Reviewing and developing laws and regulations pertaining to women's employment to ensure equal opportunity for women in general employment, and to assume leading posts in administrative and executive bodies and in decision making in government institutions.
In recent years there has been improvement in many aspects of employment such as increased labour force participation of women, wider access to education and training, a greater recognition of women's contribution to economic activity and an increase in legal protection in some fields. However, there has been stagnation in areas such as occupational segregation, access to resources, participation in decision-making, and there are signs that the situation may be deteriorating in others, as illustrated by the disproportionately high number of women who make up the ranks of the poor and the illiterate. Women's employment continues to be characterized by low-skilled and low-paying jobs with few opportunities. There is increasing evidence that a large proportion of women are engaged in more flexible forms of employment, which offer lower levels of labour and social protection, and limited employment security and career prospects.
Numerous obstacles are recognized including the failure to apply laws, lack of knowledge about rights, the need to review existing laws, the uneven sharing of family responsibilities, traditional attitudes towards the role of women and men, and the socio-economic environment in many countries, particularly in relation to the recent lack of economic growth, the debt crisis and the impact of structural adjustment programmes.
Most western market economies have an extensive legislative framework aimed at equal treatment of men and women in paid employment. Many specific actions and programmes have also been undertaken at a regional level. The EEC/EU third equal opportunities action programme (1991-1995) focused on developing the legal framework, promoting jobs for women and improving women's status in society. ILO's programme is designed to create widespread recognition of the obstacles to equality in employment related to the sexual division of labour in the labour market and at home and to propose means to reduce or remove such obstacles.
Article 20 of the European Social Charter (Revised) (Strasbourg 1996) provides: With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to equal opportunities and equal treatment in matters of employment and occupation without discrimination on the grounds of sex, the Parties undertake to recognise that right and to take appropriate measures to ensure or promote its application in the following fields: (a) access to employment, protection against dismissal and occupational reintegration; (b) vocational guidance, training, retraining and rehabilitation; (c) terms of employment and working conditions, including remuneration; and (d) career development, including promotion.
Some of the differences between women's and men's positions in the labour market have arisen under conditions where the composition of female skills and knowledge, heavily biased in most countries towards social rather than technical areas, and perhaps more manual than conceptual in their overall content, are mismatched with major trends in the demand for labour.
Equality is barely mentioned in the Maastricht treat. The only reference is an article on equal pay for equal work that was part of the 1957 Treaty of Rome. But equality is about more than salaries – it is also about getting jobs. We must get rid of the barriers to equal employment and improve access to education, training and technology.