TWN  |  THIRD WORLD RESURGENCE |  ARCHIVE
THIRD WORLD RESURGENCE

Taking stock 

A  United Nations review of the implementation of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action has furnished valuable information on the current state of women's empowerment and gender equality. The ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Report collected data from 176 member states, as well as from civil society and academic research. Below are extracts from the report dealing with these issues.


SINCE the early 1990s the world has seen an impressive proliferation of national institutions to address women's empowerment and gender equality... Worldwide, over 97% of countries report having programmes, policies and/or strategies addressing 'gender equality, equity and empowerment of women'. At least 9 in every 10 countries across all regions have such frameworks in place (Africa, 100%; Asia, 100%; Europe, 94%; Americas, 94%; Oceania, 93%).

However, only three quarters of responding countries have committed to 'improving the situation and addressing the needs of rural women' (76%) and to 'improving the welfare of the girl child, especially with regard to health, nutrition and education' (80%)...

Changing patterns of employment  

The gender gap in labour force participation has narrowed slightly since 1990, but relative to men's work, women's work continues to pay less, to be more often in the informal sector, temporary, insecure and to command less authority. Women's total participation rates in the labour force remained steady at the global level, with a slight decline in the last few years, while men's rates also declined slightly throughout the period. At the regional level, change in women's labour force participation has been variable. It increased the most in Latin America and the Caribbean, and decreased slightly in Eastern Europe, and much of Asia other than South Asia - where it increased slightly...

Women's share in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector and in traditionally male-dominated occupations has increased, although remained low in jobs associated with status, power and authority. In all regions, women remain significantly under-represented among business leaders and managers.

Women continue to be paid less than men for equal work, as the gender pay gap is closing slowly and only in some countries. And women tend to hold jobs that are less secure and with fewer benefits than men, including vulnerable employment…  [which has] declined over the past 20 years... [but] remains high in many regions outside the developed countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, Southern Asia and South-Eastern Asia. Women's employment continues to be more concentrated than men's employment in vulnerable jobs in all but the wealthiest countries...

Since 1995, women's paid employment has risen substantially, which raises the question of how this has affected women's overall work burden. Studies of Africa in particular reveal that time and money poverty may be inter-related, and that women in particular suffer from both. In one country for example, while the average man worked 38.8 hours per week, women on average worked 49.3, and at least a quarter of women reported working 70 hours per week, a clear sign that time poverty is a problem; similar patterns have been found in Latin America...

[I]ncreasing women's access to paid employment has many advantages, both for women themselves, and for economic development more generally. By pulling women into paid employment, not only does national income rise, but societies can draw more extensively on the many talents and skills women have to offer. Additionally, women's increased engagement with the monetary economy creates a positive feed-back loop in terms of job creation...

A recent report by the [International Monetary Fund] estimates that closing the gender gap in the labour market would raise Gross Domestic Product in the United States of America by 5%, in the United Arab Emirates by 12%, and in Egypt by 34%, and that economic benefits of women's empowerment and gender equality are particularly high in rapidly ageing societies, where women's labour force participation can help to offset the impact of an otherwise shrinking workforce.

On the issue of enhancing women's income-generation ability, 85% of all countries report having budgetary policies and programmes to address the issue of 'increasing women's participation in the formal and informal economy'. Eighty-five per cent of countries report that they currently have a law in place (with an enforcement provision) against gender discrimination at work in hiring, wages and benefits...

Ninety per cent of countries reporting in the [ICPD Beyond 2014] Global Survey state that they have a law in place with an enforcement provision for paid maternity leave ... Yet only 54% have such an instrument in place for paid paternity leave, constituting a major barrier to men's participation in parenting...

Women continue to bear most of the responsibilities at home. It is estimated that, in all regions, women spend at least twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work; and when paid and unpaid work are combined together, women's total work hours are longer than men's...

While many countries have made substantial advances in enhancing women's participation in the labour force since 1994, gender inequalities in the balance of work and family life have not garnered the same level of support. For example, fewer than two-thirds of countries (64%) - have addressed the issue of 'facilitating compatibility between labour force participation and parental responsibilities', making it easier for women to combine child-rearing with participation in the workforce...

Two-thirds of countries ... have 'engaged men and boys to promote male participation, equal sharing of responsibilities such as care work' during the past five years (63%). Although no major regional variations are observed, grouping countries by income shows that this is a higher concern for high-income OECD countries (81%), while the proportion of countries addressing this issue in the four other income groups is just above or below the world average (low-income: 69%; lower middle-income: 58%; higher middle-income: 57%; high-income non-OECD: 67%).

