Percentage of Working Women on Rise

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Women are making up an increasing percentage of the world's workers, but many still find it impossible to break into top jobs, the International Labor Organization said Thursday.

In a report to mark International Women's Day, the U.N. labor agency said women who make up around 40 percent of the global work force face a "glass ceiling'' when they try to get to the top in business and politics.

Around the world, women marked the day in a variety of ways.

Hundreds of women marched through the Indian capital, New Delhi, demanding equal rights, better health care and education. And Russian researchers released a report warning that drug use, prostitution and declining health among women of childbearing age are aggravating the nation's sharp drop in health and longevity since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The U.N. report said that worldwide, women hold up to 3 percent of top executive jobs. Eight countries have female heads of state while less than 14 percent of the world's lawmakers and 1 percent of labor union leaders are female.

"For women who also experience race discrimination, the barrier to top jobs seems to be made of unbreakable Plexiglas,'' said the study, an 18-page summary of a book to be published later this year.

Even women who do get to the top on average earn less than men, the study said.

"Wage differences in male and female managerial jobs stem from the reality that even when women hold management jobs, they are often in less strategic, lower-paying areas of a company's operations.''

It said one reason for the slow move toward equality is the increasing number of hours top executives are expected to work in order to gain recognition, as well as the fact that there are few part-time managerial positions for women trying to juggle career and family.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, at the beginning of 2001 women occupied 14 percent of seats in countries' lower chambers and 13 percent of seats in the upper chambers or senates.

The International Organization for Migration marked Women's Day by demanding tougher action against those who profit from the trafficking of women, which it said was "one of the worst forms of abuse'' suffered by female migrants and affected 700,000 women every year.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, head of the World Health Organization and former Norwegian prime minister, told a U.N. Women's Day meeting, "There isn't a single country or institution in the world where men and women enjoy equal opportunity. And even though we've been struggling for decades to achieve fundamental change, we have to admit that there's still a long way to go.''

But Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said attitudes can change quickly. She noted when she was elected Irish president in 1990, she was Ireland's first female head of state, and that she was succeeded by another woman, Mary McAleese in 1997.

"Apparently there are small boys in Ireland who are complaining to their mothers, 'Why can't I grow up to be president?' That seems to me to be an excellent experience for small boys in Ireland.''

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