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UN Agency Says Discrimination Still Undermines Economic Gains

The International Labor Organization is reporting some progress worldwide in fighting job discrimination based on gender and ethnic background. But a new report by the U.N. agency says discrimination is still undermining economic progress, and says new forms of bias are another problem. Ron Corben reports for VOA from Bangkok.

The International Labor Organization's report on "Equality at Work" says there has been both progress and failure since the last report four years ago.

It says more women are in the workforce, but there are still significant gender gaps, especially when it comes to pay.

And it warned of new forms of discrimination, due to economic reforms, and the widespread migration of people looking for jobs. It also notes discrimination based on such factors as age, disability and HIV status.

Gek-Boo Ng, ILO regional director for Asia and the Pacific, said the report seeks to raise awareness of the need for better jobs as well as social justice.

"Discrimination is not just a breach of human rights, it's a departure from economic common sense," Ng says. "No country which truly wishes to compete regionally or globally can afford to set aside part of the human talent pool because they vary in some way from a perceived norm."

The report said 56.6 percent of women were now part of the global workforce, a significant increase from four years earlier.

But results differed by region. Tim de Meyer, an ILO labor standards specialist, says the situation in South Asia is of special concern.

"South Asia deserves to be singled out because in many respects it's one of the most problematic regions when it comes to gender discrimination - lack of equality of opportunity and treatment for women," De Meyer says.

De Meyer says South Asia also has the highest share of unpaid women working, particularly in agriculture.

He says the difference in what men and women get paid is still a serious issue.

"Women in Asia search and find employment more than ever," De Meyer says. "They get ever better educated, yet it doesn't translate into higher pay. The gender pay gap remains somewhat surprisingly stubborn."

The ILO says governments worldwide have been trying to address discrimination with new laws, but weak enforcement is undermining legislative gains.