Report Stresses Need for Bold Moves toward Gender Equality at Work. Gender at Work: A Companion to the World Development Report on Jobs
Empowering women at work advances fight to end poverty, World Bank Group says
WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2014—A new report by the World Bank Group stresses the need for bold, coordinated actions to advance equal opportunities for women in the world of work, such as addressing gender biases early, expanding women’s access to property and finance, and raising legal retirement ages—with major payoffs in tackling poverty.
By virtually every global measure, women are more economically excluded than men, according to Gender at Work. Trends suggest women’s labor force participation worldwide over the last two decades has stagnated, dropping from 57 to 55 percent globally. This is despite accumulating evidence that jobs benefit women, families, businesses, and communities.
“We know that reducing gender gaps in the world of work can yield broad development dividends: improving child health and education, enhancing poverty reduction, and catalyzing productivity,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “This agenda is urgent. Failure to act represents a huge missed opportunity. Progress so far has been too little and too slow.”
“Today, many more girls are going to school and living longer, healthier lives than 30 or even 10 years ago. But this has not translated into broader gains,” Kim said. “Too many women still lack basic freedoms and opportunities and face huge inequalities in the world of work.”
The report says since women face multiple constraints to jobs, starting early and extending throughout their lives, progressive, broad-based, and coordinated policy action is needed to close gender gaps. A companion to the 2013 World Development Report on jobs, it says options should include mainstreaming gender equality into jobs and growth strategies, reforming legal systems, and engaging the private sector in innovative solutions to promote gender equality.
It also says social norms can exacerbate the deprivation and constraints women face. Nearly four in 10 people globally—close to one half in developing countries—agree that when jobs are scarce, men are more entitled to them than women. Common constraints faced by the most disadvantaged women include lack of mobility, time, and skills, exposure to violence, and the absence of basic legal rights.
“Poor women in particular are likely to confront multiple, overlapping constraints,” World Bank Group Gender and Development Director Joni Klugman, co–author of the report with Matthew Morton, said. “Leveling the playing field and unleashing their economic potential could be a game-changer in tackling extreme poverty.”
In Latin America and the Caribbean, women’s labor force participation has risen by 35 percent since 1990. Analysis by the World Bank Group has found that in 2010, extreme poverty would have been 30 percent higher and average income inequality 28 percent higher, were it not for women’s increased income through increased labor earnings, access to pensions, and labor force participation from 2000-2010.
Country-level diagnostics are vital to help governments in determining the best policies and more involvement by the private sector—by far the largest source of jobs—is critical, the report says. The private sector can lead the way by creating family-friendly working environment and policies, attracting women into non-traditional roles and sectors, and reviewing human resource policies and systems for addressing discrimination and harassment. And more investment is needed to fill major gaps in data and knowledge.
To advance gender equality at work, the report recommends governments target actions that cover a woman’s life cycle—saying interventions that focus only on women of productive age start too late and end too early. Biases can begin very early in life, sometimes in subtle ways, making it ultimately difficult and costly to resolve inequality.
Gender at Work recommends a range of policies for governments to consider over a woman’s lifetime:
- During childhood and youth, policies can tackle inequalities through education and training, such as incentives for girls to attend school.
- For women of productive age, actions to be considered include eliminating restrictions in labor and employment; allowing and encouraging women’s ownership and joint-titling of land; and enforcing equitable inheritance laws. Other strategies include family-friendly leave and flexibility policies, affordable childcare and early child development programs, and infrastructure development to reduce burdens on women’s time for household and care work. Equal access to assets and financial services are vital. Addressing constraints outside the formal sector is particularly important in low-income countries, since most people—and more so women—do not work for wages and salaries.
- For older women, governments can support equitable old-age labor regulations combined with appropriate social protection. Retirement and pension ages for men and women should be equal and targeted programs can upgrade skills among older women willing and able to work, while pension policies can provide protection without discouraging women’s work.
The report warns that ageing populations in the developing world will become increasingly important for governments to consider. Through 2050, the old-age dependency ratio in developing countries is expected to soar by 144 percent, during which time the child dependency ratio is projected to fall by 20 percent, altering the nature of the care burden in families and societies.
“Today only half of women’s productive potential is being utilized globally. This is a waste, since gender equality in the world of work is a win-win for development and for business. The commitment must begin with fostering girls’ and boys’ skills and aspirations equally from their early years, so it stays with them long enough that they and future generations enjoy a more equitable and prosperous world,” Klugman said.
