Social, Economic and Legal Barriers to Decent Jobs for Females

The importance of improving the female labour force participation (FLFP) for driving growth and development in any country is well recognised. However, despite numerous initiatives done by different countries to facilitate female labour market activity, the gap between male and FLFP rates remains high. In many low-income countries where this gap is generally low, females are primarily in jobs that pay less.

Furthermore, the existing literature does not adequately explain the observed differences in gender gaps in labour force participation rates. Early literature only theorises that the decision to participate in the labour force is influenced by internal factors such as education and income, as well as by external factors such as labour market characteristics and the economy. However, the parameters that determine the labour market decision-making process is different for males and females. This is because numerous context specific barriers discourage FLFP. It has been shown that the costs of participating in the labour market are higher for females, while the benefits are lower. A better understanding of these context-specific barriers for female labour market participation can lead to policies that can facilitate higher FLFP rates.

The study will use a mix of other qualitative and quantitative methods to better understand and provide a more comprehensive outlook on the contextual barriers to access decent work for women across six countries, namely, Kenya, Senegal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Peru. The quantitative analysis in each country will use national Labour Force Surveys and World Bank data, augmented with variables designed to capture a more complete picture of each labour market, such as the gender wage gap, gender-neutrality of legislation, and social expenditure (support for child care, public expenditure on water, sanitation, etc.). Secondary data and document analysis and primary perception survey data, similar to the methodology used by the UNDP, will allow the capturing of gender biases in countries. This analysis will be complemented by key informant information collected to obtain a deeper understanding of the social norms and country contexts governing the labour market, to see how COVID-19 has affected the labour markets, and to understand the policy environment and the policy actors working on improving gender equity in the labour market. A better understanding of the interests, roles played, and the power to influence policies of different stakeholders would be particularly useful to position research for use.

Research team

Nisha Arunatilake
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