Thursday 15, June 2017 by Jessica Combes

ILO: Reducing gender gaps would benefit women, society and the economy


Gender gaps remain one of the most pressing challenges facing the world of work.

Women are substantially less likely than men to participate in the labour market, and once in the job market, they are less likely than men to find a job and the quality of employment they do find remains a key concern, a new International Labour Organisation (ILO) report, World Employment and Social Outlook (WESO) Trends for Women 2017  , shows.

Helping women access the labour market is nevertheless an important first step. Yet, in 2017, the global labour force participation rate for women–at just over 49 per cent–is nearly 27 percentage points lower than the rate for men, and is forecast to remain unchanged in 2018.

In 2014, G20 leaders made a commitment to reduce the gap in participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by the year 2025. The ILO report estimates that if this goal was realised at the global level, it has the potential to add $5.8 trillion dollars to the global economy, and this could also unlock large potential tax revenues.

For example, global tax revenue could increase by $1.5 trillion, most of it in emerging and developed countries, at $990 billion and $530 billion respectively, the report noted. Northern Africa, the Arab States and Southern Asia would see the greatest benefits given that in these regions the gaps in participation rates between men and women exceed 50 percentage points.

On top of the significant economic benefits, engaging more women in the world of work would have a positive impact on their well-being since most women would like to work. “The fact that half of women worldwide are out of the labour force, when 58 per cent of them would prefer to work at paid jobs, is a strong indication that there are significant challenges restricting their capabilities and freedom to participate,” said ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy, Deborah Greenfield.

“The most immediate concern for policy makers, therefore, should be to alleviate the constraints that women face in choosing to enter the labour market and address the barriers they are confronted with once they are in the workplace.”

Globally, the unemployment rate for women stands at 6.2 per cent in 2017, representing a gap of 0.7 percentage points from the male unemployment rate of 5.5 per cent. In 2018, both rates of unemployment are expected to remain relatively unchanged, keeping the gap, therefore, at its current level, with no anticipated improvement in the gap before 2021 based on current trends.

Among employed women worldwide, nearly 15 per cent are contributing family workers compared to over five per cent among men. In developing countries where nearly 36.6 per cent of women and only 17.2 per cent of men are employed as contributing family workers, the gap is widest at 19 percentage points.

A woman’s preference and decision to participate in the labour market and their access to quality jobs can be affected by a number of factors, including discrimination, education, unpaid care work, work-family balance and marital status. Gender role conformity also plays a major role in constraining decent work opportunities for women.

“We need to start by changing our attitudes towards the role of women in the world of work and in society. Far too often some members of society still fall back on the excuse that it is “unacceptable” for a woman to have a paid job,” said Steven Tobin, lead author of the report. For example, 20 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women think it is not acceptable for a woman to work outside of the home.

The report calls for comprehensive measures to improve equality in labour conditions and reshape gender roles. These include promoting equal pay for work of equal value, tackling the root causes of occupational and sectoral segregation, recognise, reduce, redistribute unpaid care work, and transforming institutions to prevent and eliminate discrimination, violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work.

“Policies should also address the socio-economic factors that influence participation by introducing policies that improve work-family balance, create and protect quality jobs in the care economy and target the macroeconomic environment and informal economy,” Tobin concludes.


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