The International Labor Organization estimates almost half of women’s productive potential globally is unutilized compared to 22 percent of men’s. Closing these gender gaps could yield enormous dividends for development: A Goldman Sachs study finds that narrowing gender gaps in employment could push per capita income in emerging markets up to 14 percent higher by 2020.
Gender at Work: A Companion to the World Development Report on Jobs
A woman in Rajasthan, India, prepares to drive to her job as a teacher with the Education for All project. Photo: Michael Foley
- Women around the world are more economically excluded than men.
- Social norms affect women’s work by dictating the way they spend their time and undervaluing their potential.
- Legal discrimination is a remarkably common barrier to women’s work.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2014—Women around the world still face huge, persistent gender gaps at work, according to a new report by the World Bank Group, which calls for bold, innovative measures to level the playing field and unleash women’s economic potential.
By virtually every global measure, women are more economically excluded than men, according to Gender at Work. Trends suggest women’s labor force participation worldwide has stagnated over the past 30 years, dropping from 57 to 55 percent globally, despite accumulating evidence that jobs benefit women, families, businesses, and communities.
“The reasons for this will differ from country to country, but we think that the persistence of norms—which means that women don’t have as much choice over their livelihoods as men—as well as legal barriers to work are both playing important roles,” said Jeni Klugman, World Bank Group Gender and Development Director.
A companion to the 2013 World Development Report on jobs, the report notes that since women face multiple constraints to jobs, starting early and extending throughout their lives, progressive, broad-based, and coordinated policy action is needed to close gender gaps. Common constraints include lack of mobility, time, and skills, exposure to violence, and the absence of basic legal rights.
Poor women in particular are likely to confront multiple, overlapping constraints. Leveling the playing field and unleashing their economic potential could be a game-changer in tackling extreme poverty.
World Bank Group Gender and Development Director and Report Co-Author
Gender at Work also finds that legal discrimination is a remarkably common barrier to women’s work. Restrictive laws can hinder women’s ability to access institutions, own or use property, build credit, or get a job. In 15 countries, women still require their husbands’ consent to work.
To address these inequalities, the report recommends governments target actions that cover a woman’s life cycle—saying interventions that focus only on women of productive age start too late and end too early.
“The commitment must begin with fostering girls’ and boys’ skills and aspirations equally from their early years, so it stays with them long enough that they and future generations enjoy a more equitable and prosperous world,” Klugman said.
• Women’s labor force participation has stagnated, in fact decreasing from 57 percent in 1990 to 55 percent in 2012.
• Women on average earn between 10 and 30 percent less than working men.
• Women are only half as likely as men to have full-time wage jobs for an employer.
• In only five of the 114 countries for which data are available have women reached or surpassed gender parity with men in such occupations as legislators, senior officials, and managers; namely, Colombia, Fiji, Jamaica, Lesotho, and the Philippines.
• Women spend at least twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work such as caring and housework.
• A total of 128 countries have at least one sex-based legal differentiation, meaning women and men cannot function in the world of work in the same way; in 54 countries, women face five or more legal differences.
• Across developing countries, there is a nine percentage point gap between women and men in having an account at a formal financial institution.
• More than one in three women has experienced either physical or sexual violence by a partner or non-partner sexual violence.
• In 2010-12, 42 countries reported gender gaps in secondary school enrollment rates exceeding 10 percent.
• One in three girls in developing countries is married before reaching her 18th birthday.
Le travail des femmes n’est toujours pas légitime en France / Women’s work not always legitimate in France
Depuis la loi qui leur a permis de travailler sans le consentement de leur mari, elles continuent de se heurter à des obstacles qui empêchent toute reconnaissance de leur travail.
Moins visible, moins reconnu et moins valorisé que celui des hommes, le travail des femmes n’a toujours pas acquis sa pleine légitimité en France près de 50 ans après l’octroi aux femmes du droit à exercer librement une activité, dit une étude du Conseil économique social et environnemental (CESE) publiée mardi 25 février.
Depuis la loi de 1965 qui leur a permis de travailler sans le consentement de leur mari, leur situation a certes évolué mais elles continuent de se heurter à des obstacles qui empêchent toute reconnaissance de leur travail, relève le CESE.
Si l’on s’en tient aux chiffres, la tendance relevée au cours des dernières décennies est positive: en 2011, 14,8 millions d’hommes et 13,5 millions de femmes sont recensés comme actifs, contre 13,2 millions d’hommes et 6,6 millions de femmes au début des années 1960.
Mais cette évolution ne doit pas pour autant masquer le chemin que les mentalités doivent encore parcourir en France pour que le travail des femmes soit reconnu à égalité avec celui des hommes, souligne le rapporteur de l’étude, Hélène Fauvel.
