Global Resources

Transforming women's work: policies for an inclusive economic agenda

Author: R Balakrishnan, L. McGowan, C. Waters
Publisher: Solidarity Center
Publication Date: Mar 2016

All over the world, women are coming together to organise, demand fair treatment, and address gender discrimination. Such solidarity and cooperation is critical to realising women’s rights and economic justice. This report, produced through collaboration between the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO), the Rutgers Center for Women’s Global Leadership, and the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, discusses the urgent need to create an enabling environment for worker and community organising, including inclusive macroeconomic and trade policies that promote decent work in the market, and the need to realign gender inequities in unpaid work in the home.


The report discusses how economic policy is a critical tool that can be used to either promote or hinder gender equality and the equitable distribution of the benefits of growth. Traditional macroeconomic and trade policies have too often ignored, or even reinforced, the structural barriers that impact women’s ability to compete fairly in the labour market, including the gender wage gap, occupational segregation, and the disproportionate burden of unpaid work placed on women. While gender inequality is linked to reduced, less sustainable growth in the long term, the focus on short-term growth, and the assumption that human rights will naturally follow, carries an inherent gender bias. This is because certain forms of gender inequality, particularly wage gaps between men and women driven by stereotypes of women workers as a cheap, expendable labour force, can temporarily create higher growth.


The recommendations that close the report are intended to highlight the key areas that require the greatest action. The recommendations are aimed at policy-makers, governments, employers, labour unions, and social justice organisations who must all engage together to ensure the full realisation of women’s rights in the “private” sphere of the home and family, as well as the “public” sphere of politics and the market:


  • Fully implement international frameworks regarding gender and economic and social rights, including CEDAW, UN and ILO conventions, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

  • Design macroeconomic policy to mobilise the maximum possible level of resources to realise women’s economic rights, and to reduce gender inequality. This will require gender-sensitive budgeting, integrated policies that promote and support women’s employment, and developing ongoing engagement between policy makers, trade unions and women’s rights organisations to ensure policies are grounded in the reality of women workers.

  • Invest in physical and social infrastructure, and in particular women’s human capital. This includes women’s education, child care provision, health care, transportation, etc.

  • Reform trade and development policy to emphasise long-term growth and accountable business practices. Research is required into the gendered impacts of trade policies and agreements, and there is a need to make trade policy and business regulation gender-sensitive.

  • Address structural barriers to decent work and equal participation in the labour market. This means ensuring women have basic social protections met, that workers are paid a living wage, and that labour laws protecting women are monitored and enforced.

  • Protect worker and community organising, including the right to freedom of association, assembly, and speech. Labour activists and other human rights defenders should be protected from retaliation, and labour laws advancing women’s status and bargaining power should be promoted.