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Abstract

Prior to the 1970s, the "problems of women", in the societies where their rights were recognized, were defined and dealt with by various movements and political groups in the context of moderating or eliminating legal and customary forms of discrimination. Another emphasis was on enforcing existing equai-rights legislation. Nevertheless, legal equality, constitutional safeguards for equal opportunities, and efforts towards more law enforcement were not sufficient to change the basic causes of gender inequality. In the industrialized world, the 'gender gap' in wages has narrowed, but only somewhat. In America, full-time female workers earned only 58% of full-time male workers' earnings in 1971, and 69% in 1988. The ratio of female to male hourly wages in the Industrial sector was about 65-70% in the 1980s (it was 50% in Japan, and 80-90% in Australia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden). The gaps are much wider in most of the developing countries not only in wages but also in most areas of life. There are also societies where human rights are not honoured or where the unequal position of women has been determined by cultural traditions. The limitations of the legal instruments and the strength of the cultural roots of gender inequalities reveal that the causes of inequalities are more widespread and much deeper. They are of a systemic nature, rooted in a patriarchal division of labour. The new women's movements have argued that major structural changes are needed in the inter-relationships between cultural, social, economic and institutional factors, and in the gender division of labour. Only those changes can secure the enlargement of women's choices and their full participation in society. The new understandings have also pointed to the need for an integrated framework for the study of gender relations and women's position — a framework that includes families and households, educational systems, employment structures, political institutions, and the world economy. UNU/WIDER's research work on gender issues has been carried out in this integrated framework from its inception. It has been focusing on those regions of the world where the problems were the most difficult and where the great majority of women are locked into the vicious circle of poverty, inequalities, unemployment and segregation. At the same time, it has been investigating changing patterns of female labour force participation, and the impact of economic restructuring on women's work and women's lives in developing countries and in the former state socialist countries.

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