Speech by Michelle Bachelet at the launch of the ILO report on Global Employment Trends for Women 2012


Speech by Michelle Bachelet at the launch of the ILO report on Global Employment Trends for Women 2012, at a press event on 11 December, in Geneva.
[Check against delivery.]

Good morning. I am pleased to be here today to launch the new report, “Global Employment Trends for Women together with my colleagues from the ILO.

This report was produced by the ILO in collaboration with UN Women. I thank the ILO for their excellent work and their continuous focus on women and gender in the world of work. We highly value our partnership with the ILO.

One of our top priorities at UN Women is advancing women's economic empowerment and economic opportunities so our partnership with the ILO is extremely important as we support national efforts.

This publication we are launching today is significant for many reasons. Today I will name three.

First, this report is significant because it includes the most recent data and analysis of trends on the impact of the global financial and economic crisis on women's employment worldwide, with cross regional comparisons, which is critical for gender responsive policy-making.

Second, this report provides rich information on crisis response measures and, most pertinently, on their gender dimensions. That is a dimension, which is often difficult to obtain data on. Yet, if we want effective policies and solutions so that countries move to advance gender equality and inclusive, sustainable economic growth and recovery - we MUST have this dimension.

And finally, this report is significant because it offers a set of policy options to promote gender equality in employment in crisis and more stable times. So, here we have a wealth of good practices that can be drawn on to advance national action on these policies options.

But you may still ask: Why address gender inequalities between women and men in employment and the gendered impact of the financial and economic crisis on women's employment? Why is this important?

For starters, we must analyse gender inequalities in employment and the impact of the financial crisis because men and women are impacted in different ways. And unless policies address the different and discriminatory impact on women, women's and girls' rights will continue to be violated in the labour market, and economies and societies will not reach their full potential.

Today women and men participate in the labor market, but on different and unequal terms, and the barriers to women's full participation put the brakes on economic growth and recovery.

Poverty disproportionately affects women, and ethnic and other forms of marginalization and gender-based stereotypes reinforce the perception of women's primary role being a domestic role while men's public roles are seen as “natural, so all this contributes to marginalizing women from access to resources, including in the world of formal work.

Before the crisis, illustrations of this inequality were found in gaps in female and male labor force participation rates globally, occupational segregation, women's concentration in vulnerable work, and gender pay gaps. The crisis has exacerbated the already adverse condition of women workers.

Therefore, policies and programs must take account of these differences and inequalities between women and men in stable times and in crisis to promote gender equality and women's empowerment.

Gender equality and women's empowerment matter because it is a basic human right. Just yesterday, we commemorated the International Human Rights Day with a focus on the right to participate in public life, yet too many women are deprived of this basic human right.

This is smart action because it contributes to inclusive growth and the achievement of other key development outcomes, such as improved health, education and prosperity, for the next generation, and more representative and democratic institutions.

Just this year in the seminal Rio+20 outcome document we expressed a shared vision that recognizes gender equality and women's empowerment as a priority, including promoting full and productive employment and decent work for women.

SO, let's act on it!

Policy Directions and Recommendations

I generally live life seeing the glass half-full rather than half-empty. The global financial and economic crisis provides us with a huge window of opportunity.

It is the opportunity to reshape, to rebuild the economic, social, and political fabric of our societies with a strong value proposition - rebuild and build in ways that promote equality, and inclusive and sustainable growth and development.

Moving forward, we need a judicious mix of macroeconomic, labor market and social protection policies to promote gender equality in employment, drawing on the raft of good practices to advance national action.

Attempts to ensure better conditions for women whether they are paid or unpaid workers, or to prevent worsening conditions, require more than narrow, specific targeted and directed programmes.

Such efforts, such work must be part of broader macroeconomic and sectoral policies that focus public spending on employment creation and decent work for women combined with universal access to quality essential social services, such as health and education and various forms of social protection. This was highlighted in the report we launched last year, entitled, “Social Protection Floor for a Fair and Inclusive Globalization.

