Excerpts from ILO Report Women at Work Trends 2016

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Young women face the highest risk of unemployment Women are more likely to be unemployed than men, with global unemployment rates of 5.5 per cent for men and 6.2 per cent for women. With the exception of Eastern Asia, Eastern Europe and Northern America, male unemployment rates are lower than female unemployment rates in all other regions of the world, with the highest gender unemployment gaps found in Northern Africa and the Arab States. In Northern, Southern and Western Europe, and in Northern America, the gender unemployment gaps have narrowed as a result of the financial crisis, largely under the impact of the economic downturn on the male-dominated sectors and the rising employment rates for married women, who in some contexts are entering employment to compensate for losses in family income caused by male unemployment.Globally, youth unemployment remains an issue of concern. Unemployment is affecting young women more than young men in almost all regions of the world. In Northern Africa and the Arab States, the female youth unemployment rate is almost double that of young men, reaching as high as 44.3 and 44.1 per cent, respectively. In contrast, youth unemployment is higher for young men than for young women in Northern America, Eastern Asia and Northern, Southern and Western Europe. As a result of the financial crisis, this inverse gender gap in youth unemployment has even increased in Northern, Southern and Western Europe and in Northern America; in this last region, however, there have been some signs of the narrowing of gaps in recent years.

The quality of women’s jobs remains a challenge Status in employment and informal employment In 2015, a total of 586 million women were own-account or contributing family workers. Women remain overrepresented as contributing family workers. Some progress has been made, however, in closing the gender gap in this regard. Globally, the share of contributing family workers has decreased significantly among women (by 17.0 percentage points over the last 20 years) and to a lesser extent among men (by 8.1 percentage points over the same period), resulting in a decrease in the gender gap from 19.5 percentage points in 1995 to 10.6 percentage points in 2015 (figure II). This trend is part of an economic restructuring shift away from agricultural work, which largely consisted of subsistence and small-scale activities. That said, however, many working women remain in employment statuses and in occupations that are more likely to consist of informal work arrangements. In sub-Saharan Africa and in Southern Asia, a high proportion of women work as contributing family workers (34.9 per cent and 31.8 per cent, respectively) or as own-account workers (42.5 per cent and 47.7 per cent, respectively).

Moreover, 52.1 per cent of women and 51.2 per cent of men in the labour market are wage and salaried workers. This in itself constitutes no guarantee of higher job quality. In fact, globally, nearly 40 per cent of women in wage employment do not contribute to social protection. Those proportions reach 63.2 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and 74.2 per cent in Southern Asia, where informal employment is the dominant form of employment. In Southern Asia, for instance, informal employment represents over 80 per cent of non-agricultural employment. In three out of six regions, informal employment is a greater source of non-agricultural employment for women than for men (sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Southern Asia). In this regard, gender gaps in informal employment can reach up to 13 percentage points, as is the case in sub-Saharan Africa.

Sectoral and occupational segregation

Globally, the services sector has overtaken agriculture as the sector that employs the highest number of women and men. By 2015, slightly more than half of the global working population was working in services (50.1 per cent). While 42.6 per cent of all men work in services, substantially more than half of the world’s women are employed in that sector: since 1995, women’s employment in services has increased from 41.1 per cent to 61.5 per cent. Sectoral and occupational segregation contributes significantly to gender gaps both in terms of the number and the quality of jobs. Women in employment are overrepresented in a narrow range of sectors and occupations. In upper-middle-income countries, more than one third of women are employed in wholesale and retail trade services (33.9 per cent) and in the manufacturing sector (12.4 per cent). In high-income countries, the major source of employment for women is the health and education sector, which employs almost one third of all women in the labour market (30.6 per cent). Agriculture remains the most important source of employment for women in low-income and lower-middle-income countries. In Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, over 60 per cent of all working women remain in agriculture, often concentrated in time and labour-intensive activities, which are unpaid or poorly remunerated. An analysis of 142 countries shows that women remain overrepresented (compared to their share in total employment) as “Clerical, service and sales workers” and in “Elementary occupations”. This is particularly the case in developed economies, where women constitute over 60 per cent and nearly 50 per cent of total employment in these two lowest paid occupations (figure III). By contrast, in developed countries, there is a slight relative overrepresentation of women in the highest paid occupational group “Managers, professionals and technicians” (48.1 per cent).

