A world apart: Davos elites and working women | ActionAid UK

Kasia Staszewska

Women’s Rights Policy Adviser

As the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting draws to a close in Davos, ActionAid reveals the shocking cost of gender inequality in work.

ActionAid-trained women garment workers in Savar, marching to demand their rights under Bangladesh labour laws
ActionAid-trained women garment workers in Savar, marching to demand their rights under Bangladesh labour laws

This morning the sun shone bright and cold on the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Captains of industry and heads of state rose from their five-star-hotel beds to make their way through the formidable security perimeter into the conference.

Whether they woke up focused on tackling the problems of the global economy or worried that they wouldn’t get time to pop into the Google party, their lives are a universe away from the billions of poor women and men who helped create their wealth and whose votes gave them the power to govern.

Here at ActionAid, we believe that the people in power need to sit up and take notice of the fact that women’s cheap and unpaid labour is subsidising the global economy to the tune of trillions. Our new briefing paper: Close the gap! shows that women in poor countries could be a staggering US$9 trillion better off if their pay and access to paid work were equal to that of men.

Times are a-changing

This year’s Outlook on the Global Agenda Report cites income inequality and unemployment growth as the most pressing of the top 10 trends for 2015. Given rising public concern, perhaps it’s not so surprising to see this year’s Forum reflect this with its focus on income inequality.

But here at ActionAid, we think it’s time to broaden the conversation and take up the crucial issue of economic inequality for women.

Women’s work in numbers

While both women and men in developing countries face a struggle for daily survival, women are almost always at the bottom, in the lowest paid and valued jobs. Women make up 60% of the world’s working poor, but on average they are paid between 10% to 30% less than men (pdf), for the same work (if they’re paid at all).

More than half of all employed women worldwide are in informal vulnerable employment (pdf) and in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia more than 80% of the jobs women take are completely unregulated and insecure.

Exploited and invisible at work

The kind of conditions that women endure at work, including in the value chains of international corporations, are all too often similar to those that led to the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013.

And away from paid work things are scarcely any better. Women are spending up to ten times more than men (pdf) looking after their homes and families – from fetching water and fuel to caring for the sick, the elderly and the young – which effectively means that they are subsidising the economy with free and often invisible work.

Everyone must play a part to improve women’s working lives

Women’s work - in and outside the home — is vital to sustainable development and for the wellbeing of societies. Without the subsidy it provides, the world economy would not function.

Yet despite the international development community showing growing interest in women’s economic empowerment, we believe the strategies tried so far are not up to the challenge, and they show limited results

We need to address the underlying causes of this ongoing crisis. Businesses, governments and international institutions must all play their part. We’ve been keeping a watching brief on Davos this week — follow #closegendergap on Twitter for updates.

And get all the facts, stats, opinions and research you can trust in our report:


Read more on women and pay: