1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Gender Equality: Striving for Justice in an Unequal World


From Chapter 5 – The feminization and informalization of labour

Over the past three decades women’s economic activity rates have been rising in most parts of the world. There are exceptions to this general global trend, notably in East and Central Europe and Central Asia where there have been notable reversals, and in the Middle East and North Africa where they remain very low. But the general trend is towards increasing female visibility in the economic domain, and in some countries women’s activity rates are nearing men’s. What does the apparent convergence in male and female economic activity rates actually mean? Does it signify the disappearance of gender from the labour market? In other words, is being a man, or a woman, no longer a significant attribute as far as one’s entry into the labour force, pattern of employment, labour market status, and access to pay and welfare benefits are concerned? Another question that arises from the increase in female labour force participation is whether this has had an equalizing affect on the gender division of unpaid domestic and care work.

The evidence explored in chapter 3 suggests that, while there have been important changes in women’s work patterns—notably the increase in work for pay—labour markets continue to be segmented by gender, as well as by factors such as race, caste and ethnicity which intersect with gender. Labour market segmentation does not disappear with modernization and growth, as the experience in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries clearly illustrates. As labour markets restructure and modernize, there are invariably both changes and continuities. However, the recent intensification of women’s paid work has been paralleled by processes of deregulation in the conditions of work, as well as outsourcing and fragmentation of international supply chains.

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