Unpaid household and care work

In both high and lower income countries, women continue to work fewer hours in paid employment, while performing the vast majority of unpaid household and care work. On average, women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men in countries where the relevant data are available. Although this gender gap remains substantive, it has decreased over time, mostly because of some reduction in the time spent by women on housework, while there have been no significant reductions in the time that they spend on childcare. Women, however, continue to work longer hours per day than men when both paid work and unpaid work are taken into consideration. In particular, employed women (either in self-employment or wage and salaried employment), have longer working days on average than employed men, with a gender gap of 73 and 33 minutes per day in developing and developed countries, respectively (figure V). Even when women are employed, they still carry out the larger share of unpaid household and care work, which limits their capacity to increase their hours in paid, formal and wage and salaried work.

Gender inequalities at work result in gender gaps in access to social protection, in particular maternity and old-age benefits

The gender gap in employment and job quality means that women have limited access to employment- related social protection, where such schemes even exist. Lower rates of formal wage and salaried employment, together with fewer hours and fewer years in insured employment for women, have adverse consequences for seniority premiums in pay and for coverage by employment-related contributory schemes. In particular, maternity cash benefits and health care are essential if women’s specific needs during their active years are to be met, as are adequate pension levels for women in old age. As a consequence of gender gaps at work, coverage (both legal and effective) by contributory compulsory social protection schemes is lower for women than for men, leaving an overall gender social protection coverage gap. Globally, the proportion of women above retirement age receiving a pension is on average 10.6 percentage points lower than that of men (figure VII). Nearly 65 per cent of people above retirement age without any regular pension are women. This means that 200 million women in old age live without any regular income from social protection (old age or survivors pension), compared to 115 million men. Low female labour participation rates, together with the limited development of non-contributory pensions, weigh significantly on women’s effective pension coverage in Northern Africa, the Arab States and Southern Asia, where the proportions of older women in receipt of a pension are inferior to 10 per cent.

Efforts must be made to tackle sectoral and occupational segregation

Gender stereotypes of women and expectations by society that they will shoulder larger care responsibilities, lack of role models, a work culture that expects long working hours, the undervaluation of traditionally “feminine” skills and inadequate work-family measures limit the possibilities for women to overcome segregation and participate on an equal footing in political, social and economic life and decision-making and reach top-level positions. In this regard, affirmative action policies, including the setting of targets, goals or quotas, represent an important measure that can be applied by governments, trade unions, employers’ organizations and companies to help remedy the severe underrepresentation of women and their concerns in decision-making in business and societies. Moreover, education, outreach and training programmes must be designed to encourage and enable girls, boys and young women and men to venture more into non-stereotypical fields of study and work. In particular, to reduce sectoral and occupational segregation, training and education systems should encourage young men to enter into care-related professions, while promoting women’s access to and prominence in both the study and professional exercise of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and related skills.

Unpaid care work must be recognized, reduced and redistributed and harmonization achieved between work and family life

Inadequate social protection and measures to balance work and family, including good quality jobs, services and infrastructure in public care, are a key concern for workers and businesses. The lack of such protection and measures impedes women’s access to more and decent jobs. In many countries, inadequate access to water supply, sanitation, electricity, roads, safe transport and health-care services is a crucial factor behind the time spent by women on unpaid work and their disadvantaged position in the labour force. The inadequacy or total lack of childcare, disability and long-term care services, and services which do not meet the needs of workers, care recipients and providers in terms of availability, cost and quality, are also important factors. Economic crises and the related cuts in public spending on social benefits, services, jobs and working conditions in the public sector have also exacerbated the existing care deficits in both high- and low-income settings. Consequently, the responsibility to fill care gaps is taken up by women in the course of their lives in the form of low-paid and unpaid care and household work. The undervaluation of care work, both paid and unpaid, perpetuates poor working conditions for women, who form the vast majority of the employed care workforce, in particular domestic workers, early childhood care and education personnel, and long-term care workers and nurses, an increasingly large number of whom are migrant workers. In this regard, governments should increase their social investment in basic infrastructure and measures to balance work and family commitments, ensure that care work is evaluated in a gender-responsive way, promote decent and adequately paid jobs in the care economy, with a focus on public provision, and make good-quality and affordable childcare and other social care services a universal right. Social protection schemes should be geared to guarantee equality of treatment between men and women, to take into account gender roles and to serve as a mechanism for the achievement of gender equality. In addition, nationally designed social protection floors can and should serve as a gender-transformative tool by addressing women’s specific life contingencies, such as maternity, and by recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care and household work.