It’s time to realise the unfulfilled promise of the Beijing Gender Equality Platform

On International Women’s Day, the ITUC is calling on governments to take urgent action to fulfil the promise of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) for realising gender equality and social justice.

A New Social Contract is needed to accelerate progress on achieving the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development (SDGs), in particular Sustainable Development Goal 8 on decent work, Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 4 on education and vocational training, by 2030.

Adopted 25 years ago, the BPfA remains the blueprint for women’s human rights and gender equality. While important progress has been made in all critical areas of action of the BPfA, no country has achieved the radical feminist vision of the BPfA.

Globally, women represent the majority of working poor, with less than half of women of working age being in paid employment. Occupational segregation and the undervaluing of women’s work mean that women are more likely to be in low-paying, insecure and informal work. Women earn on average 20% less than men, with many retiring into poverty. And, as gender stereotypes in society persist, women continue to perform the lion’s share of unpaid care work and are more disadvantaged in social protection systems. Gender-based violence, discrimination and intersecting systems of oppression, based on class, race, migration status, sexual orientation and gender identity, are at play at every stage of women’s lives and continue to shape their working experiences.

Attacks on civil rights and liberties, including trade union rights, failed economic policies including austerity measures and the privatisation of public services, and the fragmentation of the workplace and employment relationships have hit women particularly hard. The climate crisis and massive disruption from technologies and new business models such as platform businesses, are making women’s work even more precarious and informal. The rise of the populist right not only poses a threat to democracy and global peace but is already eroding women’s human rights in many places around the world.

Trade unions are rising to these challenges, changing the narrative and reversing the trends. With women’s rights, equality and equity at the core of their agenda, unions are winning equal pay for work of equal value, strong maternity leave and protections, reasonable accommodations for disabled workers, anti-racism policies and procedures, inclusion policies for LGBT+ workers, equal treatment for migrant workers, and more. A just transition for climate ambition must be at the forefront of the economic and social agenda, as must the care economy. These hold the potential for millions of green jobs and the opportunity to reduce and redistribute unpaid care work. The landmark ILO Violence and Harassment Convention 2019 (C190) and its Recommendation (R206), show the power of mobilisation of women, with their trade unions and their allies. Similarly, the ILO Centenary Declaration on the Future of Work is based on a transformative agenda for women’s equality.

On this International Women’s Day, we celebrate the critical role that women and their trade unions have played over the years in realising the ambitious goals laid out in the Beijing Platform. We call for the aspirations of the BPfA to be made real by action on the following:

  • Guarantee the fundamental human rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining of all women workers;
  • Ensure that all workers, including in the informal economy, are guaranteed a labour protection floor* and access to social protection
  • Invest in care for gender equality and development
  • Eliminate gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work
  • Promote women in leadership through a feminist approach to leadership.

*The ILO Centenary Declaration sets out the elements of the labour protection floor: respect for workers’ fundamental rights, an adequate minimum wage, maximum limits on working time and safety and health at work.
International Women's Day 2020 - YouTube
The crucial role of trade unions in the implementation of the Beijing platform for action - Beijing +25