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Mainstreaming women into developing agenda

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Cross section of women in business.

Equal rights for women’ is perhaps one phrase that is most misunderstood in many parts of the world.

The misunderstanding of this concept transcends peoples, race, religion, gender, creed or level of education. 

‘Equal rights, not equality with men’, is how this concept has constantly been explained to those who believed that the promoters of equal rights for women seek social equality with men. 

Indeed, as customary with the International Labour organisation (ILO), the global labour body insists that a future of work in which women will no longer lag behind men is within reach, warning that it will however take a quantum leap, not just hesitant incremental steps, to get there. 

Indeed, it can be said without hesitation that the ILO report published to commemorate the 2019 edition of International Women’s Day points out what needed to happen and then provides a way forward.

Commenting on the report entitled, ‘A Quantum leap for gender equality: For a better future of work for all’, Director, ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department, Manuela Tomei said: “The report is the culmination of five years of work under the ILO’s Women at Work Centenary Initiative.  

“It finds that in the last 27 years the difference in the employment rates for men and women has shrunk by less than two percentage points. In 2018, women are still 26 percentage points less likely to be in employment than men.

This contrasts with the findings of an ILO-Gallup 2017 global report on women’s and men’s preferences about women’s participation in paid work, which found that 70 per cent of women prefer to have a job rather than staying at home and that men agree.”

The report notes that between 2005 and 2015, the ‘motherhood employment penalty’, difference in the proportion of adult women with children under six years in employment, compared to women without young children, increased significantly, by 38 per cent.  

Moreover, women are still underrepresented at the top, a situation that has changed very little in the last 30 years. Fewer than one third of managers are women, although they are likely to be better educated than their male counterparts.

The report shows generally that education is not the main reason for lower employment rates and lower pay of women, but rather that women do not receive the same dividends for education as men.  

It equally notes that only 25 per cent of managers with children under-six years of age are women. Women’s share rises to 31 per cent for managers without young children . 

The report maintains that a number of factors are blocking equality in employment, and the one playing the largest role is care giving.

Tomei added: “A number of factors are blocking equality in employment, and the one playing the largest role is caregiving. In the last 20 years, the amount of time women spent on unpaid care and domestic work has hardly fallen, and men’s has increased by just eight minutes a day. At this pace of change it will take more than 200 years to achieve equality in time spent in unpaid care work.” 

The gender wage gap remains at an average of 20 per cent globally. Mothers experience a ‘motherhood wage penalty’ that compounds across their working life, while fathers enjoy a wage premium.  

The report sets out laws and practices that are changing this dynamic, for a more equal sharing of care within the family, and between the family and the State. 

Again, Tomei said: “When men share unpaid care work more equally, more women are found in managerial positions,” highlighting the role of men in creating a more gender-equal work of work. 

The report includes findings from ‘real time’ data, gathered by the professional networking website LinkedIn from five countries, covering 22 per cent of the global employed population in three different regions.  

This joint ILO-LinkedIn collaboration found that women with digital skills – currently a requirement for the most-in-demand and highest paying jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths-related (STEM) – are only between a third and a quarter of LinkedIn members with such skills.

However, the report also revealed that the women who reach director-level positions get there faster, more than a year earlier than their male counterparts.  

In another study, the Quantum Leap report shows that achieving gender equality will mean policy changes and actions in a range of mutually reinforcing areas, and it points to measures that can lead towards a transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality.  

It noted that the path of rights is the foundation for a more equal world of work, including the right to equal opportunities, the right to be free from discrimination, violence and harassment, and to equal pay for work of equal value.

Speaking on the significance of World Women Day, the Director General of ILO, Guy Ryder said: “We will not get the future of work with social justice we need unless we accelerate action to improve progress on gender equality at work. We already know what needs to be done. We need to implement a transformative agenda that includes enforcement of laws and regulations – perhaps we may even need to revisit those laws and regulations – backed by investment in services that level the playing field for women, such as care and social protection, and a more flexible approach to both working hours and working careers. And there is the persistent attitudinal challenge of attitudes to women joining the workforce and their place in it.”

On his part, Chief Gender, Equality and Diversity & ILOAIDS Branch, Shauna Olney, said: “We know much more now about gender gaps and what drives them, and what needs to be done to make meaningful progress on gender equality in the world of work – the path is clear. With commitment and courageous choices, there can be a quantum leap, so that the future of work does not reinforce the inequalities of the past. And this will benefit everyone.”

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) used the occasion to call for an end to gender-based violence.   The union hinted that gender-based violence blights the lives of millions of women and that it excludes women from the world of work and often stigmatise them within their communities.  

It said: “Globally, 818 million women have experienced violence and harassment. This is quite simply unacceptable. The situation is even worse for women who are further marginalised and discriminated against because of race, class, caste, disability, gender identity, migrant status, indigenous status, or age.   

“Gender-based violence also costs businesses billions in terms of lost productivity, reputational damage and litigation. European Union estimates put the productivity cost of sexual harassment alone at 26 billion Euros – or 1.5 per cent of its GDP.”

ITUC noted that the revelations of #MeToo and similar movements have put the issues of gender equality, sex discrimination and gender-based violence firmly in the public eye and on the political agenda.

It expressed worry that in spite of the movements, the world is witnessing a determined backlash, with discriminatory and misogynistic populist movements challenging democratic societies, whilst discrimination and inequality continue to characterise and even shape the world of work, relegating women to lower positions of power and authority, lower pay, low quality jobs and precarious working conditions. It added: “Every woman should have the basic right to a working environment free from violence and harassment, whatever the form of her contractual relationship, whether she works in the formal or informal economy, or in a rural or urban setting.”

“The world of work can also play a key role in supporting victims of domestic violence to stay in work and to have the financial security and independence to enable them to leave abusive relationships.”

ITUC added an international labour law to address violence and harassment in the world of work is urgently needed, saying such a law could transform working conditions for women by ensuring that violence is not part of the job.


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