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.
If asked what are the main international standards on workplace gender equality, any student of international labour law would name the two ILO core Conventions: the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100) and Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111). A clever student might add that these are highly ratified and their rights-based implementation is tracked through a sophisticated supervisory machinery. But upon being asked that question would a human rights scholar – no doubt listing the two 1966 International Covenants and UN’s 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – be able to cite them? Is it really the case that international labour standards and human rights have evolved almost in isolation one from the other? This chapter explores in detail the evolution of ILO’s gender equality standards and how they influenced the international human rights framework for respecting and promoting women’s labour rights.