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close this bookABC of Women Workers' Rights and Gender Equality (ILO; 2000; 124 pages)
View the documentThe International Labour Organization
View the documentILO Publications
View the documentPreface to the earlier ABC of women workers' rights
View the documentPreface to the new ABC of women workers' rights and gender equality
close this folderIntroduction: Labour standards promoting women workers' rights and gender equality (Ingeborg Heide1)
View the document1. How to use this guide
View the document2. Gender equality in the ILO's mandate
View the document3. International labour Conventions and Recommendations
View the document4. History of standard setting to promote women workers' rights and gender equality
View the document5. Gender equality - A fundamental human right
View the document6. International labour standards, supranational law and national law
View the document7. Application and enforcement at the national level
View the document8. ILO standard setting and other means of action
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View the documentOther ILO publications
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4. History of standard setting to promote women workers' rights and gender equality

Some standards are specifically geared towards protecting women workers or towards promoting equality of opportunity and treatment in employment. In the early decades of the twentieth century, women were perceived as more fragile than men, both physically and socially, and therefore should not be permitted to engage in certain forms of work. A primary objective was to safeguard the health of working women, with special reference to childbearing. Minimum standards regarding maternity leave and benefits were consequently among the first instruments adopted. In the early 1950s, emphasis shifted to the promotion of equality in employment between men and women, and, more recently, to a recognition that equality implies sharing of family responsibilities between men and women.

The Maternity Protection Convention (No. 3), which covered the periods before and after childbirth, was adopted in 1919 and revised as Convention No. 103 in 1952; its further revision can be expected in 2000. Convention No. 89 prohibiting night work for women in industry was adopted in 1948 (following earlier Conventions of 1919 and 1934) and made more flexible through the Protocol of 1990. A new Night Work Convention (No. 171) and Recommendation (No. 178) were adopted in 1990, now protecting both men and women against the hazardous effects of night work.

Convention No. 100 and Recommendation No. 90, of 1951, laid down the guiding principles of equal remuneration for work of equal value regardless of sex. In 1958, Convention No. 111 and Recommendation No. 111 were adopted to establish the principle of non-discrimination on a number of grounds including sex, with regard to access to vocational training, access to employment, and terms and conditions of employment.

In 1965, Recommendation No. 123 on women with family responsibilities was adopted, covering measures that should be taken to enable women workers to fulfil their various responsibilities harmoniously and without discrimination. Later, the conviction gained ground that any change in the traditional role of women should be accompanied by a change in men's role and should be reflected in their greater participation in family and household duties: the Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention (No. 156), and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 165), were adopted in 1981. These instruments apply to men as well as women with responsibilities for dependent children or other members of their immediate family, and are intended to facilitate their employment without discrimination as a result of existing private duties.

The Part-Time Work Convention (No. 175) and Recommendation (No. 182), adopted in 1994, aim at the equal treatment of full- and part-time workers, the latter consisting mainly of women. The Home Work Convention (No. 177) and Recommendation (No. 184), adopted in 1996, will contribute to improving the situation of millions of homeworkers, a large majority of whom are women. Convention No. 182 and Recommendation No. 190, aiming at the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, also have a gender component, calling for account to be taken of the special situation of girls.

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