More women choosing to work, but gender equality remains a long way off

Despite signs of progress in gender equality over the past 15 years, there is
still a significant gap between women and men in terms of job opportunities and
quality of employment, according to a new report by the International Labour
Office (ILO).

The report, entitled Women in labour markets: Measuring progress and
identifying challenges, says that more than a decade after the 4th World
Conference on Women in Beijing adopted an ambitious global platform for action
on gender equality and women's empowerment, gender biases remain deeply
embedded in society and the labour market.

The ILO report shows that the rate of female labour force participation has
increased from 50.2 to 51.7 per cent between 1980 and 2008, while the male rate
decreased slightly from 82.0 to 77.7 per cent. As a result, the gender gap in
labour force participation rates has narrowed from 32 to 26 percentage points.

The increases in female participation were seen in all but two regions, Central
and South-Eastern Europe (non-EU), and the CIS countries and East Asia, with
the largest gain seen in Latin America and the Caribbean. In almost all
regions, though, the rate of increase has slowed in recent years. It was in the
1980s and early '90s that gains in numbers of economically active women were

At the same time, the share of women in wage and salaried work has grown from
42.8 per cent in 1999 to 47.3 per cent in 2009, and the share of vulnerable
employment decreased from 55.9 per cent to 51.2 per cent.

"While there have been areas of improvement since the Beijing conference and
more women are choosing to work, they still don't enjoy the same gains as men
in the labour markets", said Sara Elder of the ILO's Employment Trends unit and
main author of the report. "We still find many more women than men taking up
low-pay and precarious work, either because this is the only type of job made
available to them or because they need to find something that allows them to
balance work and family responsibilities. Men do not face these same

The report shows that there are three basic areas of lingering gender
imbalances in the world of work. First, nearly half (48.4 per cent) of the
female population above the age of 15 remain economically inactive, compared to
22.3 per cent for men. In some regions, there are still less than 4
economically active women per 10 active men. Second, women who do want to work
have a harder time than men in finding work. And third, when women do find
work, they receive less pay and benefits than the male workers in similar

"Labour markets and policies must be much more attuned to a broader paradigm of
gender equality, one that adapts and builds on the unique values and
constraints of both women and men," Ms. Elder said. "Faster and broader
progress towards equality in occupations and employment opportunities is
required and possible".

The ILO report says the initial impact of the global economic crisis was felt
in sectors dominated by men, such as finance, manufacturing and construction,
but the impact has since expanded to other sectors - including services - where
women tend to predominate.

The ILO estimates that the global female unemployment rate increased from 6.0
per cent in 2007 to 7.0 per cent in 2009, slightly more than the male rate
which rose from 5.5 to 6.3 per cent. But in four of the nine regions, it was
the male unemployment rate that rose more than the female. In 2009, female
unemployment rates were higher than male rates in seven of nine regions, and in
the Middle East and North Africa the difference was as high as 7 percentage

The report also says that while women and men workers may now be almost equally
affected by the crisis in terms of job losses, the real gender impact of the
crisis may be yet to come.

"We know from previous crises that female job-losers find it more difficult to
return to work as economic recovery settles in," Ms. Elder said. "That's why it
is important to ensure that gender equality is not a fair weather policy aim
that falls aside in the face of hard times. It should be seen as a means to
promote growth and employment rather than as a cost or constraint".

Jane Hodges, Director of the ILO's Bureau for Gender Equality, noted that the
15 years since Beijing had provided important lessons in terms of what works
for working women and gender equality. She said the resolution on Gender
Equality at the Heart of Decent Work, adopted by the 2009 International Labour
Conference, will guide ILO constituents' efforts towards a labour market in
which all women and men can participate freely and actively, including efforts
to facilitate women's economic empowerment through entrepreneurship
development, address unequal remuneration between women and men, enhance social
protection for all and strengthen women's participation in social dialogue.

More information - Source: International Labour Office (ILO)