Gender Economic Equity Achieving "25 by 25": Actions to make Women's Labour Inclusion a G20 Priority


While women's labour insertion has significantly increased, wide gender gaps persist: women partipate less in labour markets, their employment conditions are worse, they face glass walls and ceilings and they are discriminated by the law. Achieving gender equity is not only a moral imperative, but it also key for growth and development. The G20 countries have committed to reduce the gap in labour participation 25% by 2025, yet progress has been slim and thus innovative solutions need to be implemented. This document aims to provide policy recommendations to achieve this goal and bridge gender gaps in the world of work.


During the last decades women have massively entered the labour market. However, wide gender gaps persist. In 2017, global female labour force participation reached 49.4%, 26.7 p.p. lower than for men and no improvements are expected in the short term (ILO, 2017). Women are more likely to remain economically inactive and, when they do participate in labour markets, they are more prone to be unemployed, work in the informal economy, receive lower wages, concentrate in less dynamic sectors and be under-represented at the top (Kabeer, 2017). Thus, while female labour insertion and conditions have progressed, these have not necessarily translated into decent work or economic empowerment.

These gender inequalities are an obstacle to women's effective exercise of their rights. Yet promoting gender equality in labour markets is not only right for women, but also for the economy and society as a whole. A growing body of literature highlights the economic returns of closing gender labour gaps and the benefits of a diverse workforce for business performance (Brosio, Díaz Langou, & Rapetti, 2018). Therefore, the absence of a trade-off between equity and growth and its benefits in all dimensions make it imperative to advance towards women's empowerment.

Two interrelated factors are at play behind these gender gaps. First, social norms and customs create gender stereotypes that are deeply rooted in societies and internalized by men and women, affecting their decision to engage in labour activities in general and in certain sectors or occupations particularly. Second, the sexual division of labour has historically considered women as primarily responsible for domestic and care work, hampering female participation in paid activities and generating a "double burden". While female labour force participation has increased, there has been no recognition of the importance of unpaid work or a redistribution between men and women.

Gender prejudices are also associated to legal restrictions on women's agency. According to Women, Business and the Law report (World Bank, 2018), in 167 out of 189 countries laws hinder women's economic opportunities and 104 have legal gender-based job restrictions on women. These can affect their access to financial assets, property rights and social networks, and even constrain women's freedom of movement or labour insertion.

Education is another factor closely associated to labour inclusion. Educational achievements are correlated with greater participation in decision-making, improved employment outcomes, reduced early marriage, reduced maternal mortality and greater awareness of rights (UN Women, 2016). Over the last decades, girls' educational attainment has significantly improved and some countries exhibit a positive gap for women, yet in others it remains a problem.

Given its key role in the global economy, the G20 has a huge potential to deliver on gender equality. In 2014, the G20 leaders committed to reduce the gender gap in participation by 25% by 2025, which would bring more than 100 million women into the labour force. Despite the compromise and the heightened relevance of the W20 within the G20 process, overall progress has been slim and thus innovative solutions need to be pushed forward.


Empowering women is not only correct from a rights' perspective, but it is also smart economics: evidence suggests that reducing gender gaps in the labour market can contribute to economic growth and sustainable and inclusive development. In this sense, reducing gender gaps is essential to achieve the 2030 Agenda goal of "leaving no one behind".

Unequal power structures limit the opportunities for women, for they exclude them from certain activities while mostly relegating them to the private sphere. These asymmetries are reinforced by existing social norms, laws and public policies, and they translate not only in lower female labour force participation and lower pay for women, but also in constraints on women's freedom of movement, on their decision-making and on their actions more broadly. While culture and social norms are hard to change in the short term, policy can foster and accelerate the debunking of gender stereotypes.

One symptom of our patriarchal societies is the fact that women exhibit higher levels of time poverty due to the disproportionate amount of unpaid work they perform, which often leads to a double burden of work. Therefore, increasing female labour force participation requires encouraging co- responsibility between different actors to redistribute these activities.

Moreover, as a new wave of innovation and technology disrupts the world of work, new challenges and opportunities arise to bridge gender gaps. According to the WEF (2016), the future of work will have different implications for men and women. As domestic chores are further automated, the amount of unpaid work could be reduced, decreasing women's double burden. Nonetheless, a globally ageing population means that care needs will increase in the near future. Additionally, the STEM field, in which women are underrepresented, is likely to register the highest employment growth, so reducing the digital, educational and entrepreneurial divides is essential to prevent women from lagging behind these opportunities.

Given existing information gaps, a necessary step to address inequalities is to collect better sex-disaggregated data and perform gender analyses of policies and events. Only by "engendering" data we will be able to produce better evidence and thus improve policymaking and planning to empower women. This requires gender mainstreaming in developing standards and methodologies for data collection and analysis, both in rural and urban environments. In this vein, striving towards the "25 by 25" goal set during the Australian G20 Presidency requires monitoring progress with quality data. For this purpose, the ILO and the OECD have developed a set of indicators (ILO & OECD, 2015) that are described in the Appendix.

As women face multiple and intersecting barriers in order to enter and remain in the labour market, a multidimensional and comprehensive approach is required to address each of the obstacles and deconstruct cultural and social representations in order to leverage female talent. Additionally, especial attention must be put on minority groups of women, such as migrants, who face additional barriers. The following sections provide policy recommendations building on previous research and the W20 2017 Communiqué and Implementation Plan.