'Quantum Leap for Gender Equality' Demanded on Eve of International Women's Day

On the eve of International Women’s Day, United Nations labor experts decried three decades of failures to close gender gaps in the global workforce and offered a pathway to achieving “a better future of work for women.”

“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.”
—Shauna Olney, GED/ILOAIDS

A Quantum Leap for Gender Equality: For a Better Future of Work for All (pdf), published Thursday by the International Labor Organization (ILO), points out that although the large majority of men and women prefer women to be in paid work, “over the past 27 years, the gender employment gap has shrunk by less than 2 percentage points.”

“In 2018, 1.3 billion women were in employment compared to 2 billion men, which means that there were still over 700 million fewer women in employment than men,” the report states. “In other words, women were still 26 percentage points less likely to be employed than men.”

With the new analysis and proposal, released just a day before the global community will celebrate women’s rights, “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,” said Shauna Olney of the Gender, Equality, and Diversity & ILOAIDS Branch (GED/ILOAIDS).

“The path is clear,” she added. “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.”

Women who manage to find jobs still face obstacles to equal pay and advancement opportunities, including historic attitudes about primary caregivers, pregnancy and motherhood penalties, a global gender wage gap of about 20 percent, workplace harassment and violence, fewer positions due to increasing automation, and weak representation in trade unions and employers’ organizations.

In terms of job opportunities and income levels, “progress in closing gender gaps has stalled, and in some cases is reversing,” the report notes. Given the massive and persistent barriers that women who wish to work continue to battle, “a transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality is urgently needed.”

“Unless the present trajectory is changed, unless policy choices are made that put gender equality at their core,” the report warns, “the situation is likely to deteriorate further as work becomes more fragmented and the future remains uncertain.”

Specifically, the 144-page document lays out a four-part global plan for achieving a more just global workforce:

  1. Implementing policies that directly combat the barriers mentioned such as regulations and initiatives that aim to prevent discrimination and harassment, or promote inclusive parental leave programs;
  2. Ensuring equal access to infrastructure, public care services, and social protection—including clean water, safe cooking fuel, electricity, and secure transportation, schools, and health facilities;
  3. Supporting women through work transitions efforts that emphasize life-long learning and create environments for female entrepreneurs; and
  4. Increasing women’s voice, representation, and participation in tripartite bodies such as the ILO as well as in trade unions and employers’ organizations.

“A better future of work for women can only be realized,” the report charges, “by redressing discrimination and disadvantage, and overcoming entrenched stereotypes relating to women in society, the value of their work, and their position in the labor market.”

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