Providing training, health-care and childcare to female workers has an impact that stretches beyond the factory floor.
By Dan Rees, Director of Better Work
Women working in the world’s textile industries often earn less than men and suffer from poor working conditions. Improving them can have a ripple effect on communities. Photograph: Adrees Latif/REUTERS
The world’s clothes are mostly made by female workers. Typically, they are young, with limited education, and live in developing countries. It has been well documented that working conditions across garment industries are in much need of improvement. Yet these jobs are important. In their world, paid factory work can provide a better alternative to workers than other options available, such as unpaid family agriculture or domestic work. But is this work a catalyst for female empowerment or a better life for women?
With Better Work, a joint project of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), we have a presence in more than 900 garment factories, employing one million workers across Cambodia, Vietnam, Lesotho, Nicaragua, Haiti, Jordan and Indonesia, with a programme in Bangladesh on the way.
Our latest research from Vietnam shows that a garment job for a woman is a positive development but by virtue of its existence it does not necessarily result in empowerment or even equality. Recent years have seen significant and sustained improvements in Vietnam’s industry conditions, but as is often the case improvements for women are lagging behind.
Around 80% per cent of Vietnam’s 700,000 factory workers are women. Women tend to be sewers and helpers, while men are usually in higher paid occupations such as cutters and mechanics, and men are three times more likely than women to be supervisors. Women tend to work longer hours than men and are less likely to be promoted or receive training (even when they have been working at the factory longer than men).
Women are also in poorer health, and women’s hourly wages (excluding bonuses) are, on average, about 85 per cent of men’s wages. Female Vietnamese garment workers also report less leisure time than men, because gender dynamics at home stay the same and they end up working full time while keeping up their full time responsibilities in the home.
These findings are disappointing but also pave the way for an enormous development opportunity. Providing good conditions for women workers has an impact that stretches significantly beyond the factory floor. IMF research finds that some countries miss out on up to 27 per cent growth per capita due to gender gaps in the labour market.
Improved working conditions for women has a domino effect, leading to greater investments in children’s health and education and household income. For example in Vietnam, family remittances from workers in the factories where we work are increasing over time: 70 per cent of workers send money to family members, and women send home 24 per cent more than men.
Improving the livelihoods of garment workers is the right thing for the industry to do. But, ultimately, factory work will not be empowering for women workers unless the disadvantages they often face are tackled head on. Paid work can and should create opportunities for women to realize their rights, raise their voice and develop their skills.
We know what works
A considerable share of the female garment workforce has young children and appropriate childcare and health facilities can provide them with essential support and makes business sense. A factory in Vietnam, which established a kindergarten and health clinic for workers found that this investment reduced staff turnover and absenteeism, contributed to a fall in industrial disputes, saved costs and sustained productivity over several years.
Additionally, the IFCs WINVEST initiative is gathering and creating further evidence of the business benefits of investing in women and removing the barriers to their full participation in the workplace.
Women need access to independent workers organizations that can empower them and represent their choices and interests in the workplace. Trade unions must be able to form, organize and to bargain on behalf of workers. Barriers that prevent them from doing so should be removed. By their own admission, workers organizations also have work to do to better represent women workers.
Fruitful communication and negotiation between management and workers is needed for a productive and safe workplace. We provide advice and training for example, to equip supervisors with the skills to resolve disputes and for workers and managers to negotiate mutually beneficial solutions. Our training also targets future supervisors, helping promote young women toward leadership positions within their workplaces.
There is a huge development and business opportunity to grasp by investing in good jobs for women and by providing women with the support they need to realize their rights and their full potential in the workplace. We know what to do. Let’s do it!
Greater gender equality in working hours is not just about more women in full-time employment. It is also about more men reducing their long hours in paid work. Although detailed information is available for a limited number of OECD countries, data on the usual hours worked per week illustrate how the prevalence of long and short working hours differs across countries and the sexes.
Among the sample of countries, the United Kingdom has the longest working hours culture: more than 20% of employed men usually work 40 to 50 hours per week and another 20% working more than 50 hours per week. In the Czech Republic, France and Poland, 20% of employed men also usually work for more than 50 hours per week, considerably more than in the other countries, including Germany, Hungary, Scandinavian countries and the Slovak Republic.
