10. Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination

Sustainable Development

Decent work

Economy Social Environment Employment Protection Rights Dialogue
Relevant SDG Targets
1.4, 4.5, 5.2, 5.4, 5.5, 5.a, 8.5, 8.8, 10.3
Relevant Policy Outcomes
1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10

On this page: DWA-SDG Relationship | Cross-cutting policy drivers | Partnerships | ILO Capacity | Resources

Millions of women and men around the world are denied access to jobs and training, confined to certain occupations or offered lower pay simply because of their disability, ethnicity, indigenous or tribal status, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, political or other opinion, real or perceived HIV/AIDS-status or other status. The discrimination that certain groups, such as women, ethnic or racial minorities and migrants, face in the labour market makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation and abuses such as forced labour. Barriers to decent jobs often compel parents belonging to an ethnic minority to resort to the labour of their children to make ends meet. Though discrimination can have many manifestations, it is often subtle and insidious, undermining peoples’ dignity and their future. Discrimination deprives people of their voice at work and their ability to fully participate. Discrimination stifles opportunities, wasting the human talent needed for economic progress, and accentuates social tensions and inequalities. Discrimination is a basis for social exclusion and poverty.

An important starting point to overcome discrimination is the right to equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation. And the key to the success of promoting equality in the labour market is the active involvement of workers' organizations, employers’ organizations and other stakeholders. Freedom from discrimination is a fundamental human right and is essential for workers to choose their employment freely, to develop their potential to the full and to reap economic rewards on the basis of merit. Bringing equality to the workplace has significant economic benefits too. Employers who practice equality have access to a larger and more diverse workforce. Workers who enjoy equality have greater access to training, often receive higher wages, and improve the overall quality of the workforce. The profits of a globalized economy are more fairly distributed in a society with equality, leading to greater social stability and broader public support for further economic development.

The struggle against discrimination and gender inequality is at the heart of the ILO, and the subject of two fundamental conventions: the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100) and the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111). Many other ILO instruments, such as the Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, 1981 (No. 156), the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention, 1983 (No. 159), the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169), and the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) deal with specific aspects of equality and non-discrimination.

Combating discrimination is an essential part of promoting decent work, and success on this front is felt well beyond the workplace. Issues linked to discrimination are present throughout the ILO’s sphere of work. By bolstering freedom of association, for example, the ILO seeks to prevent discrimination against trade union members and officials. Programmes to fight forced labour and child labour include helping girls and women trapped in prostitution or coercive domestic labour. Non-discrimination is a main principle of the ILO’s code of practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work. ILO guidelines on labour law include provisions on discrimination (43). Violence and harassment, a serious manifestation of discrimination, is also being addressed by the ILO and its constituents, most recently in the context of a Tripartite Expert Meeting,30 and will be discussed in the 2018 International Labour Conference with a view to adopting a Convention and/or Recommendation on the subject.

In the world of work, several challenges remain to the achievement of gender equality. Significant gender gaps exist – and there has been little change over the past 20 years – with respect to both the quantity and quality of jobs: access to employment, pay, social security and occupational segregation (8). Women are more likely to be unemployed than men, with unemployment particularly affecting young women. Women also continue to be overrepresented in unpaid and care work, often working longer hours than men when both paid work and unpaid work are taken into account. Advancing gender equality will require addressing these gaps, including the unpaid and undervalued work undertaken by women, redistributing care responsibilities, and ensuring equal remuneration for work of equal value.

ILO’s expertise in the area of gender equality and non-discrimination focuses on issues related to equal opportunities and treatment for all women and men in the world of work, and eliminating discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, indigenous identity, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. The Office provides policy advice, tools, guidance and technical assistance to constituents including with respect to promoting more inclusive workplaces, and ensuring that policies, programmes and institutions are gender-responsive. The work on gender equality is guided by an ILO Action Plan for Gender Equality 2016-17, which is the results-based tool for operationalizing the 1999 policy on gender equality and mainstreaming in the Office.

DWA-SDG Relationship

Decent work, gender equality and non-discrimination feature prominently in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 projects a vision: “We envisage a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination; of respect for race, ethnicity and cultural diversity; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential and contributing to shared prosperity” (Para 8). This vision is reflected in several Sustainable Development Goals, namely SDG 4 (target 4.5, equal access to education), SDG 5 (gender equality, notably targets 5.2, 5.4 and 5.5), SDG 8 (target 8.5, decent work for all and equal pay), and SDG 10 (target 10.3, equal opportunity).

