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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
Open this folder and view contentsIntroduction: Labour standards promoting women workers' rights and gender equality (Ingeborg Heide1)
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View the documentAccess to employment
View the documentAdvertising for workers
View the documentAffirmative (positive) action
View the documentAgricultural and other rural workers
View the documentAppraisal and evaluation
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View the documentOther ILO publications
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Affirmative (positive) action

Affirmative (positive) action comprises special temporary measures to redress the effects of past discrimination in order to establish de facto equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women. Such measures are targeted at a particular group. They are intended to eliminate and prevent discrimination, and to offset disadvantages arising from existing attitudes, behaviour and structures based on stereotypes concerning the division of social roles between men and women. The adoption of such policies stems from the observation that the legal banning of discrimination has not proved sufficient to create equity in the world of work.

Affirmative action in favour of women should not be considered as discriminatory against men in a transitional period. Once the consequences of past discrimination have been rectified, the measures should be removed to prevent discrimination against men. Positive action may encompass a wide range of measures, including corrective action such as:

• setting targets, goals or quotas for women's participation in activities or sectors, or at levels from which they have previously been excluded and in which they are still under-represented;

• promoting women's access to wider opportunities in education, vocational training and employment in non-traditional sectors and at higher levels of responsibility;

• in placement, guidance and counselling services, provision for gender-trained personnel familiar with the special needs of employed and unemployed women;

• informing and motivating employers to recruit and promote women, especially in the sectors and categories mentioned;

• eliminating stereotypes;

• promoting the active participation of women in decision-making bodies;

• adapting working conditions and adjusting work organization to suit the needs of workers with family responsibilities;

• adopting contract compliance policies within the framework of public spending;

• fostering greater sharing of occupational, family and social responsibilities between men and women.

Affirmative action may be more effective when it is developed and applied through cooperation between the government, and the employers and trade unions concerned; when it suits the needs and possibilities of the employees and employers; and when it is effectively monitored and followed up with adequate government resources. The government should play a leading role in implementing such programmes for public sector employment.

Affirmative action should also involve the recognition that many men are equal to women in terms of advocating and promoting gender equality, and may be especially good at involving other men.

C. 111: Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), 1958
R. 111: Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), 1958
C. 156: Workers with Family Responsibilities, 1981
R. 165: Workers with Family Responsibilities, 1981
C. 159: Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons), 1983
R. 168: Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons), 1983

→ see also Employment policy and promotion, Job description and Occupational segregation

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