France and the United Kingdom are also the countries where most women usually work more than 40 hours per week (over 15%). At the same time, many British women work part-time (hyperlink to the indicator), while the prevailing “35 hours working week” contributes to most women working less than 40 hours per week in France.
The forty hour working week is the overriding working hours’ pattern for both men and women in the Czech and Slovak Republics, Poland and Hungary. In Finland, Norway and Sweden collective and/or sectoral agreements often lead to usual weekly working hours of around 37.5 hours per week. Indeed, the long working hours’ culture is not pervasive in Scandinavian countries, which contributes to the general perception in these countries that pursuing both active work- and family lives are compatible aspirations for both fathers and mothers.
The Distribution of usual hours worked among men and women in employment
Source: OECD Employment database
Over the last 50 years, women decreased their hours of unpaid work as they increased the hours of paid work. Men have been doing more housework and child care, but they didn’t take up the slack so gender inequalities in the use of time are still large in all countries. Turkish women spend the most time doing unpaid work, such as housework or shopping, at 377 minutes a day, followed by Mexican women at 373. This compares to their menfolk: Mexican men who spend an average of 113 minutes on unpaid work and Korean men who spend only 45 minutes, the least of all. If we look at the sum of paid and unpaid work, women work more than men (2.6 hours more per week on average across the OECD).
When it comes to time spent on personal care, including eating and sleeping, the gap between the sexes is much smaller. French women spend the most time in personal care, at 755, just ahead of Italian women at 697. Their men spend almost as much time (738) – just ahead of Italian males at 697.
In virtually every country, men are able to fit in valuable extra minutes of leisure each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework.
Time spent in unpaid work and leisure
Minutes per day
Source: OECD based on data from National Time Use Surveys.
La carte du travail domestique des hommes dans les pays de l’OCDE/ Men’s domestic work in OECD Countries (MAP)
Si vous ne devez visiter qu’un seul site pour préparer vos discussions et débats du 8 mars, journée internationale des droits des femmes, avec vos amis, votre famille ou vos collègues, c’est celui de l’OCDE.
Le site de l’organisation internationale d’études économiques contient en effet une rubrique de statistiques se concentrant sur les inégalités entre les hommes et les femmes dans les domaines de l’éducation, du travail et de l’entrepreneuriat dans les 36 pays membres (principalement en Europe et en Amérique du Nord).
Dans cette mine de statistiques, le magazine en ligne Quartz a identifié un indicateur particulièrement intéressant, celui du temps que les hommes passent à effectuer des tâches domestiques non-rémunérées (qui incluent la cuisine, le ménage ou encore la garde des enfants). Nous avons rassemblé les données dans la carte ci-dessus, et le détail est ici:
On peut voir que les hommes français consacrent un peu plus d’1h30 par jour aux tâches ménagères, un temps non-négligeable et bien supérieur à la moyenne des 29 pays étudiées, qui se situe juste en-dessous d’1h15. Dans un document de travail publié en février dernier, l’Institut national d’études démographiques (Ined) expliquait les récentes évolutions en matière de travail domestique dans les ménages français:
«Au cours des 25 dernières années, les hommes se sont davantage impliqués dans l’éducation des enfants, tandis que leur participation dans les autres tâches domestiques est restée stable. Les femmes ont également consacré davantage de temps aux activités parentales mais sensiblement moins à l’entretien domestique. […]
Les couples sont plutôt homogames en termes de temps passé aux tâches domestiques et le sont davantage au fil du temps. La spécialisation conjugale des tâches domestiques traditionnelle avec l’homme pourvoyeur principal de ressource a diminué, notamment dans les années 1990. Toutefois, on observe des résistances au partage plus égal des tâches domestiques, les femmes demeurant toujours les premières responsables de la bonne tenue de la maison et des membres de la famille.»
On voit dans les statistiques de l’OCDE que les hommes japonais, coréens, turcs et indiens se détachent par le très peu de temps qu’ils consacrent aux tâches ménagères. Les Indiens sont les recordmen des 29 pays étudiés avec seulement 19 minutes par jour. «L’Inde est constamment en retard dans les différentes d’égalité homme-femme», souligne Quartz, qui rappelle que les Nations unies ont placé le pays à la 132e place sur 148 de son récent index sur les inégalités homme-femme.
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.
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.