The next wave of the digital economy threatens to leave many behind, especially women and girls.
Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work is the priority theme at the 61st annual session of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), taking place at the UN Headquarters in New York this month.
Video message from H.E. Mr. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota (Brazil), the Chair of CSW61. Video credit: UN Women.
The UN’s labour agency, the International Labour Organization worked in close collaboration with UN Women to prepare a report looking at the key challenges facing women in the world of work, to inform the discussions at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women.
The report found that gender-based occupational segregation persists in all sectors, with women often working in low valued and informal jobs. Technological change over the past two decades has exacerbated occupational segregation, particularly in developing and emerging countries. This gender gap is evident when we consider that between 1995 and 2015, when employment in emerging economies was increasing faster than at any other period in modern history the absolute change in employment was twice as high for men (382 million) as for women (191 million), regardless of skill level.
Technology Changing the World of Work
The looming threat of technological unemployment could increase inequality. In the near future, experts predict? automation will cause immense structural change to the global workforce and economy. The number of low-income workers with precarious livelihoods is expected to significantly increase, along with a narrowing of the middle class, and the emergence of a “winner-takes-all” economy, benefiting only those at the top.
Researchers at the Oxford Martin School predict higher levels of inequality and job polarization, which refers to the shrinking of the number of middle-skilled job. Automation will eventually creep down to replace low-skilled jobs as well.
This may mean that developing and emerging economies with an abundance of low-skill labour may lose more jobs than developed economies.
Going forward, sectors that are expected to grow are in traditionally male-dominated fields of mathematics, computing, architecture and engineering . The industry expected to create the most jobs is information and communications technology, followed by professional services and the media and entertainment professions.
Under this scenario, more women will lose their jobs as there is relatively low female participation in the STEM sectors. This will result in a widening of the gender gap. “It is anticipated that women will lose five jobs for every job gained, while men will lose three jobs for every job gained” says the Secretary-General report. Without proper foresight and investment to change the status quo, women will continue to face daunting barriers in the economy.
Digital Fluency is the Key to Women’s Economic Empowerment
Digital Divide. Credit: UN Women
There are more than 200 million fewer women online than men, and the gap is widening. Investing in women and girl’s digital fluency and access to technology, like the Internet, and education in the fields of science, math and engineering could help leverage productive technological change in favour of women’s economic empowerment.
Download the CSW61 Brochure for more information:
- ITC-ILO Tech@Work Blog (2017): International Women’s Day: Women in a Changing World of Work
- ITC-ILO Tech@Work Blog (2017): Global Digital Divide & Solutions in 6 Graphics
- UN ECOSOC (2017): Report of the Secretary-General on Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work
- UN Women (2017): Message by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017
- ILO – Gallup (2017): Towards a Better Future for Women and Work: Voices of Women and Men
- UN Women – UN Global Compact: Women’s Empowerment Principles
- ILO (2016): Women at Work Trends