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close this bookToward Gender Equality: The Role of Public Policy (WB, 1995, 88 p.)
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View the documentGender Inequalities Persist
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Gender Inequalities Persist

ALTHOUGH the gap between opportunities for men and women is narrowing. inequalities persist, especially in certain regions. This report examines four major development indicators: educational attainment, maternal mortality. life expectancy. and economic participation outside the household. All four are closely related to each other and in turn are closely correlated with individual well-being. These indicators provide a broad picture of trends in gender inequality and their impact on the relative well-being of women and of men.


Despite the progress in raising educational enrollment rates for both males and females across all regions in the past three decades, growth in educational opportunities at all levels for females lags behind that for males (figure 1.1). In 1990 an average six-year-old girl in a developing country could expect to attend school for 8.4 years. The figure had increased from 7.3 years in 1980-but an average boy of the same age in a developing country could expect to attend school for 9.7 years The gender gap in expected years of schooling is widest in some countries in South Asia, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa (see figure 1.2). Gender differences in access to education are usually worse in minority populations such as refugees and internally displaced persons. of which only a few children go to school.

School enrollment ratios in developing countries

The latest available figures show that 77 million girls of primary school age (6-11 years) are not in school, compared with 52 million boys (figure 1.3). Moreover, even these gross enrollment rates often mask high absenteeism and high dropout rates. Dropout rates are notably high in low-income countries but vary by gender worldwide and within regions. The rates for girls tend to be linked to age, peaking at about grade 5 and remaining high at the secondary level (Herz and others 1991) Cultural factors, early marriage, pregnancy, and household responsibilities affect the likelihood that girls will remain in school.

Although the gross enrollment rate is an acceptable indicator of progress in education, most studies use literacy rates as an indicator of well-being. Overall illiteracy rates have decreased among adults in low- and middle-income countries, but the percentage of illiterate women in the world is still higher than the percentage of illiterate men. Older women constitute the largest share of the illiterates in the world today, a consequence of past inequalities in access to education. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia more than 70 percent of women age 25 and older are illiterate (United Nations 1991).

At post-secondary levels. where the gap in enrollment between women and men is wider, there is implicit "gender streaming," or sex segregation, by field of study, even in areas with snore female than male enrollees. Gender streaming. which is widespread in both developing and industrial countries, prevents women from acquiring training in agriculture, forestry, fishing, "hard" sciences, and engineering (figure 1.4).

Expected years of schooling


Over the past two decades life expectancy at birth has increased for both men and women in all regions of the world. In industrial countries women tend to outlive men by six to eight years on average: in low-income countries gender differences are much narrower (two to three years). Despite women's biological advantage, female mortality and morbidity rates frequently exceed those of men, particularly during early childhood and the reproductive years.

During the reproductive period the most Important causes of morbidity and mortality among women are high fertility and abortion rates, vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases (STDS), genital mutilation. and gender violence. Each year, about 500,000 women worldwide die from the complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal mortality ratios for developing and industrial countries vary greatly: the rates in parts of South Asia are among the world's highest, in some cases exceeding 1,500 per 100.000 live births. In Sub-Saharan Africa where the ratio is 700 maternal deaths per 100.000 live births, a woman runs a 1 in 22 lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes, but in northern Europe the risk falls to 10 in 100,000 (United Nations 1993). In the transition economies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the rates are around 40 to 50 per 100,000 live births

Figure 1.3 children not in school 1990

A major cause of maternal deaths is complications from unsafe abortions. Abortion-related deaths are highest in South and Southeast Asia. followed by Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. Lack of access to contraceptives can mean that abortion, is used as a form of birth control. For example, in parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia abortions are more numerous than live births (World Bank 1994b), and abortion rates were as high as 1.76 per live birth in Russia prior to the transition.

As increasing numbers of women become aware of and learn to use contraceptives, total fertility rates are falling worldwide. The exception is Sub-Saharan Africa where the total fertility rate averaged 6.4 between 1985 have been infected by HIV. The World Health organization (WHO 1994) estimates that more than 13 million women will have been infected by HIV by 2000 and that about 4 million of that number will have died (figure 1.5 In Atrica, where 10 million adults are infected with the virus, ode-half of all newly infected adults are women, and more than 5 million are women of childbearing age. In Asia almost half of all adults newly infected with the virus are women, compared with less than 25 percent just six years ago.

Figure 1.4 fields of study

Figure 1.5 HIV infected women 1995

The mortality risk for females is high during the reproductive years. but it is even higher during infancy and early childhood. Between 1962 and 1992 INFANT mortality in the developing world decreased by 50 percent (UNICEF 1993 However, in seventeen of the twenty-nine developing countries for which recent survey data are available, female children age 1-4 were found to have higher mortality rates than male children. despite girls? biological advantage (World Bank 1994b). In many of these countries the underlying cause of high mortality among girls is the parents' bias toward boys, who receive the best food and medical care.

Genital mutilation, prevalent in twenty-eight countries, is performed on 2 million young girls yearly. The practice leads to long-term morbidity, complications during childbirth, mental trauma, and even death. Table 1.1 summarizes the best available statistics on this practice for selected countries.

Employment Work

The time women spend on paid and unpaid work is typically greater than the time men spend in the labor market (see table 1.2 for an example). Unpaid family work is rarely recorded in official statistics. It manifests itself only indirectly in the labor market in the form of gender differences in labor force participation rates. sector of employment, hours of work, and wage level.

