International Women’s Day 2018

Time’s Up: Why we must champion equality for women in the world of work

The #MeToo campaign broke the silence around violence against women. Equally important now is to talk about women having an equal stake in the world of work. Aya Matsuura, Gender specialist at the ILO, summarizes key takeaways from the conference on ‘Women and Future of Work in Asia and the Pacific’ – highlighting trends on women in employment, need for attitudinal shifts and policy reforms.

Feature | 07 March 2018
Introducing new ways of doing things can sometimes be unpopular— be it at your home in your communities, or at work. We are simply used to doing things a certain way --- accustomed to our set routines and value systems. I remember an incident when I was on-board an aircraft, I overheard two male passengers, discussing how the flight that is being steered by a woman captain and a woman co-pilot is unsafe. Our perception of women and their work is still narrow, and acutely discriminatory. This needs to change.

At the recently held ILO conference on Women and the Future of Work, sponsored by the Government of Australia, participants from over 22 countries in the Asia and the Pacific region, shared similar such experiences of discriminatory practices and mind sets. They elaborated on what they did - in their respective countries - to overcome this attitude. As ILO turns 100 next year, this debate on how to secure a better future for women at work to usher in a fair and prosperous society and economy was timely. The conference aimed at demystifying the topic of why women are being left behind in the decent work agenda. Why is the progress slow? What can we do more, or differently, both at an individual level and as a collective?

Solutions such as addressing discrimination and violence, recognizing, valuing and redistributing care work, skilling women including in STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics), promoting women in leadership, and networking were widely discussed at the conference.

Saowalak Thongkuay, Regional Development Officer of the Disabled People’s International Asia-Pacific, said the time has come to recognize and address multiple forms of discrimination that women face – this includes those with disabilities, those from minority groups. We cannot champion equality until we systemically address all levels of discrimination.

Almost 150 people, a majority of which were women leaders, from government, employers’ and workers’ organizations, businesses, and academia spoke of a pervasive inequality. They called for urgent action at policy, institutional, community and grassroots levels to transform social norms, and attitudes and intensify interventions concerning women and the world of work.

Globally women are substantially less likely to participate in the labour market. In South Asia, the gender-gap in participation rates exceeded 50 percentage points in 2017 with only 28.6 per cent of the women participating in the labour market compared to 79.4 per cent for men. When they do participate, they tend to find themselves in vulnerable forms of employment such as domestic work with limited access to quality employment in the gender-segregated labour market. Women have less access to leadership and decision-making positions. Promoting gender equality is the right thing to do but it also has implications for growth and development. It is estimated that a reduction in the gap in participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent has the potential to increase the GDP in the region by as much as US$3.2 trillion.

The other issue that was prominently discussed was the enduring gender wage gap. Globally, women earn 23 per cent less than men. It is well-established that gender stereotypes and biases, social norms, and the lack of pay transparency – all play an important role in determining pay differences between women and men. Frequent instances of abuse, sexual harassment and discrimination, combined with the struggle to balance work and family, deter women to seek employment.

One of the important developments, in the process at the international level, is the discussions leading to the design of ILO standards on “Ending violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work”. The next International Labour Conference in 2018 at Geneva will include discussions to establish international standards through the adoption of a Convention and/or Recommendation.

On one hand policies and regulations are necessary, but we know it is not enough. Sandra Parker, Deputy Secretary, Workplace Relations Economic Strategy, Australian Department of Jobs and Small Business, said reducing the gap will require actions from everyone - individuals, governments, employers, workers, businesses and communities. It is time to renew our commitment towards creating a world of work that is safe, just and fair.