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The OECD Gender Initiative

8 March 2011

8 March is the centenary of International Women’s Day. This year, we mark the occasion with a series of blog posts about initiatives to strengthen gender equality worldwide. In this post, Angelica Salvi del Pero of the OECD’s Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs describes the OECD Gender Initiative

It’s now official: the OECD has launched its Gender Initiative to strengthen gender equality in education, employment and entrerepreneurship, three crucial dimensions of economic opportunity.

There is no doubt that gender equality has still not been achieved. Not even in advanced economies. Despite the fact that girls on average do better than boys in school, women more often do not work, they are paid less and they progress less in their careers. Even though girls are just as good as boys in sciences, few of them choose to be trained and work as scientists. While many women start their own business, they tend to raise less funding and their businesses grow less.

It is not just a matter of different preferences. Incentives also matter a lot, and women and men often do not have the same incentives when making decisions about studying, working and caring for their families.

Let’s look, for example, at women and work.  

Surely, some women do prefer to stay at home and care for their children. Many may want to do so, but cannot afford it. Others simply enjoy work, the personal gratification and social contacts that come with professional life and career advancement; most of these women also want to be mothers. Men, on the other hand, generally do not think of work and parenthood as a trade-off.

Policies that support better work-life balance (such as parental leave, childcare, out-of-school hours care, part-time work and other forms of flexible working arrangements) are a win-win proposition. As shown in previous work of the OECD, such as Babies and Bosses, you can have your cake and it too: high female employment rates and high birth-rates can be achieved.

Unfortunately, policies by themselves do not bring more equality. As long as it is still mostly women who care for children, they will be the ones taking leave from work, having to limit their working hours, taking days off to care for sick children and so on – which limits their salaries and career opportunities. What’s more, employers will automatically assume that women will be the primary carer and will therefore offer them less opportunities for career advancement compared to men. As long as women and men don’t share caring responsibilities more equally, we will not see much progress in removing gender inequalities in employment.

The good news is that younger couples are already moving in this direction. Especially when the woman is more educated, earns more money and has better career prospects, sharing becomes a rational choice. The way caring responsibilities are shared is influenced by policies too. Tax and benefit systems can be designed not to discourage households from earning two incomes. The fathers’ quota adopted by some Nordic Countries – a non-transferable parental leave for fathers –  is another much talked about policy intervention.

We do not know, of course, whether fathers who take more parental leave will actually do more caring and housework and whether we can expect long-term changes from such leave policies. But they are certainly a good start and are already working in terms of leave take-up: in Norway only 2-3% of fathers took parental leave until it was shared with mothers at the beginning of the 1990s. After the quota for fathers was introduced, the take-up has increased gradually; in 2008, 90% of fathers were using the 10 weeks of leave reserved to them and 16% of the fathers extend their leave beyond the 10-week period.

The OECD Gender Initiative will benchmark and analyse various dimensions of gender equality in employment, education and entrepreneurship in OECD countries as well as in some emerging and developing economies. We will first seek more detailed knowledge on why barriers to gender inequality persist and on the importance of gender equality for a stronger and fairer economy.

We will establish a range of standard indicators which countries can use to measure their progress in achieving more gender equality. We will also embark in a new and pioneering area of work, collecting better and more comparable data on gender gaps entrepreneurship in order to build up an OECD database in this area. Finally, we will review policies and good practices adopted by countries to help policymakers design better evidence-based policies and to identify and promote policies which can be adapted and transferred between countries.

This is an exciting and challenging project: I am happy to be part of it.

Useful links

OECD work on gender

WikiGender

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