New UN report highlights gender gaps in global labour markets

A female employee at a garment factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh. UN Photo/Kibae Park

11 December 2012 – Women face higher unemployment rates than men globally, and the situation is not likely to improve in the near future, says a United Nations report released today that calls for social protection measures, investments in education and policies to promote access to employment.

Global Employment Trends for Women 2012, produced by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) in collaboration with the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), looks at gender gaps in unemployment, employment, labour force participation, vulnerability, and segregation in jobs and economic sectors.

“While women worldwide contribute to the economy and its productivity, they continue to face many barriers that prevent them from realising their full economic potential. This is not only holding back women; it is holding back economic performance and growth,” said UN Women’s Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet.

“Guaranteeing equal opportunities for women and men is not just the right thing to do. It’s smart economics,” she added.

Globally, the gaps in unemployment and employment-to-population ratios were moving towards convergence before the global economic crisis erupted in 2007, the ILO stated in a news release on the report. The crisis, which destroyed 13 million jobs for women, reversed this trend in the hardest-hit regions.

The report also finds that the gap in labour force participation converged in the 1990s, but showed little or no convergence in the last decade. Both men’s and women’s participation rates fell equally in the last decade, mainly because of education, aging and the “discouraged worker” effect.

Also, the report says that women are more limited in their choice of employment across sectors, and that women continue to be segregated into particular types of occupations.

The report calls for the expansion of social protection measures to reduce women’s vulnerabilities, investments in skills and education, and policies to promote access to employment.

“Policies to reduce gender gaps can significantly improve economic growth and standards of living, and in developing countries can be a major contribution to poverty reduction,” said ILO’s Executive Director for Employment, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs.

The report lists a number of policy guidelines to help households reduce gender bias in their work decisions and gender gaps in the labour market, including providing care services, particularly child care.

It also suggests improving infrastructure to reduce the burden of housework. Depending on the level of development, this can range from the availability of electricity and water, to sanitation, roads and transportation facilities.

Compensating for unequal employment opportunities based on gender, such as measures to eliminate the adverse impact of career breaks, through well-paid leave and right of return to post, as well as public campaigns to challenge gender stereotypes and to ensure the proper implementation of legislation against discrimination are also recommended.


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