Press Release

International Status Report: Women's Share of Paid Employment Increases in Most Regions of the World

Transition to Market Economy in Many Parts of Eastern Europe Accompanied by Falls in Women's Share of Paid Employment Along With Major Job Losses for Women

For immediate release
Date: 1 June 2000

Media Inquiries:
Oisika Chakrabarti, Media Specialist, UN Women Headquarters, +1 646 781-4522,

United Nations, New York — A new economic report issued by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has found that women's share of paid employment in industry and services has increased in most regions of the world, with the exception of parts of Eastern Europe. There are only eleven countries in the world where women's share of paid employment in industry and services is around 50 per cent.

UNIFEM's new biennial report, Progress of the World's Women 2000, investigates women's status in the context of globalization from the mid 1980s through the late 1990s. It shows that the largest increases in women's share of paid employment in industry and services (15 per cent or more) were in Italy (23 to 38%), Portugal (30 to 46%), Slovenia (34 to 49%) and Sri Lanka (24 to 44%). However women's share fell in some countries in Eastern Europe: Lithuania, Ukraine and Estonia.

Moreover, the level of women's employment fell in many countries of Eastern Europe during the transition to the market economy. From 1985 to 1997, women's employment fell by 40 per cent in Hungary, 31 per cent in Estonia, 33 per cent in Latvia, 24 per cent in Lithuania, 21 per cent in the Russian Federation, 16 per cent in Slovenia, 12 per cent in the Czech Republic and 13 per cent in Poland.

"In times of economic transition, when state-run businesses privatize and a market economy is ushered in, women and girls often pay the price, especially when services such as day care and health care are cut back," said Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of UNIFEM who spearheaded the report. "Progress 2000 points to the large proportion of work women perform that is often invisible to economic decision-makers, particularly women's unpaid work caring for families and communities and the informal sector labor of street vendors and home-based workers."

The report makes clear that global agreements made in the last decade to advance women's progress have not included targets relating to women's economic equality or to women's poverty, but have focused instead on gender equality in educational enrolment and women-specific health targets. Progress 2000 recommends the adoption of globally agreed goals specific to women's economic progress, including ending women's disproportionate presence among the poor by 2015, and raising women's share of administrative and managerial positions to at least 30 per cent by 2005 and to at least 50 per cent by 2015.

Governments to Review Progress

From June 5-9, world leaders will convene at the United Nations in New York for the five-year review of women's progress since the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Progress 2000 provides innovative suggestions for strengthening government and corporate accountability and commitment to advancing women's' economic status. This ranges from providing training to undertaking a gender analysis of national budgets to developing codes of conduct to increase corporate social responsibility. The report also offers tools to monitor how government budgets and policies, and corporate operations and business practices, specifically affect women.

"This report forcefully reminds governments and corporations that more people will benefit from globalization if women are active in setting agendas and reshaping global economic rules," Heyzer said. "UNIFEM is urgently calling upon governments, international financial institutions and corporations to renew their commitments to women's economic status in the face of new constraints and opportunities posed by globalization."

The report's extensive research is supported by detailed accounts of successful efforts already being made to ensure women's fair participation in economic policy making at the national and global level. Stories of successful change strategies featured in Progress 2000 include women workers forging new partnerships between corporations and trade unions to improve labor conditions, poor women forming collectives to introduce their products into global markets and negotiate for better terms and prices, and women's organizations collaborating with governments to recognize how expenditures advance and constrain women's progress.

Equality in Employment Requires Equality in Unpaid Care Work

Dr. Diane Elson, Coordinator of the report and a Professor of Development in the Department of Sociology at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, says women's entry into waged and salaried work does not necessarily mean they are escaping from subordination within their families and societies.

"Many women employed part-time or through temporary work receive lower wages, limited career prospects and fewer employment rights than full-time jobs," she said. "Though the quantity of jobs may have increased, the quality of women's work has not. Women still contribute 70 per cent of the total devoted time devoted to unpaid care work, providing care to their families and communities. This compares to men who contribute only 30 per cent of their time spent on such work."