Plus de CDD
Dans une étude de l’Insee de 2011, une personne sur quatre pensait qu’en période de crise, les hommes devraient être prioritaires pour trouver un emploi, une proportion toutefois moins importante chez les 20-24 ans que chez les 75-79 ans.
L’accès à l’emploi reste plus difficile pour les jeunes femmes faiblement qualifiées que pour leurs homologues masculins et les femmes sont plus souvent recrutées en CDD.
“Le droit à l’autonomie économique des femmes grâce à leur travail n’est pas encore pleinement reconnu et la notion de salaire d’appoint reste encore très présente”, écrit Hélène Fauvel.
“Les écarts de salaire qui ne se réduisent plus depuis les années 1990 restent importants et concernent tous les secteurs et toutes les catégories socioprofessionnelles, contribuent à renforcer l’idée d’une moindre légitimité du travail des femmes”, ajoute-t-elle.
Selon les données 2009 de la DARES, la direction de l’animation de la recherche, des études et des statistiques, la rémunération annuelle des femmes est en moyenne inférieure de 27 % à celle des hommes.
Difficile conciliation vie pro/vie perso
Concernant l’éloignement des femmes du marché du travail, le CESE distingue trois grandes catégories de raisons invoquées par les mères pour expliquer leur retrait du marché du travail.
En premier lieu figure la conciliation entre vie familiale et vie professionnelle, “une expression qui ne s’applique qu’exclusivement aux femmes dans l’esprit des employeurs comme aux yeux de l’opinion publique”, note le CESE.
Les femmes sont plus nombreuses que les hommes à s’arrêter de travailler pour prendre un congé parental, à réduire leur temps de travail ou à cesser toute activité lorsque la conciliation devient trop compliquée.
Or, selon une étude de la Caisse nationale des allocations familiales (Cnaf), 40% des mères qui ont arrêté de travailler après une naissance auraient préféré poursuivre leur activité.
Autres obstacles invoqués, les contraintes pratiques et financières liées aux modes de garde, soit indisponibles, soit trop chers, et les conditions de travail parmi lesquelles les horaires ont un poids déterminant.
Face à ces difficultés, “l’implication des employeurs reste encore timide, essentiellement sous forme d’aides financières et beaucoup moins en terme de souplesse horaire pourtant souhaitée”, constate le CESE.
Diversifier les modes d’accueil des enfants
La délégation aux droits des femmes et à l’égalité du CESE préconise donc de développer et de diversifier les modes d’accueil des enfants, “condition sine qua non pour permettre aux femmes de travailler en élevant leurs enfants.”
Elle appelle également les pouvoirs publics à encourager la gestion partagée des responsabilités familiales entre les deux parents, en incitant les pères à s’impliquer davantage.
La délégation prône la mise en place d’une préparation du retour à l’emploi des femmes en congé parental via une offre de formation et un accompagnement individualisé.
L’enjeu est de taille, souligne Hélène Fauvel. “Oeuvrer pour une meilleure insertion professionnelle des femmes, c’est tout à la fois conforter leur statut social et garantir leur autonomie financière et familiale”.
Unsupported and unshared care work perpetuates women’s poverty, political marginalization and social subordination. The distribution of care is not natural or inevitable, but rather socially constructed and in our power to change, says Kate Donald
“Women’s rights are human rights”, declared Hillary Clinton in Beijing nearly 20 years ago. This simple yet revolutionary statement has evolved into a mantra of the international human rights movement. However, one of the major obstacles to women enjoying their rights equally with men has been rarely recognised or even spoken of by human rights advocates. Something that happens every day, in every household, village and city around the world: the cooking, cleaning, and caring that families, communities and societies depend upon and simultaneously take for granted.
All of us receive care at some point in our lives. Almost all of us will also give care, to children, to elderly parents, to partners. To speak of ‘care’ as a human rights issue risks dissonance. Isn’t care a good thing? Don’t we need more of it, not less? Indeed: it is not unpaid care per se that threatens human rights – being a foundational, unavoidable and very human activity that underpins all societies and cultures– but rather, the way it is distributed, and the lack of recognition and support it receives.
Of course, from The Feminine Mystique to the Wages for Housework Campaign to The Second Shift, feminists have pilloried the discriminatory distribution of unpaid care. In general however, human rights and women’s rights advocates have been slow to adopt it as a cause. Granted, in a field like women’s rights there are a myriad of heart-rending issues fighting for attention; but surely something that so fundamentally shapes women’s time, lives and opportunities should by all reasonable measures be a rallying point?