Such a comprehensive approach bears the promise to revitalize demand and above all to promote inclusive growth. It will be equally important to restructure financial systems, and have the right mix of policies to regulate capital, financial, and labor markets more tightly as this has positive implications for an inclusive growth process.

Now I would like to turn your attention to policies that we consider effective to reduce gender gaps in employment and help households reduce the gender bias in their work decisions.

First, policies and programmes are needed to improve infrastructure which can alleviate household work.

Today millions of women walk miles each day to fetch water or to find transport, or spend huge amounts of time preparing food because they simply do not have access to that simplest of technology that many of us take for granted. They lack time-saving household appliances and they lack electricity.

Thus greater investments are needed in infrastructure and public services, such as electricity, sanitation, clean water, and transportation. These investments improve labour market conditions for women by reducing the time needed to complete household tasks and by improving mobility.

Second, policies and programmes are needed to provide care services, especially child care, to reduce the burden of care and support women's participation in the labour force.

Today many parents, especially mothers, cannot fully participate in the labour market because they lack childcare support. Thus policies and programmes are needed to provide childcare services so that parents, particularly mothers, can work outside of the home and earn an income.

This includes after-school programmes, locally-organised care, subsidizing and regulating childcare, and harmonizing the hours of work and childcare or school so that working parents can reconcile work and family life.

Third, policies are needed to balance the gender division of paid and unpaid work.

We need policies, programmes and awareness-raising to increase men's participation in household work and childcare and the care of elderly parents.

Policies can reduce the burden of women's unpaid labor, and provide security to poor women excluded from worker-based measures, by increasing the coverage and funding of social protection and public delivery of goods and services that are important for women.

Some examples are conditional cash transfer programmes that should take care not to impose additional burdens of time and work on women. Unemployment benefits, pensions and disability allowances are other ways to provide some form of social security to women who have performed mainly unpaid labour through most of their lives.

Four, we need policies to help change the costs and benefits of gender specialisation - principally taxes and transfers to encourage male and female labour force participation.

We need policies to stimulate labour demand and that include additional public spending on infrastructure that provides for equal recruitment of women and decent work for them such as public employment works programmes. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in India, for instance, is a positive example.

We need poverty reduction programs targeted at vulnerable groups of women such as poor female headed households; targeted non-traditional employment programs for women, financial inclusion and greater access to credit for women, and subsidies and tax reductions for small and medium enterprises especially in sectors dominated by women.

The balanced combination of household taxes and transfers such as childcare and paid leave is necessary to promote equality in the decision-making process on the division of household work.

And finally, policies are needed to compensate for an unequal gender division.

Today many women leave the workforce to tend to children and housework. The adverse impacts of career breaks can be limited by offering paid leave that is tied to previous earnings and includes a guarantee of the right to return to same or similar post.

Active labour market programmes can facilitate labour market reintegration and are particularly effective for adult women and single parents. Policies can also encourage atypical choices in early life, such as pursuing education in traditionally male-dominated spheres such as science, technology, engineering and math, and reduce structural barriers to reduce the adverse impacts of occupational segregation.

We need labour market policies that support women workers, job seekers and unemployed women. These policies support women in finding jobs and include job search assistance and counselling, training and apprenticeships, and skills development.

To be effective, policies and programmes must respond to the needs and realities of women and provide information and services, and conducting trainings in ways accessible to women. We also need labour market policies such as affirmative recruitment, as introduced in the public sector by Bangladesh, and promotion and retention policies, so that women can fully participate in the labour market.

In summary, it is imperative to expand employment opportunities for women, facilitate easier access for women into the labour market, expand social protection measures to reduce vulnerability and provide decent work, invest in women's skills and education and foster access to employment across the occupational spectrum.

This is more than doable as demonstrated by the range of good practices in the report we are launching today.

I thank you and look forward to your questions.