On the whole. labor force participation rates for women are lower than those for men (figure 1.6). However. these differences are often exaggerated because the definition of the participation rate fails to capture many aspects of women's work, particularly time spent on childbearing, childbearing. and other household tasks. Men are usually in the labor force throughout the prime working years (age 20-60), and their participation rates are typically more than 90 percent in virtually every country. Female participation rates vary widely across countries. In 1990, for every ten men in the labor force there were two women in the Middle East and North Africa, three in South Asia. six in Sub-Saharan Africa, and seven in Southeast Asia (United Nations 1991). Worldwide, 41 percent of women age 15 years or over are in the labor force, but in developing countries the corresponding figure is 31 percent.

These numbers are deceptive, however, because they do not take into account the agricultural work for which women in developing countries are responsible within the family For example, the Dominican census of 1981 reported that only 21 percent of rural women participated in the labor force, but just three years later a special study suggested a figure of 81 percent. The census had omitted such activities as cultivating gardens and caring for domestic animals In India different definitions of what constitutes "work" have resulted in estimated participation rates as low as 13 percent and as high as 88 percent (Beneria 1992).

Tens of Millions of Women Suffer Female Genital Mutilation.

Table 1.1 female genital mutilation


Estimated prevalence (percent)

Estimated number of women affected (millions)



















Sierra Leone






In Sri Lanka's Dry Zone, Women Work Longer Hours than Men.

Table 1.2 distribution of monthly work hours per month)

Peal. Season

Slack season






Agricultural production





Household tasks





Fetching water and firewood





Social and religious duties





Total work hours





Leisure and sleep





Women are usually employed in different sectors than men. Most of women's nonagricultural employment is in the service sector. but in developing countries female employment in manufacturing has been increasing and is catching up with female employment in services (ILO/ INSTRAW 1985). Women in manufacturing tend to be concentrated in only a few sub sectors: more than two-thirds of the global labor force in garment production is female. and this subsector absorbs almost one-fifth of the female labor force in manufacturing (UNIDO 1993). Men's employment is more evenly distributed across other sectors such as mining manufacturing, construction, utilities, and transport.

Over their lifetime, women change their employment status more often than do men. They are also more likely to be self-employed or employed in occupations with flexible house such as subcontracted home work. Regardless of the sector in which they are employed, women tend to work in a narrow range of occupations. Only a few women are in high-paying jobs or in positions with significant responsibility. Nearly two-thirds of the women in manufacturing ate laborers, machine operators. and production workers; only 5 percent ate professional and technical workers and only 2 percent are administrators and managers (UNIDO 1993). However. there are regional differences: women occupy nearly 60 percent of clerical, sales. and service jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean but fewer than 20 percent of similar positions in South Asia North Africa. and the Middle East (figure 1.7).

Figure 1.6 rates of participation in the labor force by gender

Wages paid to women are typically about 60-70 percent of those paid to men. About one-quarter of the gender wage gap is explained by differences in educational levels, labor market experience, and other human capital'' characteristics (Psacharopoulos and Tzannatos 1992 Horton 1994). The gender wage gap can also be explained in part by women's lower participation in the labor market-a consequence of domestic and other demands on their time and, possibly, of discriminatory employment practices.

Significant changes in the global economy have affected patterns of employment and working conditions for men and women worldwide. "Globalization" is associated with the deregulation of product and labor markets, with regionalization. and with the liberalization of international trade. In turn. these processes at-e associated with increased female participation in the labor force and with the at-owing "casualization'' of employment, as seen in the growth of part-time work in industrial economies. However, the net effect of globalization on women workers is not yet clear. Growth in the international traded service sector (for example, banking and telecommunications) seems to have offered women in developing countries greater employment opportunities. In addition, the participation rate of women in manufacturing jobs has increased faster than that of men. Women's average participation in the manufacturing labor force is now around 30 percent for both developing and industrial countries.

Figure 1.7 types of jobs held by women

Worldwide, the number of women employed in export manufacturing has been increasing rapidly, even though this sector employs only a small fraction of all women workers. In Mexico, for example, the number of women employed in export manufacturing rose by nearly 15 percent a year in the 1980s (Jurisman and Moreno 1990). However, employment in this sector has been increasing more rapidly for men than for women, partly because of

technological upgrading over time and partly; because women are less educated and tend to remain in low-skill occupations (Baden 1992).

Women now account for a growing share ret wage employment they tend to stay longer in the labor force than ever before

Despite persistent gender inequalities in the labor market. some recent trends are encouraging. Increasing educational opportunities and decreasing fertility rates have fed to an increase in the number of women entering the labor market. since the 1950s the female labor force has expanded twice as fast as the male labor force. Women now account for a growing share of wage employment. and they tend to stay longer in the labor force than ever before The narrowing of the gender gap in labor force participation is enabling women to accumulate the work experience necessary tot- improving their job opportunities and increasing their amines. In the formal sector more and more women are working in occupations and sectors once dominated by men. and in many countries women s wages relative to men s have increased over time

The data in this chapter illustrate some aggregate trends but they cannot tell US anything about the processes behind the persistence of gender inequality. For a more detailed look at these processes. We turn in the next chapter to a growing body of empirical evidence generated at the household and enterprise level. These studies provide a telling insight into the way in which gender inequalities are being challenged particularly by women At the same time these inequalities are reinforced by economic, legal. and cultural incentive systems that discriminate against women Discrimination continues despite compelling evidence showing that less inequality especially within the household. is associated with heftier welfare outcomes for children and better economic outcomes for the household as a v hole.