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Fridays Academy: Gender and the Labor Market

Ignacio Hernandez's picture


We continue with the Fridays Academy series where we left it, before the Summer break. As usual, this is based on Raj Nallari and Breda Griffith's lecture notes.


Measures to Assess Progress

 Employment by sector and status of employment are two measures that allow us to gauge conditions of decent and productive employment and the progress made by women in the world of work. Regional data on status of employment have been made available for the first time in 2005 when the ILO published data of regional estimates on the status of employment for men and women.

At the global level, male and female sectoral shares of employment followed a regular pattern until very recently. Until 2005, the data suggested that women were predominantly employed in agriculture and services, figure below.  The reversal of this trend that was apparent in 2005 carried through to 2006 indicating that agriculture was no longer the main sector of employment for women.  Out of the total number of employed women in 2006, 40.4 per cent worked in agriculture and 42.4 per cent in services. Meanwhile, 17.2 per cent of all women working were in industry.  Comparable male rates were 37.5 per cent in agriculture, 38.4 per cent in services and 24 per cent in industry, although males employed in agriculture also declined, while increasing marginally in industry and more significantly in services from 34.5 percent in 1996 to 38.4 percent in 2006. 


Female and male sectoral employment shares as percentage of total employment, 1996-2006


Source: ILO (2007)


Examining agricultural employment at the regional level suggests that apart from the non-EU and CIS countries and Latin America and the Caribbean, women have a higher share of agricultural employment than men.  Furthermore, women’s agricultural employment in the Middle East and North Africa region actually increased from 33 percent in 1996 to 39.1 percent in 2006.

In all regions, women’s share of employment in industry is lower than that of men. Among the Developed Economies and EU just 12.4 percent of women work in industry compared to 33.6 percent of men. Similar patterns exist for the majority of the regions – only in East Asia and South East Asia Pacific are the shares more balanced.

Among the regions, service employment has increased for both men and women in all regions except Middle East and North Africa where the proportion of female service employment has remained the same over the 11 year period and declined marginally for men.  Service employment for women has overtaken that of women’s agricultural employment in half of the regions - Developed Economies and EU; Central and Eastern Europe (non-EU) and CIS; Latin America, and Middle East and North Africa. Agriculture remains the most important sector for women’s employment in East Asia, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Delving further behind the numbers one finds further disparities that are not immediately obvious. For example, in poor countries where households are dependent on agriculture, land is the most productive asset. Yet the limited evidence available suggests that men are the landowners. Deere and Leon (2003) in a study of formal landowners in a sample of Latin American countries found that between 70 and 90 percent of owners of farmland were men. In the limited cases where women do own land, their landholdings are typically smaller.

A critical issue is access to land and here also women face discrimination. Furthermore, even when women do have access to land, they face less secure tenure rights. Customary law in much of Sub-Saharan Africa decrees that permanent land rights are held by men while women hold usufruct rights, albeit strong rights, to individual plots offered by men (see Lastarria-Cornheil, 1997).  Furthermore, World Bank (2007) notes that “land registration programs, have, in many cases, either maintained the rights status quo or weakened women’s rights (Jacobs, 2002; Agarwal, 1994; Lastarria-Cornheil, 1997)”. 

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