Non-discrimination and gender equality have been central concerns of the ILO since its very inception. The Declaration of Philadelphia states that:
  • “all human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity; and
  • the attainment of the conditions in which this shall be possible must constitute the central aim of national and international policy”.
The significance of gender equality and non-discrimination as an Office-wide concern was reaffirmed through the Social Justice Declaration (1998), which established that “gender equality and non-discrimination must be considered to be cross-cutting issues in the abovementioned [four] strategic objectives”, and in the 2016 Resolution on Advancing Social Justice through Decent Work, as well as in the P&B texts for 2016–17 and 2018–19, which recognize the promotion of gender equality and non-discrimination as a cross-cutting policy driver.

Cross-cutting policy drivers

As mentioned above, gender equality and non-discrimination is a cross-cutting policy driver in itself. It is also central to ILO’s normative mandate, not only because of the two connected fundamental conventions, but also because many other ILO instruments contain clauses promoting gender equality and non-discrimination. The translation of these provisions into national law is key to ILO’s work. ILO’s work on non-discrimination contributes to the implementation of the UNDeclaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993).

In the context of the Women at Work Centenary Initiative, new research and data is being generated, dialogues on women at work are being organized, as well as advocacy, with a focus on issues that are increasingly being recognized as obstacles to decent work for women and where further work is needed, namely: unequal pay, unequal distribution and undervaluation of care work (paid and unpaid), and violence. The Initiative was introduced to better understand why progress on delivering results on decent work for women has been so slow globally, and far less than hoped for by now. The Initiative is to identify innovative action that could give new impetus to ILO’s work on gender equality and non-discrimination, including in the context of the High-level Panel on the Future of Work and the possible Future of Work Declaration.

Workers’ and employers’ organizations throughout the globe are strongly engaged in the struggle against discrimination and the advancement of (gender) equality. The latter is manifest in the text of policy outcome 10 (workers and employers), which refers to the Women at Work centenary initiative and calls for greater participation of women in the leadership of social partner organizations. Work on women in business and management has been undertaken globally, in Asia, the Arab States, and will continue in Latin America.

Some population groups which are often victims of discrimination, such as indigenous peoples, are disproportionately threatened by climate change and environmental destruction. Their concerns, but also their wisdom, must be considered in promoting a greener economy.


The Office participates in United Nations inter-agency initiatives that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as decent work for persons with disabilities, and the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. The Office also liaises with civil society groups and academic institutions. The ILO contributes to the implementation of the UN System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or UN-SWAP, designed to coordinate the gender equality policy of its highest executive body, the UN Chief Executives Board (CEB). The UN-SWAP sets 2017 as the target for the UN system to meet all its performance indicators. At the country level the ILO takes part in gender equality groups set up under different names by UN country teams. The ILO is also a founding member of the United Nations Indigenous Peoples’ Partnership (UNIPP).

ILO Capacity

The ILO’s work on gender equality and non-discrimination is coordinated by the Gender, Equality and Diversity and ILOAIDS Branch (GED/ILOAIDS) in the Condition of Work Department. GED oversees the ILO Global Gender Network comprised of headquarters-based Gender Coordinators and field-based Senior Gender Specialists, along with gender focal points in all units and offices. The gender network constitutes the Office’s most solidly established and most comprehensive global team.
The two fundamental conventions relating to non-discrimination (C100 and C111) are being promoted by GED as well as the FUNDAMENTALS Branch and the Equality Unit in the International Labour Standards Department. In addition, virtually all technical units at headquarters and all field offices and technical teams carry out activities related to gender equality and non-discrimination. GED carries out a series of development cooperation projects (see current list), many of which are supported by Scandinavian countries and UN trust funds.


The GED/ILOAIDS resource page serves as a portal to a wide range of relevant material. More material can be found at the ILO library resource page on

30 - See the background paper of the Meeting of Experts on Violence again Women and Men in the World of Work; and the report and conclusions of the meeting:

8. ILO. Women at Work Trends. Geneva : ILO, 2016.

43. —. Equality and discrimination. ILO Topics. [Online] 10 November 2016. https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/equality-and-discrimination/lang--en/index.htm.