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Inequalities mar women’s access to labour market

March 08, 2018

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Gulaban, a 25-year-old mother of three, adjusts a fan before driving a 60-tonne truck in Islamkot, Tharparkar, on Sept 21, 2017.—Reuters
Gulaban, a 25-year-old mother of three, adjusts a fan before driving a 60-tonne truck in Islamkot, Tharparkar, on Sept 21, 2017.—Reuters

ISLAMABAD: On the eve of In­­ter­­national Women’s Day, a study released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) speaks of persistent inequalities between women and men on access to the labour market, unemployment and conditions at work.

“Women are less likely to participate in the labour market than men and are more likely to be unemployed in most parts of the world, according to new study ‘World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends for Women 2018’ released on Wednesday.

The headline finding, however, is that, on average around the world, women remain much less likely to participate in the labour market than men. At 48.5 per cent in 2018, women’s global labour force participation rate is 26.5 percentage points below that of men.

Since 1990, this gap has narrowed by 2 percentage points, with the bulk of the reduction occurring in the years up to 2009. The rate of improvement, which has been slowing since 2009, is expected to grind to a halt during 2018-21, and possibly even reverse, potentially negating the relatively minor improvements in gender equality in access to the labour market achieved over the past decade.

Globally, the labour force participation rate for men and women aged 15 and over continues its long term decline; it stands at 61.8pc in 2018, down by 1.4 percentage points over the past decade. The decline in women’s participation rate has been slower than that of men, resulting in a slight narrowing of the gender gap.

Developing countries show the highest ratio of female-to-male unemployment rates across income groups, at 1.3 in 2018. This largely reflects the fact that unemployment rates among men in these countries are low by international standards, while the rates among women are only slightly above the global average.

Conversely, in regions such as the Arab States and Northern Africa, female unemployment rates are still twice as large as men’s, with prevailing social norms continuing to obstruct women’s participation in paid employment.

The study says the gap in employment participation rates between men and women is narrowing in developing and developed countries while it continues to widen in emerging countries. However, this may be a reflection of the fact that a growing number of young women in these countries have joined formal education, which delays their entry to the labour market.

Looking at women running businesses, authors of the study note that globally four times as many men are working as employers than women in 2018. Such gender gaps are also reflected in management positions, where women continue to face labour market barriers when it comes to accessing management positions.

Globally, over 42pc of workers are either own-account or contributing family workers. This translates into over 1.4 billion workers who are more likely than those in other categories of employment to be in informal employment and living in poverty, and to have limited or no access to social protection systems.

In developing and emerging countries, progress in reducing vulnerable employment is stalling, as the number of own-account and contributing family workers has been rising in line with the increasing labour force. As a result, the share of workers in these categories of employment in developing and emerging countries is particularly high, reaching 76.4pc of total employment in developing countries and 46.2pc in emerging countries in 2018.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2018