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close this bookABC of Women Workers' Rights and Gender Equality (ILO, 2000, 124 p.)
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Preface to the new ABC of women workers' rights and gender equality

I am very pleased to present this ABC of women workers' rights and gender equality, which I hope will be a valuable source of information for both women and men at work, and for all those interested in gender equality issues. The guide is specifically designed for the non-academic, non expert public wishing to improve their knowledge of legal matters and socio-economic developments in this field. It is an updated, revised and substantially enlarged version of the former ABC of women workers' rights: Practical guide.

With the focus on equal rights in the world of work, this book also covers important socio-economic developments. Despite some progress, statistics continue to show an enormous gap between legal rights and the real situation of women workers.

Much progress has been achieved in extending women's rights and their presence in paid employment, but women still find themselves in a far more vulnerable position than their male counterparts: their employment remains concentrated in non-standard, low-skilled work with insufficient income or social security benefits which would enable them to live independently. Women are very much under-represented in senior and decision-making positions. The traditional role model based on a male breadwinner is prevalent in most societies, although family structures have evolved and a growing number of single mothers have become the sole providers of family income. Obviously, much remains to be done to achieve gender equality in law and practice.

Since the earlier version of this guide was published in 1994, the promotion of gender equality has gained new momentum as a result of the Fourth World Conference on Women, which took place in Beijing in 1995. The promotion of women's rights was one of the critical areas of concern identified in the Platform for Action. The ILO, in its follow-up to the Beijing Conference, has placed emphasis on promoting universal application of fundamental ILO Conventions and on raising awareness and legal literacy on women workers' rights as an area of priority.

This new publication has been substantially expanded to take account of recent socio-economic developments with special relevance to women workers and gender equality. These are reflected under: Export-processing zones, Gender, Gender analysis, Gender equality, Gender equity, Gender gap, Gender and development and women in development, Gender mainstreaming, Girl child labourers and Glass ceiling. Entries on Collective bargaining, Freedom of association and the right to organize and Labour administration have been added. Recent developments in international law have been incorporated, either in a new or in the relevant existing entry, under: Child labour, Family responsibilities, workers with, Fundamental principles and rights at work, Home work, Night work, Part-time work, Public employment services and private employment agencies, and Underground work in mines. Trends at national and supranational levels are reflected, for instance, in the introduction and under Burden of proof, Parental leave and Remedies and sanctions.

The new ABC has incorporated the provisions of Conventions Nos. 175 (1994), and 177 (1996), concerning part-time work and home work, which aim at equal rights and treatment of workers most of whom are women. Conventions Nos. 171 (1990), and 176 (1995), concerning night work and safety and health in mines no longer contain the former general exclusion of women in these areas, but target the protection of all workers. This approach helps further promote equal opportunities in all sectors of work and thereby prevents negative repercussions on women's situation in the labour market.

In 1998, the 86th Session of the International Labour Conference adopted the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up. This Declaration underlines that all member countries have an obligation to respect the fundamental principles involved, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions. It strengthens national and international efforts to apply equality standards in the world of work.

Lack of knowledge on women's rights was highlighted as an area of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action. In response, the revision and publication of this new ABC represents an effort on the part of the ILO in its follow-up to the Beijing Conference and preparation for the Global High-Level Plenary Review of the Beijing Platform for Action at a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly to be held in the year 2000. For more information for the general public, see under Knowledge.

Finally, I would like to thank Ingeborg Heide, on secondment from the German Labour Ministry, for her painstaking efforts in revising and updating this guide. I am also grateful to the technical departments, the regional offices and the ILO's International Training Centre, Turin, which contributed to this new edition. Simonetta Cavazza, Mara Steccazzini and Petra Ulshofer are also acknowledged for their valuable comments and suggestions. My acknowledgments would not be complete without thanking Caroline Chaigne-Hope for her meticulous proof-reading.

Jane Zhang,
Director, Bureau for Gender Equality,
International Labour Office