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ILO: Women Still Losing Out in Global Work Place

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Women carry food at a food distribution site in Nyal, Unity State, Sudan.

FILE - Women carry food at a food distribution site in Nyal, Unity State, Sudan.

A new study shows during the past two decades, there has been little progress in women’s participation in the labor market and in narrowing the gender wage gap. On the eve of International Women’s Day, the International Labor Organization reports women continue to suffer from widespread discrimination and inequality in the workplace.

The International Labor Organization says women are marginally better off now than they were 20 years ago when a far-reaching agenda for advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment was adopted in Beijing.

The agency reports women in most parts of the world remain undervalued. It says they are stuck in low-paid jobs, lack access to education and have limited bargaining and decision-making power. It says most unpaid work falls on the shoulders of women, who are mainly responsible for caring for the family, the elderly and the sick.

The report notes more women than ever are working. Nevertheless, it says the gap in labor market participation rates between men and women has decreased by only one percent. ILO economists estimate reducing this gap by 25 percent in G20 countries by 2025 would add more than 100 million women to the labor force.

Meanwhile, ILO Gender, Equality, and Diversity Branch chief Shauna Olney says maternity protection has improved.

“The percentage of countries offering at least 14 weeks of maternity leave has increased from 38 [percent] in 1994 to 51 percent as of last year, though we still have 800,000 women who do not have adequate maternity protection," she said. "Eighty percent of those are in Africa and Asia. We also have much more paternity leave. So, men are being acknowledged as having a role in the family much more over the last 20 years. In 1994, we had 28 percent of countries offering paternity leave, there is now 56 percent."

The report says women earn on average 77 percent of what men earn and that gap is widening for higher-earning women. The ILO notes pay equity will not be achieved for more than 70 years if targeted action is not taken.

Furthermore, a new paper on the “motherhood pay gap” finds mothers often earn less than women without children, depending on where they live and how many children they have. But other studies show that fathers earn more than men who do not have children.

Olney tells VOA discrimination against women in the workplace harms the social and economic well-being of society.

“Economies that have gender gaps in labor market suffer from a GDP loss of up to 27 percent in certain regions. We see that initial findings that increase female labor participation could substantially reduce poverty," she said. "It is also a business issue. We see that companies with top corporate representation of women in executive committees out perform companies with no women at the top by an increase of 47 percent average return on equity and 55 percent return on average earnings.”

Another issue of great concern is violence in the workplace. The ILO says some 35 percent of all women are victims of physical and/or sexual violence that affects their attendance at work.

It says violence has a high cost for workers, employers and society generally. The U.N. agency is calling for laws and policies to prevent and protect against harassment and other forms of violence in the world of work.

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