One obstacle is that care has unfairly been perceived as an elite concern. Many of the public debates around care focus on the struggles of privileged professional women – the Sheryl Sandbergs of this world – to juggle motherhood and work. Poor women supposedly have more serious, life-or-death concerns. On the contrary: unpaid care work is intimately bound up with survival, with eking out an existence on subsistence crops and little income. It is the work of putting food on the table, insisting your children attend school so the next generation can have hopes of life away from the breadline, keeping everyone in the household clean and healthy so wages are not lost and unaffordable health costs are not incurred.
In all countries, women provide the vast majority of unpaid care – and when unpaid care is taken into account, women work longer hours overall than men. It is also absolutely clear that the struggle is intensified for women living in poverty, because they can’t afford to pay for outside help or time-saving technologies (be it a washing machine or grain-grinder), and because they are more likely to live in areas where public services are inadequate or absent. Rural women in many developing countries have the added burden of collecting water and fuel for domestic use – often walking hours each day to do so. In sub-Saharan Africa women and girls spend 40 billion hours each year collecting water – equivalent to a year’s labour by the entire French workforce.
The amount of time women spend on unpaid care is fundamental to defining their time, energy, finances and social and political capital. It is also definitively a human rights issue. Under international human rights law, including the International Covenants and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, if women are unable to enjoy a right to the same extent as men, this is automatically a human rights violation that requires remedy. States are explicitly required to take concrete measures to ensure that women are able to enjoy their rights equally, and to tackle any obstacles to them doing so. The gendered distribution of unpaid care work is unquestionably a major obstacle in this regard, preventing the equal enjoyment by women of a whole range of human rights.
Most obviously, their rights to work and to equal rights at work are threatened. Even privileged women have to contend with the gender pay gap, lack of family leave rights, and maternity discrimination. For many poorer women with intensive care responsibilities, although they would dearly love the income, paid work is an impossibility. Others are forced to accept whatever badly paid flexible work they can find – often without labour rights or social security – and still perform the same ‘second shift’ when they get home, sacrificing their health and leisure.
Girls’ right to education is also put in jeopardy, whether they are withdrawn from school entirely or simply have less time and energy to devote to schoolwork or extra-curricular activities than boys due to their domestic duties. This has devastating knock-on consequences for their future opportunities and income. Compounding this, later in life women have less time for training or adult education opportunities because of their heavy domestic workload.
Women are also less able to participate actively in politics and public life – another fundamental right – because of their unfair share of unpaid care. Practical considerations such as time and lack of childcare provision prevent many women from participating in public forums ranging from national parliaments to community groups. Hence, many decisions crucial to their lives and livelihoods are taken without them in the room.
Undoubtedly, moving towards a fairer distribution of unpaid care will require profound socio-cultural change. However, governments have a crucial role to play in moving towards the more equal sharing of care, for example through education and awareness-raising campaigns, but also in a more immediate sense by more effectively supporting and providing care. Ensuring quality, accessible public services and care services, especially in poorer areas, can help to liberate women from unsustainably large burdens of care provision, as can improving infrastructure (piped water, decent roads) and subsidizing affordable time-saving technology such as fuel-efficient stoves.
Unfortunately, there are striking examples of governments around the world doing exactly the opposite. As Fawcett Society and the Women’s Budget Group have shown, austerity measures in the UK are having a disproportionate impact on women; but the vandalism of austerity is not confined to Britain or even Europe. Recent research has shown that developing countries (many of them barely recovered from the similarly destructive effects of structural adjustment) are slashing public budgets with as much – or more – alacrity as their European counterparts. It goes without saying that their populations can even less afford to lose the services and benefits being cut.
Wherever public services are cut, legislators and policy-makers are acting on the implicit assumption that women will take up the slack. In countries afflicted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, ‘home-based care’ for people suffering from AIDS has been celebrated as a policy innovation. Really, it represents only an intensive scaling up of the norm – handing the burden back to poor women, away from overwhelmed and under-resourced health services. Women and girls provide 70-90% of HIV/AIDS care, while the virus also affects women in greater numbers than men. The finances, equipment, drugs and training that these caregivers need to perform their work without jeopardizing their own health and livelihoods remain largely unrealized. 80 per cent of family caregivers in South Africa have reported reduced income levels.