Women Make Gains in Decision-Making Occupations: U.S. Leads With Highest Share of Women in Managerial and Economic Decision-Making Positions

Women are doing more of the work but are they getting a greater voice in how work is carried out?

  • In 51 out of 59 countries women's share of managerial and administrative occupations has risen, reaching 30 per cent or more in 16 countries. This is higher than the number of countries (8) in which women have achieved 30 per cent or more of seats in national legislatures.
  • Of the 21 Western European and Other Developed nations where data is available, the United States had the highest share of women in managerial and administrative positions, increasing from 38 per cent to 47 per cent from the 1980s to the 1990s, compared with the United Kingdom (22 to 33%), Canada (35 to 40%) and Japan (9 to 11%).
  • Though the United States has the highest share of women in managerial and administrative positions, it has only achieved a 12.5 per cent share of women's seats in Congress, ranking 19 out of 24 of Western European and Other Developed nations.
  • Only 8 nations have achieved a 30 per cent share of women's seats in national legislatures (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Sweden.) As of March 2000, quotas had been adopted in at least 25 countries, among them Sweden (42.7%), Finland (37%), Norway (36.4%), Argentina (23%), Guyana (20%), Costa Rica (19.3%), Namibia (18.3%) and Eritrea (14.7%).

Women Forming Small Businesses in Most Regions

Women's share of work as an employer or as a self-employed person is rising in all regions except Northern Africa and Central Asia.

  • In the United States, women's share is up from 26 per cent in the 1980s to 37 percent in the 1990s; as such the US ranks third in the developed countries, behind Portugal (40%) and Poland (40%)
  • Women's share of work as an employer or as a self-employed person is high and rising in most of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, reflecting the importance of women in farming and small-scale services in these economies.

Broader Measures Needed

Targets are a vital first step says Elson, but we need more of them - along with indicators of the extent to which countries have been able to reach them. The classic case she added is that of gender disparities in income. Progress 2000 reveals the following:

Data on the gender wage gap are likely to reflect the earnings of full-time formal sector employees, since surveys tend to omit part-time, home-based seasonal and temporary employees and do not cover very small enterprises.

  • The gender gap in wages in the industrial and services sector ranges from 53 per cent to 97 per cent, with a median of 78 per cent.
  • In manufacturing, the range is 54 per cent to 99 per cent, with a median of 75 per cent.
  • In 1998, women's wages in the United States were 76.3 per cent of men's wages on a weekly basis.
    • Out of the 22 countries for which data is available, female wages in manufacturing have risen as a percentage of male wages in 20 countries, and have fallen only slightly in 2 countries.
    • In Eastern Europe, only one country, Bulgaria, shows a rise (5 percentage points) in the gender pay gap between 1990 and 1997. The gender pay gap has been relatively stable in Slovenia and Russia, and has narrowed considerably in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary.

Economic Inequality Among Women

Progress 2000 states that income inequality is likely growing among women, with highly educated women enjoying rising incomes and good employment conditions while women with less education have stagnant or falling incomes.

  • An analysis of the dispersion of earnings among women in 9 Latin American countries shows that inequality among women increased in all but two countries (Brazil and Honduras).
  • New evidence from the UK indicates that married women with no skills or medium-level skills experience the greatest economic penalty from the gender gap and from becoming a parent. The lifetime earnings gap for low-skilled and medium-skilled childless women (as compared to men) is 37 per cent. For high-skilled married women with no children, it is only 12 per cent of lifetime earnings.

Income inequality has been rising in most countries over the last 15 years. This means that poor women are unlikely to have benefited much from progress in closing gender gaps in the economy, says Elson.

UNIFEM is the women's fund at the United Nations that provides financial support and technical assistance to innovative programs promoting women's human rights, their economic and political empowerment, and gender equality in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Latin American and the Caribbean.

With programs in more than 100 countries, UNIFEM advocates within the UN system to link women's interests and concerns to critical issues on the national, regional and global agenda. For more information visit the organization's website at www.undp.org.