EmpowerWomen.org hosted an e-discussion on “Women’s Employment: Enabling Environment and Legal Incentives” from 15 to 29 January 2014. The objective was to promote a debate around the findings of the World Bank Group’s 2014 Women, Business and the Law report on two relevant indicators to women’s economic empowerment as well as around driving advocacy for women's employment.
1) Getting a job – which covers regulations that affect women’s ability to start, remain and advance in their careers, and includes legislations mandating maternity, paternity and parental leave.
2) Providing incentives to work – which covers regulations that affect a parent’s decision to engage in or return to employment, and includes personal income tax credits and deductions or provision of childcare, children’s education, and flexible work.
3) Driving advocacy for women’s employment.
UNDP, UN Women and the World Bank Group co-organized the e-discussion, inviting the following experts to provide their views and facilitate the debate: Marieke Koning, Equality Department, International Trade Union Confederation; Ned Lawton, Chief Technical Advisor, Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch, International Labour Office; Monique Newiak, Economist, International Monetary Fund; Keiko Nowacka, Gender Project Coordinator, Wikigender, OECD Development Center; Dr. Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Director, Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, The Wilson Center; and Elizabeth Slattery, Senior Employment Partner, Hogan Lovells.
The e-discussion brought together 12,087 women and men from more than 80 countries to discuss laws and regulations affecting women's economic opportunities across the world. They emphasized that using the law to enable women’s employment and change social norms is an important first step to promote women's economic empowerment, but that key obstacles to implementation include that current legal frameworks are still limited to address issues that a large number of women face in the informal economy or in unpaid care work.
Getting a job and providing incentives to work
Most participants shared the view that maternity, paternity and parental benefits, as well as work-life balance and greater participation in decision-making are key factors in increasing women's employment and participation in the workplace. However, they highlighted five key issues that impact women’s ability to fully participate in employment, and achieve gender equality: (1) Imbalance in maternity, paternity and parental leave; (2) Lack of affordable child care; (3) Work-life balance; (4) Lack of women in decision-making positions; and (5) Discrimination against pregnant women.
a) Imbalance in maternity, paternity and parental leave
Some members highlighted that in most countries the current length of maternity, paternity and parental leave does not encourage an equitable distribution of family and care responsibilities between women and men. They argued that while maternity leave tends to be mandatory and last between 3 to 24 months, paternity leave is usually optional and only lasts a few days or a few weeks.
Men are eligible for only 2 days of paternity leave, and yet many employers and men take it as optional.(Caro Cimador, Argentina)
For the men, in my country, paternity leave is hardly a concern. They don't like it, don't want it, and some think they don't need it. (Marie A. Abanga, Cameroon)
There is no concept of paternal or parental leave in Pakistan but there are other kinds of leaves through which one can achieve it. (Fazal Akbar, Pakistan)
There are no legal provisions in Brazil regarding parental leave, where both parents can take time off from work to take care of their children. (Ana Claudia Ruy Cardia, Brazil)
Most members agreed that a more balanced approach to maternity, paternity and parental leave is desirable. However, they emphasized that other factors like social norms and gender stereotypes continue to play a significant role in this area. Laws and regulations that establish public daycare centers, provide for childcare subsidies and mandate free and compulsory education may provide incentives for women to work and while the adoption of such policies is required, there is also a need for initiatives able to shift gender paradigms in societies.
Unless men play an equal role as caretaker, women’s equality in the workplace or at home will not be guaranteed. (Rangita De Silva De Alwis, India)
Policies that encourage fathers also to care for their children through parental leave entitlements can be an effective means of addressing these social norms and thereby ensure that women's double workload as carer/mother and professional is evenly shared with the male partner.(Keiko Nowacka, France)
Sweden is now taking different initiatives to try and encourage women and men to share their parental leave of 18 months by paying a bonus if parents share the parental leave equally. (Helena Nord Lee, Sweden)
b) Lack of affordable childcare
Another issue that participants highlighted is the lack of affordable childcare. Childcare is rarely considered a central component of the employment policy in most countries. Even in some developed countries, the provision of childcare in public policies is inexistent or peripheral.
Almost no publicly organized childcare is available once the parent decides to go back to work. (Jelena Bosnjak, Croatia)
For many families, childcare is the second highest expense after housing. Families can pay between $40 and $60 a day for childcare.(Toro Olatidoye, Canada)
I have known many women of different socio-economic status who actually quit their jobs to be childcare provider for their children. In those cases, the amount they made at their respective jobs would have all gone to pay for childcare. In homes that absolutely have to have two income providers this puts families in an extremely tough spot until their children are at school age. (Megan Bird, United States).
In contrast, participants agreed that in countries where childcare is available and affordable, women’s economic opportunities are higher, greater equality exists between women and men in the workplace, and mothers participate more in the workforce. Most members considered that there is a need to formulate and implement laws and policies to meet the childcare needs of working parents.
