Aug 1, 2008

World - Tackling workplace inequality

The International Labour Organisation’s year-long campaign to promote gender equality at the workplace launched recently assumes particular significance in the current context of increasing participation of women in the labour force, largely in the informal sector, and emerging issues of inequity in their employment-linked status. The latest initiative is intended to raise public awareness ahead of a discussion on the theme to be held at the ILO’s highest polic y-making organ in June 2009, coinciding with its 90th anniversary. According to the ILO’s report on global employment trends for women, despite the entry of over 200 million women into the labour market in the past decade, the rate of female unemployment remains high at 6.4 per cent, in comparison with 5.7 among men. Moreover, globally, the employment to population ratio in 2007 for women was a mere 49.1 per cent, as against 74.3 for men. It is inconceivable that the international objective of increased economic output, as a means to better redistribution, can be realised when such a large segment of the population remains outside the productive workforce. Although evidence suggests that women have adapted themselves to the changing employment scenario from agriculture to the services sector, persisting disparities in levels of attainment in education and vocational skills systematically undercut their chances for employment and career mobility in the long-term. The continuing exclusion from productive employment is perhaps the most fundamental cause of gender inequality at the workplace, as it could in effect serve to undermine rights to association, remuneration, quality and hours of work, protection from gender-specific occupational hazards and overall economic freedom and social empowerment. Moreover, women’s income per hour is on average 75 per cent of that for men.
The relevance of the latest campaign cannot be overstated, especially in relation to developing countries, which consequent to the ongoing transformation from traditional agrarian to market-oriented economies, have necessarily to grapple with the manifold challenges of striking a balance between work and family. Recognition of the family responsibilities of employees, flexible working hours, reconciling the productive and reproductive roles of women and paternity are among these issues. The attempt to mainstream a gender perspective in legislation, public and corporate policies and programmes could serve as a useful beginning in the right direction.

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