Washington, DC: Why isn’t the global economy fit for women? A flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, we investigate what this failure means – and propose solutions, takes a fresh, holistic look at both economic and social policies and their implications for the entire economy. It looks particularly at the ‘invisible’ economy of unpaid care and domestic work that anchors all economies and societies.
The globalised economy seems to be working at cross-purposes with our universal vision of women’s rights; it is limiting, rather than enabling them. Where there is no choice, there are few rights. Women are still earning significantly less money than men, despite working longer hours when paid and unpaid work is taken into account, a new U.N. report reveals.
The U.N. Women report shows that even though more women are in the workplace and taking on leadership positions worldwide, pay levels are nowhere near reaching equality worldwide. On average women around the world earn 24% less than men, the report says, and earn just half of the income men earn over a lifetime. Women in South Asia experience the greatest gender pay gap, earning 33% less than men. The Middle East and North Africa have a 14% pay gap.
Women do nearly 2½ times more unpaid and domestic work compared with men and are less likely to receive a pension. Only half of working-age women are in the workforce compared to three-fourths of working-age men.
Conventional measures like GDP have historically been blind to a large proportion of the work women and girls do, and unhearing of the voices of those who would wish to allocate public resources to their relief, for example through investments in accessible water and clean energy.
“Our world is out of balance. It is both wealthier and more unequal today than at any time since the Second World War. We are recovering from a global economic crisis – but that recovery has been jobless. We have the largest cohort ever of educated women, yet globally women are struggling to find work. Unemployment rates are at historic highs in many countries, including those in the Middle East and North Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as in southern Europe,” a report says.
Where women do have jobs, globally they are paid 24 per cent less than men, on average. For the most part, the world’s women are in low-salaried, insecure occupations, like small-scale farming, or as domestic workers – a sector where they comprise 83 per cent of the workforce.
Data from France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey suggest that women earn between 31 and 75 per cent less than men over their lifetimes. We need policies that make it possible for both women and men to care for their loved ones without having to forego their own economic security, success and independence.
But there are solutions. The report proposes a number of specific ways in which to mobilise resources to pay for public services and social transfers: for example by enforcing existing tax obligations, reprioritising expenditure and expanding the overall tax base, as well as through international borrowing and development assistance.
Global corporations also have a central role to play by being employers that offer equal pay and opportunities. Shareholders can and should ask corporations to act with responsibility to the countries in which they operate. Annual tax revenue lost to developing countries due to trade mispricing, just one strategy used by corporations to avoid tax, is estimated at between 98 and 106 billion dollars. This is nearly 20 billion more than the annual capital costs needed to achieve universal water and sanitation coverage.
With the right mix of economic and social policies, governments can make transformative change: they can generate decent jobs for women and men and ensure that their unpaid care work is recognized and supported. Well-designed measures such as family allowances and universal pensions can enhance women’s income security, and their ability to realise their potential and expand their life options.
Finally, macroeconomic policies can and should support the realisation of women’s rights, by creating dynamic and stable economies, by generating decent work and by mobilising resources to finance vital public services. Ultimately, upholding women’s rights will not only make economies work for women, it will also benefit societies as a whole by creating a fairer and more sustainable future. Progress for women is progress for all.
As a solution, the report suggests creating an economy that prioritizes women’s needs. It provides 10 recommendations for governments and other key players to adopt, such as creating more and better jobs for women, reducing occupational segregation, and establishing benchmarks to assess progress in women’s economic and social rights.