Enhancing Women's Integration in Labor Markets A Global Economic Interest: The (Limited) Role of International Economic Organizations

Article excerpt

Abstract

In recent years, international economic organizations realized that the utilization of the most common resource of growth-women's work-is an important growth engine that may pull countries out of the global economic crisis that began in 2008. Optimal utilization of women's work depends on the achievement of gender equality at work, and on the creation of a supportive environment in which women may combine work with family responsibilities. How to accomplish this is subject, to a great extent, to differences in culture and tradition between different countries.

The formation of a supportive environment for women's work should take place through both domestic and international regulation. Action at both levels is complementary. This article examines the activity of international economic organizations to enhance gender equality at work, concluding that there is much more to be done, and suggesting further action by these organizations to improve results.

Keywords

international organizations, gender, international economy, international law

Introduction

The global economic crisis, ongoing since 2008, does not seem to be coming to an end. Overcoming the crisis depends, to a large extent, on enhancing growth. Enhanced growth may be achieved by utilization of production factors: capital and labor. Capital includes natural resources, such as oil, diamonds, etc., which are not available in each country. It further includes investment money that may be lacking in times of crisis. Labor potentially includes all available workers - men and women. This is a resource that exists in each country. However, empirical research shows it is not utilized efficiently. This conclusion is particularly valid for women's work. Thus, it is gradually realized that more efficient utilization of women's work may become a key factor for overcoming the global economic crisis.

In September 2011, at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Convention, Hillary Rodham- Clinton (2011), the United States Secretary of State, said the following:

To achieve the economic expansion we all seek, we need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come. And that vital source of growth is women. With economic models straining in every corner of the world, none of us can afford to perpetuate the barriers feeing women in the workforce. Because by increasing women's participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can bring about a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies, (n.p.)9

However, empirical research seems to reflect that while many countries enjoy progressive legislation, providing for gender equality at work, practice is far from achieving this goal (see, e.g., Seinsbury, 1996). In fact, women wishing to work are facing the "double burden syndrome": the combination of work and domestic responsibilities set on women, the lack of governmental support to face this difficulty in terms of infrastructures such as daycare centers, tax policies that encourage women's participation in the labor force, the unsuitability of work models, historically designed by men, to the difficulties specified10 and encountered by working women as well as cultural and social burdens (Desvaux, Devillard-Hoellinger, & Baumgarten, 2007; see also Munin, 2011; Shachar, 2008). These practical difficulties turn into sources of psychological obstacles, encouraging women to opt out of business careers (Desvaux, Devillard-Hoellinger, & Baumgarten, 2007).

Although the major playing field for implementing equality between men and women at work is the national level, international organizations seem to have been involved in regulation of this subject since the Industrial Revolution that took place between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.11 This revolution enhanced women's access to education and triggered their struggle toward the improvement of their working conditions and their right to vote (Landau &Beigbeder, 2008, p. …