Over the last three decades, women increasingly managed to join the labour force, though overall participation rates are still significantly higher for men (ILO, 2010). However, female labour market participation rates are likely to decline in poor countries that undergo a beginning economic growth process, as urbanisation and industrialisation reduce the agricultural sector. A growing demand for labour mobility and technical skills makes women drop out of the labour market, whereas men benefit from their educational advantage and move on to other sectors (Luci, 2009).
In developing countries, the most significant gender employment gap exists in terms of occupations by sectors. Over the last decades, the overall proportion of workers in agriculture declined, but the ratio of female to male employees in agriculture has increased constantly. This trend is generally known as the “feminisation of agriculture”. Particularly in South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, women are largely overrepresented in agriculture. Even though women have become the main agricultural workers in recent years, the small proportion of permanent positions and in supervision and management in agriculture is overwhelmingly held by men.
Besides gender gaps in occupations by sectors, there exist also different patterns between men and women in terms of occupations by working status. Women are more likely to work as contributing family workers, while men tend to work as employees or employers. Particularly in Asia, there is a significanlty higher proportion of females in unpaid family work than males.
Consequently, women are segregated in sectors and statuses that are generally characterized by low pay, long working hours and informal working arrangements that do not provide access to benefits or social protection programmes. Therefore, policy interventions should not only encourage a participation of women into the labour force, but ensure that women move away from vulnerable employment into wage and salaried work. Investments in women´s education and training as well as in child care services are of prior importance.
The fact that women are overrepresented in agriculture and as family workers also implies that more women than men work in the informal sector (OECD, 2009). Being in informal employment renders women vulnerable to poverty, economic shocks and natural disasters. In many patriarchal societies, women’s informal subsistence farming is still seen as a woman’s obligation to the family. In order to encourage a transition to formal employment for women, policies and donor interventions should aim at facilitating women’s access to land, capital and business networks to foster women’s entrepreneurial activities. In addition, tackling culturally sensitive issues like son preference, women’s civil liberties (dress obligations…), polygamy, genital mutilation and early marriages is necessary to reduce social discrimination against women and to promote women’s economic freedom and self-determination (Luci, Jütting and Morrisson 2010; OECD, 2010).
ILO (2010), “Women in labour markets: Measuring progress and identifying challenges”, March 2010, International Labour Office, Geneva.
LUCI, A. (2009), “Female labour market participation and economic growth.” International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, Vol. 4, nos 2/3.
LUCI A., J. JUTTING and C. MORRISSON (2010), “Why do so many women end up in bad jobs? A cross country assessment.” OECD Development Centre Working Paper n° 287.
OECD (2009), “ Is Informal Normal?”, OECD Development Centre, Paris.
OECD (2010), “Gender Inequality and the MDGs: What are the Missing Dimensions?”, At issue, OECD Development Centre, Paris.