Aarti Dhar

NEW DELHI: Despite signs of progress in gender equality over the past 15 years, there is still a significant gap between women and men in terms of job opportunities and quality of employment, according to a new report by the International Labour Office of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The report, ‘Women in labour markets: Measuring progress and identifying challenges,' says that more than a decade after the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing adopted an ambitious global platform for action on gender equality and women's empowerment, gender biases remain deeply embedded in society and the labour market.

Labour force

The report shows that the rate of female labour force participation has increased from 50.2 to 51.7 per cent between 1980 and 2008, while the male rate decreased slightly from 82.0 to 77.7 per cent. As a result, the gender gap in labour force participation has narrowed from 32 to 26 percentage points.

The increases in female participation were seen in all but two regions — Central and South-Eastern Europe (non-EU), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and East Asia — with the largest gain seen in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In almost all regions, though, the rate of increase has slowed in recent years. It was in the 1980s and the early 1990s that gains in the numbers of economically active women were strongest.

At the same time, the share of women in wage and salaried work has grown from 42.8 per cent in 1999 to 47.3 per cent in 2009, and the share of vulnerable employment decreased from 55.9 to 51.2 per cent.

The report shows that there are three basic areas of lingering gender imbalances in the world of work.

First, nearly half (48.4 per cent) of the female population above the age of 15 remain economically inactive, compared with 22.3 per cent for men.

In some regions, there are still less than four economically active women per 10 active men.

Second, women who do want to work have a harder time than men in finding work.

And third, when women do find work, they receive less pay and benefits than the male workers in similar positions.

The report says that the initial impact of the global economic crisis was felt in the sectors dominated by men such as finance, manufacturing and construction, but the impact has since expanded to other sectors, including services, where women tend to predominate.

The International Labour Office estimates that the global female unemployment rate increased from 6 per cent in 2007 to 7 per cent in 2009, slightly more than the male rate that rose from 5.5 to 6.3 per cent.

But in four of the nine regions, it was the male unemployment rate that rose more than the female unemployment rate.

In 2009, the female unemployment rates were higher than the male rates in seven of the nine regions, and in the Middle East and North Africa, the difference was as high as 7 percentage points.

While women and men workers may now be almost equally affected by the crisis in terms of job losses, the real gender impact of the crisis may be yet to come.