to 51.7 per cent since 1997. However the burden of vulnerability is still greater for women than men, especially in the world’s poorest regions.

Other key findings of the report:

  • Worldwide, the female unemployment rate stood at 6.4 per cent compared to the male rate of 5.7 per cent.
  • Less than 70 women are economically active for every 100 men globally. Remaining outside of the labour force is often not a choice but an imposition. It is likely that women would opt for remunerated work outside the home if it became acceptable to do so.
  • At the global level, the female employment-to-population ratio – which indicates how much economies are able to take advantage of the productive potential of their working-age population – was 49.1 per cent in 2007 compared to a male employment-to-population ratio of 74.3 per cent.
  • Over the past decade, the service sector has overtaken agriculture as the prime employer of women. In 2007, 36.1 per cent of employed women worked in agriculture and 46.3 per cent in services. In comparison, male sectoral shares were 34.0 per cent in agriculture and 40.4 per cent in services.
  • More women are gaining access to education, but equality in education is still far from reality in some regions.
  • New policies for promoting female employment

    The report points out that for many women, moving away from vulnerable employment into wage and salaried work can be a major step toward economic freedom and self-determination, and that the poorer the region, the greater the likelihood that women remain among the ranks of the contributing family workers or own-account workers.

    Access to labour markets and to decent and productive employment is crucial in the process of creating greater equality between men and women, says the report. The study observed that the most successful region in terms of economic growth over the last decade, East Asia, is also the region with the highest employment-to-population ratio for women (65.2 per cent), low unemployment rates for both women and men and relatively small gender gaps in sectoral as well as status distribution.

    Overall, the report found that policies to enhance women’s chances to participate equally in labour markets are starting to pay off, but the sluggish pace of change means that disparities are still significant. Most regions have still a long way to go in full economic integration of women and realizing their untapped potential for economic development.

    Broadening access for women to employment in an enlarged scope of industries and occupations will be important to enhancing opportunities for them in the labour market, says the report. Society’s ability to accept new economic roles for women and the economy’s ability to create decent jobs to accommodate them are the key prerequisites to improving labour market outcomes for women, as well as for economic development on the whole.

    “Access to labour markets and to decent employment is crucial to achieving gender equality”, says Evy Messell, Director of the ILO’s Bureau for Gender Equality, which will host a discussion by women who have made a mark in the world of finance and eminent trade unionists on International Women’s Day, focusing on the value of investment in women’s development. “Yet women have to overcome many discriminatory obstacles when seeking jobs. Societies cannot afford to ignore the potential of female labour in reducing poverty, and need to search for innovative ways of lowering economic, social and political barriers. Providing women an equal footing in the workplace is not just right, but smart.”


    Note 1Global employment trends for women – March 2008, International Labour office, Geneva, 2008. ISBN 978-92-2-121034-4 (print); ISBN 978-92-2-121035-1 (web pdf).