As International Women’s Day is celebrated March 8, the International Labor Organization released a report showing women still face widespread discrimination and inequality in the workplace.
Two decades after the world’s largest gathering of women adopted a far-reaching agenda for advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, women are only marginally better off with respect to equality at work, the ILO said.
Progress in realizing the Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 has been mixed, the ILO said in a briefing note prepared for International Women’s Day.
At the same time, the ILO also published a new working paper on the “motherhood pay gap” showing that having children imposes a wage penalty often over and above the wage gap already experienced by women worldwide. According to “The motherhood pay gap: A review of the issues, theory and international evidence,” mothers often earn less than women without children, depending on where they live and how many children they have.
In terms of policy, legislation, and the ratification of international labor standards, there has been notable progress. For example, in 1995, 126 ILO member countries had ratified the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100) and 122 had ratified the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) . Those numbers are now 171 and 172 respectively.
Yet women continue to experience widespread discrimination and inequality in the workplace. In most parts of the world, women are often in undervalued and low-paid jobs; lack access to education, training, recruitment; have limited bargaining and decision-making power; and still shoulder responsibility for most unpaid care work.
Globally, the gap in labor market participation rates between men and women has decreased only marginally since 1995. Currently about 50 percent of all women are working for wages, compared to 77 percent of men. In 1995, these figures were 52 percent and 80 percent respectively. It is estimated that reducing the gap in participation rates between men and women by 25 percent in G20 countries by 2025 would add more than 100 million women to the labor force.
Access to maternity protection has improved, though many women are still left out. While the percentage of countries offering 14 weeks or more maternity leave has increased from 38 percent to 51 percent, more than 800 million women workers globally, or 41 percent of all women, still don’t have adequate maternity protection. They include many women in the United States.
At the same time, countries are increasingly recognizing men’s care responsibilities. In 1994, 28 percent of countries surveyed provided some form of paternity leave. As of 2013, this figure had increased to 47 percent.
Today women own and manage over 30 percent of all businesses, but tend to be concentrated in micro and small enterprises. Women sit on 19 percent of board seats globally, and only five percent or less of the CEOs of the world’s largest corporations are women.
While men are beginning to take on more care responsibilities, women continue to shoulder most of the responsibility for family care, often limiting their access to paid employment completely, or confining them to part-time positions, which are typically not as well paid. For example, in the European Union, women spend an average of 26 hours per week on care and household activities, compared with nine hours for men.
Violence remains a major factor undermining women’s dignity and access to decent work. Some 35 percent of all women are victims of physical and/or sexual violence that affects their attendance at work.
A gender pay gap persists, both for women with and without children. In general, women earn on average 77 percent of what men earn, with the absolute gap widening for higher-earning women. The ILO has noted that without targeted action, at the current rate, pay equity between women and men will not be achieved before 2086, or at least 71 years from now.
“The overriding conclusion 20 years on from Beijing is that despite marginal progress, we have years, even decades to go until women enjoy the same rights and benefits as men at work,” said Shauna Olney, Chief of the Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch of the ILO.
“The ILO has launched the women at work centenary initiative to accelerate its efforts to support global action to meet this challenge and deliver on the transformative agenda on gender equality and women’s empowerment called for in the proposed UN Sustainable Development Goals. This change won’t happen organically. It requires specific, targeted, and courageous policy interventions.”
For more information on International Women's Day 2015, visit the ILO website.