Mainstreaming gender equality
There has been progress in gender-equality policymaking in recent years, but women across the globe still face deeply entrenched gender stereotypes and barriers that limit personal growth, professional development, and access to leadership positions at every stage of their life.
Better representation of women in leadership roles across public and private sectors is a fundamental way forward, not only for inclusiveness but because it increases trust and efficacy in public institutions, and enhances corporate dynamics and governance.
The collection of gender-disaggregated data is another urgent need. The latest reporting shows that SDG 5 suffers from one of the largest data deficits across all the SDGs, with just 48% of the data needed to monitor SDG 5 targets currently available.
Also, the systematic use of appropriate administrative capacities and governance tools is necessary every step of the way: to implement work-life balance and family-friendly measures, combat gender stereotyping and disinformation, conquer all forms of unpaid work, and eradicate all forms of gender-based violence.
Women tend to take longer leaves of absence than men after having children, and are more likely to work part time. These shifts contribute to differences in wage growth between women and men – the so-called “motherhood penalty” – creating and anchoring gendered patterns in parental leave and childcare.
Paid maternity leave in weeks, 2022
All OECD countries, except for the United States, entitle mothers to paid maternity leave around childbirth, with variations in duration and payment. Across the OECD today, paid maternity leave averages 18.5 weeks.
But the high cost of centre-based childcare remains a barrier to mothers returning to full-time work. A dual low-income couple with two young children spends on average about 10% of its wages on childcare fees, reaching as much as 30% in some OECD countries.
One way to close the gender gap around parental leave is to focus on fathers: despite great strides in equalising paternity and parental leave for fathers in OECD countries, its uptake tends to be low. However examples show that when fathers are given non-transferable rights to parental leave, uptake increases significantly. In Iceland for example, men’s share of leave increased from 3% to 45% following the implementation of quotas in the early 2000s.
The burden of unpaid work
Women spend more than 2.5 times as much time on unpaid care and domestic work than men, limiting the time available for education, professional development or paid employment. Closing gaps in labour-force participation and working hours may result in an average 9.2% boost to GDP across OECD countries by 2060, adding about 0.23 percentage points to average annual growth.
Average daily time on unpaid care and housework
90 countries, 2022 or latest year
The unequal burden of family responsibilities, combined with the lack of affordable early-childhood education and care options, means that many mothers work part time and miss out on career advancement and wage growth, or stay out of the labour market entirely.
This came into stark relief during the COVID-19 crisis, when women not only over-represented sectors most heavily hit by the pandemic but also shouldered the additional unpaid care and work deriving from the lockdowns.
Globally, 40% of women and girls live in countries where the level of discrimination in social institutions is estimated to be high or very high. In 18 countries, all located in Africa and Asia, the levels of discrimination in social institutions are very high. In African countries, the labour-force participation rate was 20 percentage points lower for women than men in 2020, largely reflecting legal frameworks that codify gender discrimination.
In OECD countries, young women are less likely than young men to pursue careers in STEM fields, even though they perform better in science, technology, engineering and mathematics than their male peers. Women constitute 78% of new entrants in education, health and welfare, while young men represent an average of 76% of new entrants in ICT, engineering, manufacturing and construction.
Young adults learning to code
16-to-24 year-olds, 2021
As the digital transformation unfolds, there exists a very real threat of increased inequality in employment and pay.
As girls and women are less likely to enroll in STEM or ICT education, they risk lagging behind men in digital literacy and skills throughout their working lives.
These gaps have substantial consequences for labour-market representation in ICT task-intensive jobs – including those that develop and maintain AI systems – as well as for careers and pay, as many such jobs are comparatively well paid.
Gender gaps in digital skills emerge early and result from choices made well before entering the labour market. Dismantling gender stereotypes is a crucial step towards enhancing gender equality in our societies. Schools can play a central role in this regard, by equipping teachers, school staff and students with competencies and skills that address conscious or unconscious gender stereotypes and biases.
The ongoing threat of violence
The majority of OECD governments have identified violence against women as the top gender-equality challenge facing their country. Worldwide, around 30% of all women aged 15 and older report having experienced some form of gender-based violence at least once in their lifetime.
Top gender-equality priorities for surveyed countries
Number of survey responses, 2021
Gender-based violence can take many forms, the most common and lethal of which is intimate-partner violence. Around 34% of female victims of intentional homicide are killed by a current or former partner globally. Pre-pandemic, this equated to around 82 women or girls being murdered by their intimate partner, every day, around the world.
But measuring gender-based violence is challenging: it is under-reported in population surveys and administrative records (such as police reports), and help-seeking individuals are met with jurisdictional, administrative, bureaucratic and financial challenges while also attempting to recover from violence or remaining under threat of continued violence.
When seeking support, victims/survivors must usually apply for numerous social services, often provided by a patchwork of governmental, non-governmental and/or private-sector agencies. This comes with high costs in terms of time, mental and physical energy, and financial resources. To date, very few OECD countries provide a comprehensive legal framework that protects victims/survivors from all forms of violence.
The gender imbalance in leadership
While some progress has been made in the representation of women in decision-making roles in OECD countries, on average women remain significantly under-represented in both the public and private sectors. The COVID-19 crisis underlined this reality, as women made up only 24% of the members of ad-hoc decision-making structures dealing with the pandemic on a global level.
Evolution of gender equality in OECD parliaments
Percentage of lower or single house seats, 2017-23
As a case in point, the average share of women in the lower/single houses of parliament in OECD countries increased by 5% between 2017 and 2023 (reaching 33%), and only slightly more so at the ministerial level.
The average share of women judges in Supreme Courts in OECD-COE19 countries grew even less during that period, and only 5 had a female president in their Court.
Although the percentage of women on boards has grown significantly since the 2013 OECD Gender Recommendation, women continue to comprise only one quarter of board members and management positions around the world. In a review of EU large listed companies, the percentage of women CEOs remained much lower, at 7.1% in 2021, although up from 2.4% in 2013.
Overall, improvements in the representation of women in public and private decision-making roles have been most significant in jurisdictions that have implemented legal reforms and imposed binding quotas or voluntary targets. In some Latin American and Caribbean countries for example, quotas have led to the most gender-balanced parliaments in the region.
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