BRIDGE Report 37: Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods: A Gender Perspective

Author: S. Joekes, R. Masika
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies UK
Publication Date: Sep 1996
How do women stand in employment opportunity' To what extent are they able to create livelihoods on par with men in a changing global economic climate' While standard data shows a rise in female labour participation rates, sometimes referred to as the 'feminisation of the labour force', this has not been matched by qualitative improvements in employment opportunities and conditions for women. Current processes of adjustment and privatisation have widened gender disparities in some areas of livelihood creation and employment. This report analyses the gender dimensions of employment and livelihood-focused approaches, and argues that increased access to employment for women is not in itself sufficient to enhance women's economic empowerment. Economic activity is not necessarily empowering for women if they are underpaid or do not control their earnings. Rather gender analysis must be brought forcefully into strategies to promote forms and conditions of economic activity, which enhance women's status.

Perceptions of economic activity have broadened to include the multiple activities of livelihood creation undertaken by many of the world's poor, as well as conventional waged employment. This has lead to an increasing recognition of work carried out by women, which were previously invisible, such as fire wood collection and informal sector activities. Nevertheless, discussions surrounding employment and sustainable livelihoods have generally paid inadequate attention to critical gender issues, as highlighted in the following findings: . Women's employment opportunity is limited, due to occupational segregation and their relatively lower level of education, training and skills. . Women across the world earn on average less than men for equal work. In developing countries, they are paid between 50 and 80 percent of men's wages. . Increasing levels of poverty in many developing countries are eroding rural women's livelihood generation abilities more quickly than for men, due to their 'secondary' position to men in agriculture, and lesser rights to assets, resources, markets, and control of income. . Export expansion has brought greater benefit to men as main producers and managers in tradeable export markets. . Women have been disadvantaged in production due to their exclusion from land ownership, under the trend towards privatisation of land in developing countries, which has prioritised men as heads of households. . Increased environmental degradation has inflicted higher costs on women as main subsistence farmers of the developing world, undermining their resource base for both providing for the family and generating income. There is a clear need for increasing the quantity and quality of jobs available to women in order to reduce gender inequality in economic activity and counteract the deteriorating standards and conditions of jobs on offer. Policy recommendations include: . Direct policy attention to the range of choices, terms and conditions of work for women rather than the gross level of employment. . Improve women's access to complementary resources such as education, training and health care, which determine rate of return on their labour. . Make efforts to improve opportunities for women at the 'higher' end of the job market, through policies such as affirmative action and enforcement of anti- discrimination employment legislation. . Develop the market knowledge of self-employed women through credit and micro-enterprise schemes. . Target women with credit schemes, which insist that assets purchased with loans be registered in her name in order to enhance women's property rights. . Place women in positions of authority in environmental and other project management structures to reduce distribution of project benefits against women.