Chapter 17: Practitioner perspective Women and international treaty making – the example of standard setting in the International Labour Organization
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With gender equality a hot topic being integrated across the UN and SDGs, and women’s unequal participation compared with men at last raised in multilateral frameworks like the WTO, WEF and G20, the ILO’s history dating back to 1919 reveals a fascinating case study of invisibility of women. As the ILO approaches its centenary, it is striking that only six women have served as President of its main governance body, the International Labour Conference, and that efforts are still needed internally to mainstream gender equality across the International Labour Office’s programming and internal processes and products. This chapter analyses how to overcome this invisibility through two prisms: (i) the importance of inclusion of women as international labour law makers (process) and (ii) the positive results of mainstreaming women and men’s equality in the international labour standards that govern the world of work (content). The methodology relies on longitudinal data (>15 years) comparing women’s and men’s participation in ILC sessions, with tabulations of numbers of women who actually address the ILC plenary. The author assesses strategies advocated by the Office to increase women’s equitable representation at this highest level of global social dialogue. The author also analyses upcoming substantive issues on the ILC agenda, such as the proposed standards on sexual harassment and gender-based violence at work. The quality of ILS can be improved by ensuring the engagement of both men and women leaders in the world of work; only then will the ILO’s mandate on social justice and genuine social dialogue be fulfilled.

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