Despite numerous legal and policy interventions women continue to face significant disadvantage in both formal and informal work. The forthcoming ILO report “Women at Work Trends – 2016” estimates that globally women earn approximately 77 per cent of men’s wages. At the current rate, pay equity between women and men will not be achieved before 2086.’ The IFC-World Bank’s 2015 study, “Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal” found that only 18 countries have no legal restrictions in relation to women, business and employment. The 2014 ILO report “Maternity and Paternity at Work. Law and practice across the world” concludes that virtually all countries provide some forms of statutory maternity protection. However, this still leaves around 830 million women without the fundamental right to contributory or non-contributory cash benefits in the event of childbirth and other essential social protection measures, including maternal and child health care. This is often the case for self-employed, migrant, domestic, agricultural, casual or temporary workers, and indigenous and tribal peoples

The law, as currently conceived, has been unable to fully achieve women’s equality in the labour force. However, while it is important to question whether we can rely exclusively on the law to fully address the continuing and emerging obstacles to women’s employment, it is equally as important to recognize that law still retains a vital role in modifying cultural norms that underpin women’s role in the labour force. Legal and policy strategies can and do empower women around the globe.

This conference seeks to begin the process of developing and exploring transformative legal strategies to ensure that work leads to a better future for all women. There is increasing social science research on how and why women experience disadvantages in employment, but these findings have not yet translated into meaningful legal responses. Work of all different types (paid, unpaid, informal and formal) are critical activities, and how we recognise and value these different activities – as legally regulated employment or women’s ‘traditional’ role, for instance – is critical.  It is time to reconsider how the full range of socially valuable activities that make up the world of work are recognized and reconfigured. The goal is to move beyond traditional debates on women’s role in the labour force.

With the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, prominent on the international and national agendas, and a renewed global commitment to achieving women’s equality and empowerment, it is an ideal time to pause and shine the spotlight on how law and policy can be used to address persistent and emerging obstacles to ensure that all women are able to access good quality employment. The conference approaches these issues from both labour law and human rights perspectives and will draw upon comparative analyses of multiple countries. Experts from around the world will be invited to debate new and creative solutions to persistent problems.

The nine panels will explore the most pressing issues in ensuring a better future for women at work.

  1. Legal Strategies and Informal Work
  2. Achieving Transformative Equality for Women in the Rural Economy
  3. Women and Fragmented Work
  4. Recognising, Rewarding, Reducing and Redistributing Care Work
  5. A Better Future for Women at Work: Intersectionality at Work
  6. Responding to Inequality in Earnings and Income
  7. Combating Violence and Harassment at Work
  8. Women and Vertical and Horizontal Occupational Segregation
  9. Lessons for Creating a Better Future for Women at Work

The panels will explore the impact of several cross-cutting topics, including: women’s different socio-economic status, gender and labour migration, the divides between employment in the public and private sectors, working in the public and private spheres, working in supply chains, and voice and agency at work throughout the life course of women.

Held in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation and University of Kent