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Podcast Length Icon 49:58 14 Apr 2020

A quantum leap for gender equality

In our new episode, we chat with Emanuela Pozzan and Umberto Cattaneo of the ILO, about the Women at Work Centenary Initiative, that aims at better understanding why progress on delivering on decent work for women has been so slow and what needs to be done towards securing a better future for women at work. The conversation also touches upon the recently released ILO Report, co-authored by Emanuela and Umberto, A quantum leap for gender equality: For a better future of work for all.

What follows here are snippets from our conversation with Emanuela and Umberto - edited for length and clarity - make sure you listen to the entire conversation for the great insight! Download the ILO Report: A quantum leap for gender equality: For a better future of work for all from here.

Agnes Uhereczky: I am so happy that both of you could join us in this conversation today. Could we start at the beginning Emanuela for listeners who are perhaps new to the work of the ILO or haven't heard so much about it? Could you explain the Women at Work Centenary Initiative? What it is and what is the purpose behind it?

Emanuela Pozzan: Sure, and good afternoon to all of you from Geneva! We are recording this session at a time when we are all staying at home due to the COVID-19 crises. But we are really glad to share with you the work which we have been doing and the importance of making sure that everybody knows about this work. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has been around for more than 100 years. It is part of the United Nations and it is the agency that is mandated at the global level to look after issues related to the world of work, the rights of workers and employers. We work in a tripartite manner, meaning that we consult, we utilize the beautiful tool of social dialogue to come up with international labour standards that are there to make sure that the world of work benefits everybody.

Within this context, a few years back, we have started an initiative that was called the Women at Work Centenary initiative. It started in 2013 and it accompanied us until the centenary that was celebrated last year in 2019. So what was this initiative about? It was really about what Agnes was just mentioning in her introduction, meaning the fact that we do not see enough progress happening in the context of gender equality in the world of work. We have more women who have entered the labour force, we have more women who have progressed in their careers, but we also see very stubborn gender gaps, and my colleague Umberto will elaborate on those gaps later.

If we look at women and men in employment in 2018 there were 1,3 billion women in employment compared to 2 billion men. This means that there are 700.000 million more men in employment than women. And basically, the gender gap in employment rates is around 26% touchpoints. And what we have seen is that this gap over the past 27 years has just shrunk by less than 2% touchpoints. This is alarming! - Umberto Cattaneo

So, what were the Women at Work Centenary initiative talking about? It was looking at some of the key structural barriers that are still impeding women to prepare for entering, remaining, exiting and coming back, and progressing in the world of work. One of this pattern we constantly see has to do with discrimination, the persistence of stereotypes that penalize women and undermine access to decent work. Another pattern is the fact that women are still paid less than men and the difficulty is in implementing laws and approaches that very much gear towards reducing the gender pay gap. The third path is about recognizing the unequal distribution and undervaluation of unpaid care work. The last one that is certainly jeopardizing the opportunities for a lot of women and men to be in a world of work that is free from violence and harassment is exactly the overall work around violence and harassment in the world of work. This is very much what the Women at Work initiative has unpacked from a point of view of research coming out with groundbreaking research on key barriers, attitudes, interests, perceptions and all of that is very much captured in a global survey the ILO has done together with Gallop published in 2016.

We have also unpacked the biggest conundrum of paid and unpaid care work that is certainly one of the reasons that many women and men consider a big impediment to progressing, entering and staying in the world of work. We have constantly looked at equal pay for work for equal value promoting a new coalition which is called the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC). We welcome states, governments, employers’ organizations, private companies, workers’ organizations, civil society etc. to become an active EPIC member and promote equal pay for work of equal value. Lastly, within the frame of the Women at Work initiative, we very much work on violence and harassment in the world of work, and as we discuss a little bit later the ILO last year proclaimed and adopted a new international labour standard, the last global treated international treaty. And the only treaty that very much focuses on violence and harassment in the world of work. This is in a nutshell what the women at work initiative is about, it is an initiative that continues, but we are currently designing the new phase.

Agnes Uhereczky: What is that we are missing from the gender conversation? What is at the heart of the challenge? What is the main blockage that you have uncovered in your report that hinders us from stepping closer to finding solutions?

Umberto Cattaneo: I am very glad to hear this question. One of the biggest blocks that we have been seeing for the achievement of gender equality is the issue of caregiving. As Emanuela was mentioning we have an entire report on the care economy and we forecast to do much more work on it, especially now on paid care workers because the pressure they are facing with the COVID-19 emergency is huge. The care economy also means unpaid care work that is done by everybody in their household. And we know that looking after spouses, partners, children or other family members can also be very rewarding for those who provide this care and also beneficial for those who receive the care. However, if this care work is performed for too many hours per day unpaid care work can prevent the chances of people with familiar responsibility to engage and also to progress in employment. If this work is too much you won’t be able to progress swiftly in your career and achieve managerial positions, or a stable employment contract in the labour market.

So we have been looking at this dimension of unpaid care work and we have seen looking at labour force surveys that for women unpaid care work is the main single reason for being outside of the labour force and we have seen that across the world there are 606 million women of working age or 22% of those women who are outside of the labour force that perform unpaid care work for a full-time basis. This compared to just 41 million men who are outside the labour force for the same reason. This is huge. So, 606 million women of working age outside of the labour force for unpaid care work just compared to 41 million men. This huge number has received a lot of attention because it gives the idea of discrepancy on the different impact that unpaid care work has on women and men.

Another way of looking at this is the look at daily time spent on unpaid care work by women and men. We have seen that 3 quarters namely 76% of the daily time spent on unpaid care work is done by women. This corresponds to 4 hours and 25 minutes per day of women in unpaid care work compared to just 1 hour and 23 minutes daily for men in the same activity. 4 hours and 25 minutes is a huge amount of time. What we have seen and what we are researching now towards this direction is that motherhood is associated with an even higher burden of unpaid care work. We have seen in motherhood employment penalty, which is the difference between the employment rates for mothers of young children 0-5 and women without that type of children, has increased between 2005 and 2015 by 38%. This is again alarming which means that mothers very often can not benefit from early childhood care services from care leave policies or also from the help of the fathers that are working full time in the labour market, so they have to give up their employment.

What we have also seen is that mothers face penalty not only in accessing employment but also in earning wages comparable to women without children because there is a motherhood pay gap which is partially linked with the fact that mothers of young children have the lowest participation rate in managerial and leadership positions. Why is this worrying? Because this motherhood penalty is usually in most of the countries associated with fatherhood streaming which means that fathers are usually earning better wages than men without children and they are more likely to participate in managerial and leadership positions than men that do not have children.