Executive summary

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are universal goals, as set out in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the 1995 Beijing Declaration, the Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the OECD Recommendations on Gender Equality in Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship and Public Life.

Addressing gender inequalities is not only a matter of intrinsic value and a moral imperative. It can also enhance growth, productivity, competitiveness and the sustainability of economies. Closing gaps in labour force participation and working hours may result in an average boost of 9.2% to GDP across OECD countries by 2060, adding about 0.23 percentage points to average annual growth. Failing to work towards equality between men and women puts our collective future prosperity at risk.

Yet, gender inequality persists in all spheres of social and economic life in all OECD countries. Even in those countries that have been at the forefront of modern gender equality policy, women and girls continue to face barriers and disadvantages at home, in the labour market and in public life. Girls are still under-represented in educational fields that promise better job opportunities. Women continue to spend a disproportionate amount of time on unpaid care- and housework, which complicates their engagement in the labour market, especially once they become mothers. Lower employment rates, fewer working hours per week, substantial labour market segregation, and persistent glass ceilings mean that women continue to get paid lower wages than men. Women also face barriers to entrepreneurship and self-employment.

All of these factors result in substantial gender gaps in life-time earnings and pension income. And they also mean missed opportunities for job creation, growth and innovation – which affects the whole economy.

Despite being overrepresented in public employment, women also continue to be underrepresented in politics and government leadership positions. This risks an underappreciation of issues that affect women and families and, more generally, may lessen support for policies promoting gender equality and women’s rights.

There has been progress in policy making to support gender equality in recent years. Noteworthy examples include measures supporting the offer and take-up of paternity leave, pay transparency for equal pay, access to flexible work opportunities, and a higher representation of women in public and private leadership. Gender mainstreaming issues have also moved up the policy agenda: OECD countries are increasingly making use of governance tools and requirements for gender impact assessments and gender budgeting in different policy areas as well as including gender-related considerations in public procurement and infrastructure decision.

Yet stronger advances are needed to tackle the persisting gender gaps in education, employment, entrepreneurship, and public life, and to support widespread gender equality globally. Schools still see larger gender imbalances in the choice of fields of study, and the teaching profession remains feminised. In employment, further progress is needed to support gender equality in labour market participation, address vertical and horizontal labour market segregation and support job quality and access to flexible work opportunities, career progression and leadership positions in both the private and the public sector. Such progress can also contribute to reducing the gender pay gap. Governments could also strengthen the policy frameworks for women’s entrepreneurship including through an increased use of tailored measures, such as accelerator programmes and growth-oriented finance.

In addition, over recent years, attention to more gender-equal policies has increased in a wider range of policy areas – including foreign direct investment, the environment, energy, nuclear energy, trade, and transport. There are common threads across these different sectors when it comes to gaps in gender equality: low participation of women in their workforce, and even lower representation in leadership positions; gender stereotypes and discrimination against women workers but also legal, technical and financial barriers; a limited representation of women in policy making in such areas; and a lack of adequate frameworks and support systems to enable women to be active in such sectors at their full potential.

Moreover, ongoing crises – the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, Russia’s large-scale war of aggression against Ukraine, as well as the cost-of-living crisis spurred by rapidly rising energy and food prices – threaten to erode some of the previously made progress in gender equality. For instance, women were over-represented in sectors that were most heavily hit by the pandemic; mothers took on the brunt of the additional unpaid care work deriving from the lockdowns; and as they typically earn lower incomes, women are also more likely to experience (energy) poverty than men.

While looking for actions to counteract these negative effects, policy makers have started to pay increasing attention to the intersectional nature of policy solutions supporting gender equality. This also requires urgent action to eradicate any forms of gender-based violence, which was identified by most OECD countries as their first priority for gender equality.

Policies should focus on promoting the right mind-set to advance gender equality. A mainstreamed approach to gender equality is the way forward to contribute to sustainable progress: countries must advance their efforts in incorporating gender equality considerations in policy making, acknowledging the interconnections and strengthening the nexus between gender equality and all – including new – policy areas. This requires looking at gender equality across a whole variety of socio-economic, geographic, institutional, policy and sectoral factors and stakeholders. For this to be achieved, countries should work towards ensuring a better representation of women in policy making across all policy areas and sectors, the collection of gender-disaggregated data, a systematic use of relevant governance tools and the necessary administrative capacities.

The OECD has been leading the way in advancing such a mainstreamed policy approach to gender equality. This has materialised into a high degree of internal co-operation on gender work across the whole of the OECD, informed by Delegates to Committees and Working Parties representing diverse Ministries across all OECD countries. With this wealth of information in hand, the contributors to this volume have actively “joined forces” to promote gender equality. This collaboration has resulted in policy recommendations for countries to adopt intersectional, mainstreamed approaches in policy design and implementation.


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