The nation needs to design policy that makes childcare accessible, affordable, and sustainable to the poor working mothers. (Prasida Khanal, Nepal)
c) Work-life balance
Work-life balance was a common thread throughout the discussion, especially around laws and regulations that encourage parents or those with caring responsibilities to request flexible working arrangements. More specifically, participants mentioned the lack of options and flexibility to balance care responsibility with jobs. From the examples provided by the participants, flexible working arrangements take different forms, such as part-time work, reduced working hours, working from home, and they are usually granted to women.
While the right to request legislation has probably made it easier for women to continue to participate in the labor market following the birth of a child, the legislation does not facilitate more equal division of childcare responsibilities between men and women. (Elizabeth Slattery, United Kingdom)
d) Lack of women in decision-making positions
To deal with the lack of women in decision-making positions, participants shared examples of national policies that impose quotas for women in executive boards and in government positions. However, some countries view quotas as an undesirable and unnecessary mechanism to increase women participation in decision-making positions. In either case, participants agreed that this is a topic that deserves legislative attention.
Although the Government of Nepal reserves 33% of all positions to women less than 1% of the decision-making positions are occupied by them. (Prasida Khanal, Nepal)
The European Commission estimates that at the current rate of progress it will take another 40 years to achieve gender balanced boardrooms in Europe. (Elizabeth Slattery, United Kingdom)
e) Discrimination against pregnant women
A common concern among participants is continuous workplace discrimination against pregnant women. In many countries dismissal of a pregnant woman or a woman who just had a child is common and there is limited legislation to contest it. In other countries, the legislation protecting pregnant women from dismissal exists but is weak or not enforced.
Within the EU dismissing a woman because of pregnancy is direct sex discrimination. Despite this, a report from the Equal Opportunities Commission in 2005 estimated that in the UK alone, 30,000 women a year were forced out of work because they were pregnant. (Elizabeth Slattery, United Kingdom)
Although every woman has the right to keep her job during pregnancy, as soon as she reports she is pregnant, employers will fire her for any other reason. (Caro Cimador, Argentina)
Participants emphasized that women can take legal action and fight for their rights in countries with existing legislation. In Jamaica, for instance, if an employer unfairly dismisses a woman during pregnancy or maternity leave, the company is subject to legal penalties. However, a woman in this situation has to claim her rights in a court, which may incur in costs. In the UK, for example, the cost to access the court is as high as US$3,000.
Driving advocacy for women's employment
The 2014 Women, Business and the Law report provides objective, cross-country comparative data, which participants suggested using for advocacy purposes.
The report can raise awareness of the gains of leveling the play field for women and thus encourage policy makers to take the necessary actions. (Radha Singla, USA)
Members suggested using the findings of the report as an advocacy tool in at least three different fronts:
a) Encourage governments to do more in terms of employment laws and regulations for women’s economic empowerment.
Countries are often spurred to action when they see what their neighbors or countries they consider themselves to be on par with are doing. Ivory Coast's recent reforms to the family law and tax code to extend child tax deductions to employed mothers in addition to fathers will hopefully lead to some tangible outcomes that can inspire other countries to extend such benefits to mothers. Chile's recent introduction of parental leave will hopefully be taken up by fathers and mothers, and get neighbors talking. (Yasmin Bin-Humam, USA)
b) Enable advocates to build strong advocacy messages and influence decision and policy-makers in the government and beyond.
The current state of U.S. law (12 weeks unpaid with restrictions on coverage, only about 60% eligibility) causes difficulties for working families. There is some momentum for change as evidenced by the introduction of legislation (Gillibrand and DeLauro's FAMILY Act), but this is contested by advocates of limited government. As a journalist and writer, I try to curate news about the topic on Twitter. I also started a maternity leave social enterprise and have used this database in my research. Without a doubt, it will be interesting to watch the progress of debate on the issue. (Kelly Taber, USA)
c) Widely share data and analysis of the report (including through social media) to encourage wider mobilization of the civil society in demanding reforms in employment laws.
One way how to raise awareness and encourage the policy makers to formulate gender sensitive policies is to use The Women, Business and the Law report and database. They can give the data and update on progress on the women's empowerment into the world perspective and encourage the governments to do more in this field as they tend to compete against each other when the neighboring or regionally close country shows positive results. [They] can give valuable material, especially the statistics and infographic, and for the effective advocacy in the countries that did not fare that well in the Report. Also, both, the statistics and infographic can be easily used in the effective advocacy campaign using the easily accessible social media platforms and can be also invaluable for resource mobilization and building effective partnerships for women's organizations and agencies.(Radha Singla, USA)
Participants made some key recommendations for making employment laws and regulations more effective and responsive for women’s needs, including:
Google+ Hangout on Air on “Women's Employment: Enabling Environment and Legal Incentives” was co-organized with the World Bank as a follow up to our joint e-discussion. Streamed live on 26 February 2014.