All over the world, women suffer, to varying degrees, from discrimination that hinders their economic empowerment – especially when they are mothers.
According to the World Bank (report Women, Business and the Law, 2016):
Many forms of discrimination against women are linked to deeply rooted cultural prejudices and stereotypes about their role in society. For example:
Women most often have less skilled, less paid and more precarious jobs. They are mainly present in less profitable sectors. like health, education, social work or retail sales. Women are also notoriously underrepresented in more valued sectors like technology or finance.
Women Labour Force Participation Rate remains much lower than that of men: overall, 75.1% of men are employed, a percentage that falls to 49.6% for women.
On the other hand, women are overrepresented in the informal sector, especially in developing countries or when migrating. They are all too often “self-employed” as street vendors, domestic helpers, seasonal workers, or subsistence farmers, etc.
According to UN Women, more than 80% of women in South Asia who do not work in the agricultural sector are in informal jobs; in sub-Saharan Africa, they are 74%; in Latin America and the Caribbean, 54%.
Not only these women in the informal sector work for incomes that are systematically lower and under precarious conditions, but they are also deprived of the social protection linked to paid employment – including health insurance, maternity protection and other paid leave, as well a retirement pension.
In addition to the barriers they face as women, mothers are also discriminated against in the world of work because of their status as mothers.
Such specific discriminations against mothers, i.e. not only compared to men, but compared to women without children, include barriers at hiring, lower remuneration, and obstacles to carrier advancement and access to decision making positions within the company.
This “Motherhood penalty” is increasingly recognized and documented. In 2016, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) published for the first time a report on the “Motherhood wage pay”. This report clearly shows that wage gaps exist not only between men and women, but also between mothers and women who do not have children.
Differences in retirement pensions between men and women, especially when they are mothers, are the result not only of maternity-related career breaks, but also of the accumulation of all the discriminations they face throughout their working lives.
While men progress most professionally speaking between 30 and 40 years, it is precisely during this age that mothers slow down their career to give priority to their family … And when they come back at 40, it is often too late – Unless they fought tooth and nail to stay in the race!
As the controversy sparked in 2012 by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic,, Why women still can’t have it all, has shown, women remain divided on the issue. But basically, a mother should not have to choose. In a context of ageing populations, companies must recognize the potential of mothers, and support their return to the labour market when their children are older.
Businesses, and society as a whole, must accept that women – and men ! – may need, during certain periods of their lives, to slow down or withdraw from their professional laife in order to take on family or other responsibilities, and facilitate their return to work after such periods.
International Women's Day - After Geneva and other venues, the exhibition came to the ETH Zurich, Switzerland's most prestigious engineering university.
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