Global Policy Forum

Women Still Face Pay and Job Discrimination

UN News Centre
March 5, 2004

Women are entering the global labour force in record numbers but they still face higher unemployment rates and lower wages, and success in crashing through the "glass ceiling" to top managerial jobs remains "slow, uneven and sometimes discouraging," the United Nations labour agency reported today.

Women represent 60 per cent of the world's 550 million working poor, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) prepared for International Women's Day, marked on 8 March. A separate updated analysis deals with trends in the efforts of women to break through the symbolic glass-ceiling barrier.

"These two reports provide a stark picture of the status of women in the world of work today," Juan Somavia, Director-General of the Geneva-based ILO, said. "Women must have an equal chance of reaching the top of the jobs ladder."

Mr. Somavia warned that unless progress is made in taking women out of poverty by creating "productive and decent employment," the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of halving poverty by 2015 will remain out of reach in most parts of the world.

Last year, some 1.1 billion of the world's 2.8 billion workers, or 40 per cent, were women, representing an increase of nearly 200 million in the past 10 years, according to Global Employment Trends for Women 2004. But the explosive growth has not been accompanied by true economic empowerment for women, the report says. Nor has it led to equal pay for work of equal value or balanced benefits.

"In short, true equality in the world of work is still out of reach," the ILO states.

While the gap in numbers has been closing in all regions since 1993, the rate has varied widely. In the transition economies and East Asia, the number of women working for pay per 100 men is 91 and 83, respectively, but in other regions such as the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, only 40 women per 100 men are economically active.

Of the world's 550 million working poor, those unable to lift themselves and their families above the $1 per day threshold, 330 million, or 60 per cent, are women, the report says. Adding the 77.8 million women who are unemployed means that at least 400 million decent jobs would be needed to provide poor women with a way out of poverty.

As for job quality, the overall employment situation for women has not evolved significantly since 2001, according to Breaking through the glass ceiling: Women in management - Update 2004, which shows that women's share of managerial positions in some 60 countries ranges between 20 and 40 per cent.

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
More General Analysis on Gender and Inequality
More Information on Gender and Inequality
More Information on Poverty and Development
More Information on Inequality of Wealth and Income Distribution


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