The evidence is clear that countries with greater gender equality in employment and education report higher rates of human development and economic growth. Thus, for reasons from principled to pragmatic, we should be devoting every possible effort to correcting the obscenely skewed distribution of unpaid care. Currently, ‘women’s empowerment’ is one of the most oft-cited priorities in the halls of the UN and development agencies. However, without a real recognition of unpaid care as a fundamental factor limiting women’s rights and life chances, empowerment is a mirage: akin to promising to end violence against women while ignoring domestic violence. Is a women empowered if she takes a low-paid job in a garment factory with no social security, only to start her second shift of domestic ‘duties’ as soon as she gets home, pausing only for a few hours’ sleep? To truly empower woman would mean respecting care work as valuable and productive, giving it status, encouraging men to do it, and supporting it with resources and services. It would mean freeing women’s time and potential, enabling them and supporting them to go out to work if they are able, ensuring they are given ample opportunity for training and advancement, and access to childcare.
Hopefully, 2014 will be the year when unpaid care work is recognised as a core women’s rights issue. There will be ample opportunities to make the connection between care, poverty, gender inequality and denial of women’s rights – for example at the Commission on the Status of Women and in discussions around the global development agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Some organizations that work on poverty and development – most notably ActionAid, Oxfam, and the Institute for Development Studies – which is using animation as part of this work – are now taking this issue seriously. Hopefully human rights organizations will follow suit, including unpaid care work in their women’s rights analyses and priorities, alongside issues such as violence against women, reproductive rights and employment. Hopefully, we will also start to see human rights jurisprudence further recognising the impacts of inadequate State support for unpaid care, and making recommendations for its redistribution.
Care is non-negotiable and fundamental. It has to be done. It can be a huge source of fulfillment and joy; but we also have to acknowledge that it can also entail heavy costs, especially for women living in poverty. The way it is currently distributed between women and men is unjust and unsustainable. In all countries, unsupported and unshared care work perpetuates women’s poverty, political marginalization and social subordination. We cannot hope to achieve gender equality without fully facing up to this injustice. The distribution of care is not natural or inevitable, but rather socially constructed and in our power to change.
A new ILO study examines the constraints on working women in Algeria and the opportunities available to them.
Despite the considerable advances seen in the Algerian political sphere, where women constitute over 31 per cent of the deputies to the National Assembly (*), their economic participation remains very low.
In 2011, with a proportion of 17.7 per cent of women in the workforce, Algeria – alongside Iraq and Syria – was among the countries with the lowest level of female economic participation in the world – according to an ILO study pending publication (**). Women are, nevertheless, gradually beginning to enter the workforce. According to the National Statistical Office of Algeria, by 2013 the female labour force participation rate had risen to 19 per cent.
“Invisible” home-based activities
According to the ILO study, the female labour force participation rate is held back by a multitude of complex, notably sociocultural, factors.
Parts of the population do not consider that women who perform unpaid home-based activities in such areas as the agricultural, livestock, textile and clothing sectors are really part of the labour force.
The weight of tradition or certain family constraints restrict women’s work and travel opportunities.
Young women often have little contact with the world outside their family circle and are also less well informed and less prepared for entrepreneurial life. Families are often more inclined to provide moral and financial support to boys for enterprise-creation projects.
The lady from Tissemsilt herself told the ILO investigators: “I would like my daughter to go to university, but I do not want her to work. I would like her to study, to become cultured and to achieve all she can at university, that would be a good thing, but I would prefer her not to work as she will never be respected at work. The men have no respect for young women.”
This statement by a wife and mother of five children, which appears in the ILO study, speaks volumes about cultural obstacles to the participation of women in working life.
Hearing what women have to say
In addition to conducting a detailed analysis of labour market statistics for women between 2001 and 2011, the study’s authors – Jacques Charmes and Malika Remaoun – also spoke to women directly in order to compare the statistical data collected with the daily reality experienced by Algerian women.
The women described their lives and ambitions and reflected on their own family, educational and occupational experiences. The study presents a number of positive developments seen in women’s employment, which are the result of various mechanisms put in place for them by the authorities.
The report stresses, however, that women hold their destiny in their own hands and future progress will depend on their determination to push back the boundaries and overcome obstacles.
Concluding the debate more eloquently than any statistic, one woman entrepreneur from Tiaret notes:
“It is also a question of not wanting to be dependent on men, of having a career, of demonstrating one’s true abilities. And I think that women are more determined, they have more to offer.”
* In accordance with a law passed in November 2011, which imposes a female quota of 20–50 per cent of the seats on their list.
** Les contraintes et opportunités pour l’emploi des femmes en Algérie, ILO, Algiers, 2014 (pending publication).