The Future of Women's Economic Empowerment: Policy, Labour and Social Changes Are Necessary to Create Equal Opportunity

By Calabrese, Linda; Krishnan, Aarti et al. | International Trade Forum, January-March 2018 | Go to article overview

The Future of Women's Economic Empowerment: Policy, Labour and Social Changes Are Necessary to Create Equal Opportunity


Calabrese, Linda, Krishnan, Aarti, Hunt, Abigail, International Trade Forum


Women often carry out a double shift, working as producers as well as bearing the lion's share of responsibility for reproductive labour, through unpaid care and domestic work to sustain their families. This affects the way women participate in--and benefit from--economic growth.

Globalization and technology have created new opportunities for women to participate in global and regional value chains, and to increase participation in formal and informal labour markets. Still, wide gender gaps persist.

For instance, women often enter the labour market on unfavorable terms with lower wages, less protection and less bargaining power. Their contribution to society is hugely underestimated as several weeks of unpaid care and domestic work are not recognized in national accounts, especially in the global South.

But a report published last year by the International Labour Organization [ILO] and research firm Gallup found that the majority of women across the world want to have paid jobs, and that men agree they should have the right to do so. Making this a reality and ensuring that work pays off for women is therefore long overdue.

WOMEN IN VALUE CHAINS

While women worldwide participate in global value chains, work within these is often highly gender-specific and segregated. Women are often forced into the worst-paying occupations and earn low wages, in some cases only 85% of a man's full-time earnings, according to Korn Ferry, a consultancy. Some companies deliberately engage women as workers because they see them as more docile than men.

Despite companies at the top of such value chains touting the use of stringent sustainability and labour standards, in reality, very mixed results have been reported in working conditions--especially in developing countries. Pervasive sexual harassment, inadequate healthcare, negligible child support, poor on-site living conditions and long working hours continue to prevail in the electronics, garments and agricultural sectors. Dealing with such issues is expensive and lead firms would rather invest in economic upgrades.

Poor working conditions and the lack of support for women taking on these double burden promotes the casualization of the female workforce. It leaves women workers facing greater job insecurity, have fewer chances to become skilled workers, and less freedom of association.

TECHNOLOGY AND WOMEN

For some, technology can help achieve equality in the workplace and close the gender gap faster. Still, careful examination of women's experiences in digitally mediated work reveals significant challenges.

For instance, the expansion of app-based services has encouraged the 'Uberization' of domestic work. Technology provides marginal benefits to workers in the form of flexibility and choice over working times, tracking of hours worked; and wages earned. …

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