Women earn on average 24 percent less than men, work more hours and have less chance of receiving a pension in later life, according to UN Women’s flagship report, which calls for an overhaul of global economic policies to improve women’s lives.
The 2015 progress report, Transforming economies, realising rights, published on Monday, said current economic policies and discriminatory laws and attitudes are failing women in rich and poor countries.
Despite significant progress in overcoming the barriers to equal opportunities, which includes new legislation to support women’s right to work, change has not penetrated deep enough in some countries.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women, said it was “staggering that where we are doing the right thing is more the exception than the rule”.
The report, published as the UN debates the next set of sustainable development goals, found that only half of women over the age of 15 are in the labour force, compared with three-quarters of men considered to be of working age. In poorer countries, 75 percent of women are employed in informal sector jobs, such as domestic workers, positions not covered by international employment laws and which leave them open to abuse and exploitation.
Some 77 countries still restrict the type of work women can undertake, with bans on night-time work – as was the case until recently in Bolivia – or construction jobs.
At least 80 countries, including France, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico and South Africa, do not have legislation requiring equal pay for equal work. Over their lifetimes, women in France and Sweden can expect to earn 31 percent less than men, in Germany 49 percent less and in Turkey 25 percent less.
On top of the wage gap in paid work, women on average do almost two-and-a-half times more unpaid care and household work as men. Combining paid and unpaid work, researchers calculated that women in almost all countries work longer hours each day than men.
The report, which drew on existing international data, national figures and policies, as well as on-the-ground interviews, said that while the economic crisis in 2008 had affected the lives of women and men, the resulting cuts in public spending had disproportionately affected women. Austerity measures had “shifted the burden of coping and caring into the household and on to the shoulders of women and girls”.
Although the gender pay gap had narrowed slightly since the crash, this had not translated into a more equal employment landscape. In some countries, the reduced wage gap was due to men’s wages falling more than women’s, which “can hardly be considered progress. Instead of catching up with men, there is a levelling down for all,” it said.
The report, the first UN Women progress report since 2011, also found that sexual harassment in the workplace is still a reality for thousands of women. At least 34 countries do not have legislation banning sexual harassment at work and those that do aren’t doing enough to fully implement them. In the EU, 75percent of women who hold managerial or more senior professional positions say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace, the report found.
Almost all countries now offer paid maternity leave, although only 63 complied with the International Labour Organisation’s recommendations of a minimum of 14 weeks of leave paid at a rate of at least two-thirds of earnings by governments and employers.
Later in life, women are more likely to live in poverty as they are less likely to contribute to a pension than men. Given the nature of women’s work, they don’t always have spare money to contribute towards a pension scheme if one is available.
The report called on governments to tighten laws to protect women in the workplace. Well-designed and funded social services – such as affordable health and childcare, and improved access to water and sanitation – are needed to improve poverty levels and free up women’s time.
A shift in attitude is required to challenge the traditional role of women as the chief carers of children, argued the report. Social protection measures, such as cash-transfer schemes that have proved successful in parts of Asia and Latin America in alleviating poverty, are also needed.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said that it was not just about finding new money, but also about using existing funds to better support women through paying a minimum wage or investing in affordable, decent childcare. More women in decision-making roles are also required, she said.
“Our public resources are not flowing in the directions where they are most needed, for example, to provide safe water and sanitation, quality healthcare and decent child and elderly care services. Where there are no public services, the deficit is borne by women and girls.”
Barbara Lotti, a programme officer at the women’s fund Mama Cash, said: “The report stresses consistently that social norms are responsible for women’s socio-economic disadvantage in the labour market. Even in countries where formal equality in the form of laws exists, the type of work women perform is undervalued as compared to the jobs that men do, resulting in a gender pay gap.
“It is a big gain to understand the stereotyping of women and the stigma they experience as a crucial factor in women’s access to decent employment. Now more than ever is the time to equip women workers in formal and informal sectors with resources to do their norm-transforming work and thus get at the root causes of the inequality they face.”