Women still struggling for work equality

The progress of women in the workplace has made little progress in 25 years according to a new report.

Less than 50% of working-age women are in the labour market, a figure that has barely changed over the last quarter of a century, according to the United Nation’s which has called for greater monitoring and urgent action.

The World’s Women 2020: Trends and Statistics found unpaid domestic and care work falls disproportionately on women, restraining their economic potential as the COVID-19 pandemic additionally affects women’s jobs and livelihoods, the report warns.

Produced by the Statistics Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the World’s Women report has been produced every five years since 1990 and provides the latest data on the state of gender equality worldwide

The study analyses gender equality in six critical areas: population and families; health; education; economic empowerment and asset ownership; power and decision-making; and violence against women and the girl child as well as the impact of COVID-19.

“Twenty-five years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, progress towards equal power and equal rights for women remains elusive. No country has achieved gender equality, and the COVID-19 crisis threatens to erode the limited gains that have been made,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “The Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals and efforts to recover better from the pandemic offer a chance to transform the lives of women and girls, today and tomorrow.”

While unpaid domestic and care work has intensified for both men and women during the COVID-19 pandemic, women continue to do the lion’s share. On an average day, women globally spend about three times as many hours on unpaid domestic and care work as men (4.2 hours compared to 1.7). In Northern Africa and Western Asia that gender gap is even higher, with women spending more than seven times as much as men on these activities.

“This lopsided distribution of unpaid domestic and care work prevents women from participating in the labour market,” warns the report. “In 2020, only 47% of women of working age participated in the labour market, compared to 74% of men – a gender gap that has remained relatively constant since 1995.”

In Southern Asia, Northern Africa and Western Asia, the number is even lower, with less than 30% of women participating in the labour market. And the pandemic is expected to exacerbate these gender disparities, as many women work in the subsectors hardest hit by COVID-19 and lockdown measures, including in paid domestic work, accommodation and food services, and the retail trade. Women also make up over 70% of workers in the health sector, therefore facing higher infection risks than men in the workplace.

The study said found the “glass ceiling” showed no signs of cracking.

“In terms of power and decision making, women held only 28% of managerial positions globally in 2019 – almost the same proportion as in 1995,” it said. “Only 18% of enterprises surveyed had a female Chief Executive Officer in 2020.

“Among Fortune 500 corporations only 7.4%, or 37 Chief Executive Officers, were women. In political life, while women’s representation in parliament has more than doubled globally, it has still not crossed the barrier of 25% of parliamentary seats in 2020. Women’s representation among cabinet ministers has quadrupled over the last 25 years yet remains well below parity at 22%.”

The UN said reliable, timely and disaggregated data are critically needed, particularly now as the international community responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, to effectively measure progress in achieving gender equality. Closing the data and evidence gaps through regular collection and use of gender statistics is crucial.

“I call on all countries to accelerate efforts towards the empowerment of women and girls and towards improving the evidence base to monitor progress: data gaps in the coverage of key gender topics need to be filled,” said Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. “Timeliness and comparability of data over time and across countries need to be improved, and data disaggregation and dissemination by age, sex, location and other key variables need to become a priority in order to fully measure and address intersecting inequalities, respond to crises, and ensure gender equality by 2030.”