Press Release

‘The Story Behind the Numbers’: UNIFEM Releases New Report on Women’s Status in Labour Market in Eastern Europe

For immediate release
Date: 13 June 2006

Media Inquiries:
(1) Oisika Chakrabarti, Media Specialist, UN Women Headquarters, +1 646 781-4522,
(2) Asya Varbanova, Project Coordinator, Central and South-Eastern Europe Sub-Regional Office, +421 259 337328,

Paris and New York — A study launched in Paris this week by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) examines women's labour market situation in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Western Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in the context of the social and economic transformations in the region in the past 15 years.

Using statistical data from the UNECE Gender Statistics Database, 'The Story Behind the Numbers: Women and Employment in Central and Eastern Europe and the Western Commonwealth of Independent States' analyses trends in women's and men's labour force participation during the transition to a market oriented economy in 18 countries in Eastern Europe and assesses their implications for the economic security of both women and men.

By framing the analysis within the social, political and economic context of this transition, the study highlights several questions to which the available statistics cannot by themselves provide answers, including changes in the status and wage levels of public sector vs. private sector jobs, the increase in different forms of informal employment and the distribution of women and men across them. This 'story behind the numbers' illustrates the various ways in which women's economic security has declined following the collapse of state socialism, and points to the data needed to fully measure the changing labour market position of women and men.

Osnat Lubrani, UNIFEM's regional programme director for Central and Eastern Europe, called the UNECE database an essential foundation for the analysis in the study, noting that "efforts to strengthen it are critical to improve the availability and comparability of statistics to measure the economic status of women." "Limited measures of gender inequality presented outside the broader socio-economic context, could lead to inaccurate conclusions about the real situation women are facing," she said, "masking economic hardship, discrimination and declining living standards for many."

While existing statistics indicate that the transition has not resulted in a large-scale increase in gender inequality, since men's position also decreased and living standards and work conditions for most people 'leveled down', the 'story behind the numbers' points to some trends that indicate the likelihood of a longer-term deterioration in women's situation relative to that of men. For example, women now comprise a larger share of public sector employees than they did in the early years of the transition while the vast majority of male employees, particularly in European Union (EU) member states, currently work in the private sphere. Importantly, the consequences of working in the public sphere, where jobs are generally of low status and underpaid, have become more onerous in light of the withdrawal of state subsidies to child care and other services since the beginning of transition. In addition, although women across the region are on average better educated than men, they are paid significantly less no matter what sector or occupation they work in.

The rate of participation of younger women relative to younger men has fallen sharply, while the opposite trend is observed among older age groups. Younger women's low activity rates can be attributed to their high level of school enrolment, their difficulty in finding jobs, and their tendency to drop out of work to raise children. Parental leave, predominantly taken by women, in many countries is contributing to employers' reluctance to hire and invest in training younger women, while women themselves may find it difficult to reintegrate into the workforce and may lose job skills during their absence. State policies no longer try to assist women to balance work and family. Instead, they have reinforced the tradition of women's sole responsibility for reproductive work and have cut (or allowed the devaluation of) state subsidies for child-care institutions, maternity leave and parental sick leave.

The study concludes with specific recommendations for improving the available data, including those related to the development of the national statistical systems of countries in the region and their harmonization with international and EU frameworks, as well as new data and analysis designed to understand and highlight gender differences. Among these, data on informal work, on the links between employment and family life, on the intersection of gender and other sources of disadvantage, and on migration and trafficking are particularly important.

The study also suggests specific policy measures that need to be taken to improve the disadvantaged position of women in the labour market. Three are highlighted - improving women's access to decent paid work; allowing women and men to better balance work and family life through the use of various tax-benefit schemes, and adopting transparent job evaluation and wage setting mechanisms that help create standards for equal pay for comparable work.


'The Story Behind the Numbers: Women and Employment in Central and Eastern Europe and the Western Commonwealth of Independent States' is available on the UNIFEM website.

For more information, please contact the coordinator of the report, Asya Varbanova, asya.varbanova[at]unifem.org, tel: +421 2 59337 328