and men

Women´s Issues After Beijing
Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women
Positions - Networks - Results

Chapter III

The Twelve Critical Areas of Concern of the Beijing Platform for Action: A Women´s Agenda for the Twenty-first Century

6 Women and the economy: practically excluded from decision-making

It is true that women´s position in the economic field has improved since the Nairobi Conference in some respects.In general, however, the Platform states that women are everywhere virtually absent from or poorly represented in economic decision-making. This has an increasingly negative impact on women´s equal participation in the economy.

Increasing impediment and discrimination

Women are only marginally involved in economic decision-making. Equality does not exist in particular in the two central areas, ie policy-making and business-related institutions. This applies to the formulation of financial, monetary and commercial policies and also to fiscal and bargaining policies. Women are also practically non-existent in international economic policy-making. Everywhere the rules are made by men.

Rules are made by men

Women´s participation in remunerated work has increased substantially because a growing number of households depend on an additional income. However, the majority of women have been forced to accept poor legal and working conditions.

Women in demand as cheap labour

In many countries it is mainly women who work in part-time, home-based or casual employment. Their pay is lower, they lack job security and their occupational health and safety in the workplace is neglected. The combined impact of economic pressure and discrimination have further aggravated gender-specific exclusion. As a result, women are more willing to accept work even with less pay and poorer working conditions. Their low skill levels force them to take on monotonous and physically harmful work.
Inequality continues as a result of their being downgraded as low-pay workers. Globalization and increased competition cement inequality world-wide.

Social degradation is female

The Platform points out that more analysis needs to be done of the impact of globalization on women´s economic position. However, it is a foregone conclusion that women are the first victims of structural adjustments because of their sex.
Discrimination against women manifests itself in education and training, remuneration and status of employment, promotion and horizontal mobility practices. Lack of adequate child care continues to restrict mobility and opportunities. The terribly unequal burden of responsibility for the family results in permanent overstress for working women.

Discrimination results in overstress

Traditional prejudices continue to be an obstacle for women´s advancement, including the deeply-ingrained attitudinal distrust of men against women in management. Men do not regard women as their equals and women therefore have no access to positions of leadership. Frequently, sexual harassment also prevents women from making a contribution commensurate with their abilities. The lack of a family-friendly work environment creates further barriers: in many countries there is no affordable child care and inflexible work schedules deny women the mobility required for coping with their complex responsibilities.

Prejudice and distrust create barriers

Women contribute to development not only through their remunerated work. However, their work in the home and for the family is not valued in national accounts. The extensive invisibility of women´s work results in their contribution being greatly under-valued. This ignorance greatly limits the social recognition of the status of women.

Unremunerated work by women is invisible

"The full visibility of the type, extent and distribution of this unremunerated work" will improve the status of women in society and will also contribute to "a better sharing of responsibilities" between the sexes.

Strategies and actions to be taken

The six strategic objectives of the Platform are directed towards a reduction of discrimination in various settings. In all sections of the economy, steps must be taken to make visible discriminatory effects on women and to eliminate them through gender-sensitive policies. The Platform defines the areas to be covered:

  • women´s equal access to decision-making,
  • economic rights and employment opportunities,
  • status of equal value in the work process,
  • equal access to resources (business services, training opportunities, markets, information and technology),
  • no gender-specific separation in the choice and practice of occupations,
  • better coordination of remunerated and unremunerated work for women and men, respectively.

Remove structures hostile to women

Women must participate to the same extent in the design of business-related policies and institutions and accept responsibility in key positions. The gender-specific effects of institutions, trade relations, the flows of goods, services and money must become visible and be corrected in the spirit of the Platform. All structural adjustment concepts must incorporate a gender perspective.

Report on Human Development 1995

The graph on the front page of the Report on Human Development 1995 dramatically illustrates to what extent women´s contribution to the economy is under-valued:

  • Women carry more than one half of the work load.
  • Men spend three quarters of their working time on remunerated work, whilst only one third of work done by women is remunerated.
  • Consequently, men receive the lion´s share of income and recognition for their contribution to the economy, while the largest part of women´s work continues to be unremunerated, unrecognized and under-valued.

The majority of women work more hours than men

Equal pay for women and men, a classical demand of social justice which has not yet been met, must at last be implemented. All States must enact legislation to guarantee the rights of equal pay, as formulated in 1951 in the International Labour Organisation Convention No. 100 as early as forty-five years ago.

Equal pay for equal work

Material justice between the sexes is an indispensable condition "for achieving a genuinely sustainable economic growth and sustainable development". It is therefore not only a question of legal entitlements; Governments promised to step up efforts to close the gap between women´s and men´s pay.
Job evaluation schemes with gender-neutral criteria should be developed and promoted by Governments. Pay and wage structures in typically female occupations, such as the nursing and teaching professions, should be examined: better pay gives better status.

Improve the status of female occupations

Another fundamental condition for a humane economic order quoted by the Platform is the elimination of forced and child labour. All forms of child labour must be eliminated within a clearly defined time-frame. The Convention on the Rights of the Child should become part of the national body of law. Special attention must be paid to excessive demands made on girls for work in their household.

Eliminate forced labour

In all parts of the world, women need a guaranteed right to organize in trade unions. The Platform regards this as a suitable mechanism for improving poor working conditions and for eliminating wage inequality for women. The election of women as trade union officials should be promoted by Governments, trade unions and women´s organizations.

Women need trade union rights

Women must be protected from discrimination with respect to hiring, promotion and redundancy. Legal protection, including means of redress and access to justice, is also required for cases of sexual and racial harassment. Part-time, casual, temporary and home-based work requires appropriate protection of labour laws and must be covered by social security.

Enforceable rights for all women

Men and women should share family responsibilities. Traditional attitudes to the division of labour based on gender must be changed. The impact of social security legislation and taxation systems must be examined in respect of sharing of domestic responsibilities and reformed, when appropriate. Education programmes should raise awareness about a more equitable sharing of responsibilities.

Sharing family responsibilities

The encouragement and promotion of women, both in material and ideal terms, must be actively pursued in the interest of equality and equal participation in the economy.

Strengthening what encourages women - encouraging what strengthens women

The incentive role of the State as the employer must be used for the development of a policy of equal opportunities for women and men. In order to eliminate gender apartheid in the workplace, women should be encouraged to break away from traditional patterns of occupational choice and to seek employment in the scientific and technical professions as well. This requires vocational training, advice, retraining and counselling that are not limited to traditional employment areas. In turn, men must be encouraged to seek employment in the social field as well.


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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | Net Edition mv&ola | Oktober 1997