The women at work initiative


The women at work centenary initiative aims to better understand, and to address, why progress on delivering on decent work for women has been so slow and what needs to be done towards securing a better future for women at work.

The Initiative addresses four main areas, identified through research and consultations: 

  • Discrimination, including stereotypes, that undermine access to decent work

  • Low pay and the absence of equal pay

  • Lack of recognition, unequal distribution and undervaluation of care work

  • Violence and harassment

These issues are highlighted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which provides the global development framework for action for the coming years. The Initiative has global, regional and national components, and links to the other ILO centenary initiatives, in particular the future of work initiative. 

Research and knowledge development

ILO-Gallup: Towards a better future for women and work: Voices of women and men , provides a first-ever account of global views and experiences of women and men regarding women and work. Based on a representative sample in 142 countries and territories, the ground-breaking report confirms that most women want to be working in a paid job, and that men agree. But work-family balance/access to care is the major obstacle that women face globally, as acknowledged by both women and men. The results have major implications for focusing policy responses around the globe. Country-level data is available in the report and online. 

“This survey clearly shows that most women and men around the globe prefer that women have paid jobs. Family-supportive policies, which enable women to remain and progress in paid employment and encourage men to take their fair share of care work, are crucial to achieving gender equality at work

Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General

Women at Work: Trends 2016  report, provides a snapshot of where women stand today and how they have progressed in the world of work over the past 20 years. It also presents an in-depth analysis of the gender gaps in the world of work and explores the key policy drivers for gender transformative change. The discussion and recommendations focus on three main dimensions: sectoral and occupational segregation, the gender wage gap, and gaps in the policy framework for work/family integration.

World Employment Social Outlook: Trends for women 2017 , updates the labour market trends and provides predictions up to 2021 based on current trends. It also highlights the significant economic benefits if the G20 target of reducing the gap in participation rates between women and men by 25% by the year 2025 were to be reached globally.

Transformation of women at work in Asia: An unfinished development agenda , highlights challenges that women across Asia face in gaining access to decent work, and makes important policy recommendations.

Women in business and management: Gaining momentum , provides a comprehensive picture of women in management positions in businesses. Despite measures to break the glass ceiling, there are still significant hurdles for women to reach senior positions. An Asian report  was launched at a regional conference in Singapore in July 2015 and the MENA report  was launched in Oman in February 2016. A conference was held in Lima for the Americas and the Caribbean in May 2017, and a regional report was also published.

Global Gender Dialogues

Regulating decent work Conference: The future of work

The Conference  was held in Geneva from 3-5 July 2017. The focus was on the future of work, and there was a strong emphasis on issues at the heart of the women at work centenary initiative, including focusing on care jobs and the care economy as an opportunity for the future of decent work.

ILO World of Work 2017 Summit

The International Labour Conference World of Work Summit was dedicated to the theme of “A better future for women at work”. A curtain raiser video  was screened at the event that involved an interactive dialogue among ILO constituents/experts on women at work and eliciting thinking on the issue from world leaders, as well as highlighting transformative action that has been taken by a range of stakeholders. Three women Heads of State, from Malta, Mauritius and Nepal, addressed the Summit.

ILO - Oxford University Human Rights Hub and University of Kent

An international conference took place on 18-19 May 2017 to assess whether current legal strategies and policies have failed to break cycles of disadvantage, and how to chart a new course for action. A selection of academic papers and blogs informed the discussions. 

ILO-Nordic Council of Ministers Global Gender Dialogue

A Global Gender Dialogue took place in Helsinki in November 2016, hosted by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The Dialogue provided a platform to take stock of the Nordic models and experiences in relation to gender equality in the world of work, and to exchange with international constituents and experts from all regions. A specific focus was placed on the experience and analysis of promoting women in leadership and promoting work-family balance. Two think pieces were prepared for the dialogue.

Asia-Pacific Regional Conference: Women and the future of work in the Asia-Pacific

Following an APEC workshop on Improving quality employment opportunities for women, supported by the Government of Australia, the Government is partnering with the ILO to develop a regional report and host a high-level regional conference on ‘Women and the Future of Work’ in 2018.

Equal Pay

The Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC)

Launched in September 2017 during the UN General Assembly, EPIC  is a multi-stakeholder partnership, led by ILO, UN Women and OECD, to contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which calls for equal pay for work of equal value. EPIC is founded on the recognition that no single actor can solve this challenge alone and that efforts can be accelerated through leveraging expertise across a diverse range of stakeholders. 

The Global Wage Report 2018/19

The ILO’s flagship Global Wage report will focus on gender wage and earnings inequalities, and will also provide data that will be included in The future of women at work report (see below). 

Violence and harassment in the world of work

ILO Tripartite Meeting of Experts on violence against women and men in the world of work

A standard-setting discussion to develop a new ILO standard(s) was approved by the ILO Governing Body. A Tripartite Meeting of Experts was held 3-6 October 2016. The report of the meeting will inform the standard-setting discussion during the first discussion in 2018. A law and practice report has also been prepared for the Conference discussion, which also contains a questionnaire, calling for replies from Governments after consultation with the most representative organizations of workers and employers. 

Care economy and care jobs

A core theme that has emerged from the Initiative is the need to focus more on care work, both as an area of employment growth as well as a means of supporting women’s equal opportunities in the world of work. A web portal on the care economy has been developed. The portal showcases the extensive work of the ILO in this area that involves different ILO departments.

This animation  shows the care spectrum and how each stage is linked to decent work. A simplified manual for care-givers is being developed, to be field tested in the Arab States. 

A report on Care jobs and the care economy in a changing world will be launched on 8 March 2018. Based on the report, a Global Care Dialogue will be held in 2018 to examine innovative approaches, policies and concrete action.

The Government of Flanders is supporting the work on care in the context of the initiative, with contributions from the Government of Sweden.

Gender and non-discrimination: country and regional-level

The Sweden-ILO partnership directly supports the women at work centenary initiative through the cross-cutting policy driver on gender equality and non-discrimination. The project is aimed at building capacity of governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations, to overcome structural barriers that lead to persisting gender gaps in the world of work in Côte d’Ivoire, Jordan and Cambodia, and in Latin America.

The future of women at work

The ILO’s women at work initiative and the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development could provide a transformative road map, to give new impetus to ILO constituents’ action to achieve gender equality and non-discrimination. To support this reflection, a major report, the future of women at work, is scheduled to be released on International Women’s Day 2019. The report will bring together the different elements of the Initiative, and provide original data and analysis, and identify effective policies that could galvanize meaningful action to accelerate the pace of change. The report is expected to make a significant and innovative contribution to closing the gender gap in its multiple forms, and to the achievement of the SDG targets.