Uneven progress in attitudes towards gender equality

Public attitudes support women's empowerment and gender equality in a majority of the population in most of the countries ... but the extent of support depends on the specific gender value under consideration ... [D]ata from the World Values Survey (2004-09) in 47 countries provides evidence that public values are most gender equitable regarding who should have access to higher education, highly variable with regard to men's and women's equal access to jobs, and consistently more modest with regard to women's effectiveness (relative to men's) as leaders in business or politics. Currently, there is a large consensus with regard to the importance of tertiary education for both girls and boys... However, with regard to other public spheres, distinct gender roles that give advantage to men are still valued in countries from Africa and Asia and in some of the countries from Eastern Europe...

The trend data suggests that values of gender equality have been trending upwards in most countries since the mid-1990s, with the exception of the value 'when jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women' - which is highly variable between countries, and over time...

There is greater support for gender equality among women than men... Overall, the gender gap is smaller on the issue of access to tertiary/university education, and larger on men's favoured access to jobs, and women's leadership in politics and business...

Younger generations also tend to be more positive towards gender equality than older cohorts, although the intergenerational gap is significant only in a few countries. In about half of the countries surveyed in 2005, younger generations give a significantly stronger support to gender equality related to political and managerial leadership and higher education. With regard to rights to a job, young people more strongly support gender equality in about three quarters of countries...

Gender-based violence

An estimated one in three women worldwide report they have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse, mostly at the hands of an intimate partner, making this form of violence against women and girls one of the most prevalent forms of human rights violations worldwide. The first multi-country study (2005) estimating the extent of domestic violence found that the proportion of adult women who had ever suffered physical violence by a male partner ranged widely across 10 study countries - from 13% to 61%. The proportion of women who had experienced severe physical violence by a male partner... ranged from 4% to 49% across countries... The first global and regional prevalence estimates (2013) on sexual and physical intimate partner violence (IPV), and non-partner sexual violence, show that 30% of ever-partnered women age 15 and older worldwide have experienced some form of IPV, with as many as 38% of women having experienced IPV in certain regions...

[C]urrent estimates are that globally 7% of women have experienced sexual violence by someone other than an intimate partner. Combined estimates show that 36% of women globally have experienced either IPV, non-intimate partner violence, or both forms of gender-based violence...

The health effects of IPV are substantial, with IPV contributing to numerous direct and indirect negative health outcomes among women and their children. Thirty-eight per cent of all murders of women globally are committed by intimate partners... [E]xperiences of IPV among women are associated with an increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, ... higher rates of induced abortion, and poor birth outcomes, including low birth weight and preterm birth. Gender-based violence also has serious short- and long-term social and economic costs for societies, including direct costs through health expenditures, indirect economic costs on workforce participation, missed days of work, and lifetime earnings, as well as indirect costs to the long-term health and well-being of children and other people living in a violent household...

While girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse, new multi-country data is drawing attention to the violent experience of boys during childhood, which is treated too often as normal for boys, but which can have long-term effects no less traumatic than for girls...

An estimated 125 million women and girls live with the consequences of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) worldwide, with approximately 3 million girls, the majority under age 15, at risk of undergoing FGM/C each year . Punitive laws that criminalise FGM/C are unlikely to succeed on their own, and must be accompanied by culturally sensitive public awareness and advocacy campaigns that create sustained change in cultural and community attitudes...

Government priorities

Promoting and enabling the 'economic empowerment' of women was the most frequently mentioned priority by at least two-thirds of countries in 4 of the 5 regions: Africa (67%), Asia (78%), Europe (79%) and Oceania (71%)... These numbers are in keeping with the widespread recognition that women's participation in the work place drives economic growth and development; a phenomenon which has contributed to the recent economic growth in many Asian countries.

'Political empowerment and participation' was a priority for two-thirds of governments across Africa (63%), Asia (66%) and Oceania (64%); in Europe and the Americas the issue was a priority among 48% and 53% of governments, respectively...

[T]he third most widely mentioned priority for gender equality and women's empowerment, by 56% of countries, was the 'elimination of all forms of violence'. Among countries in the Americas this was the priority that garnered the highest mention, by 69% of governments, well higher than the global average.         

*Third World Resurgence No. 283/284, Mar/Apr 2014, pp 67-69


TWN  |  THIRD WORLD RESURGENCE |  ARCHIVE