Women and Gender Inequality
Measuring differences in income or consumption is the usual
method of gauging poverty, but the indicators are not usually collected
or presented in a gender-sensitive way. Figures indicate
what proportion of the population have inadequate incomes, but
not how many are women and how many men.
Power, nutrition, health, and time
allocation may be more important than income as indicators
of differences in well-being between men and women.
Some social indicators, notably adult and infant mortality
rates, may differ more widely with income among females
than among males (2).
POVERTY INDICATORS Attempts
to construct a gender-sensitive poverty indicator have
compared the incidence of income or consumption poverty
among female-headed and male-headed households (3).
It is difficult to compare these efforts because of
differences in methodology, but one review showed that
38 of 61 such studies found that woman-headed households
are over-represented among the poor (4).
A more striking finding is that there are disproportionately
more women living in poverty in male-headed households and
fewer men living in poverty in female-headed households. Because
female-headed households account for a small proportion of the
population, their contribution to aggregate poverty is small compared
to all females living in poverty.
This approach has many problems,
since definitions of female headship, and reasons for
it, vary widely (5).
One useful alternative gender-sensitive indicator is
the gender-poverty ratio, the number of women per 100
men in the poorest fifth of the population or living
below the poverty line. Data from the early 1990s show
this ratio ranging widely, from 93 in Nepal to 130 in
Bangladesh and as high as 190 in Botswana (6).
SOCIAL INDICATORS One index
of household gender inequality uses data from 40 developing
countries (7) and
four measures: whether the woman works for cash income;
woman's age at first marriage; difference in the woman's
and her partner's age; and the difference in years of
An index of societal gender inequality is also composed of
four measures: difference in weight for age of girls and boys under
five; per cent of female children out of total children under five;
difference in age-adjusted vaccination score of girls and boys under
five; and difference in years of education of adult men and women.
This index shows that women tend to be less educated than
their husbands, the difference being greatest in South Asia and the
smallest in Latin America. Women marry younger in South Asia
and at older ages in Latin America. Differences in the preferred
numbers of girls and boys by region are similarly largest in South
Asia and smallest in Latin America. Boys are also treated most
preferentially with respect to preventive health care in South Asia,
suggesting that son preference may be greater in countries where
women have lower status.
HUMAN RIGHTS Data from several
studies on political, ethnic, and gender-based rights
for more than 100 countries in 1985 and 1990 (8)
provide indices of human rights, with scores from 1
(consistent pattern of violation of rights) to 4 (unqualified
respect for freedoms and rights). Of the 40 rights indices
collected, several pertain to gender equality in rights-political
and legal equality, social and economic equality, and
equality in marriage and divorce proceedings.
These indices show there has been a tendency towards gender
equality in rights in most regions since 1985, but that women continue
to be disadvantaged relative to men in basic rights and associated
status. For political and legal rights, all developing regions score
between 2 (frequent violations) and 3 (occasional breaches).
EMPOWERING POOR WOMEN IN IRAN
programme in Iran focuses on five of the
most-deprived, hardest to reach and remote areas, with the
lowest indicators in health and education: Sistan and
Baluchestan, Bushehr, Golestan and Kordestan provinces; and
Islamshahr in the Tehran suburbs.
The Fund is cooperating with the Centre for Women's
Participation to introduce a pilot income-generation scheme
for poor women in a number of villages. Through a revolving
fund mechanism, women who are heads of households have
received loans to engage in animal husbandry, carpet weaving,
sewing and fishery.
Another initiative, a joint project with the Literacy
Movement Organization, combines literacy training and skills
development with reproductive health education. After completing
the training, women receive seed money to start the
activities for which they have been trained.See Sources
In general, there is greater gender inequality in social and
economic rights than in legal and political rights, especially in
South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The exceptions are in Eastern
Europe and Central Asia, and in East Asia and the Pacific.
Finally, gender inequalities vary most across regions with
respect to rights in marriage and divorce. Women in Eastern
Europe and Central Asia experience the greatest relative equality
and women in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle
East and North Africa the least.
These measures show the link between
gender inequality and women's own reproductive health
as well as the health and nutrition of their children.
In Egypt, higher scores on decisionmaking and freedom
of movement are associated with higher probability of
using contraception (9),
and women's empowerment contributes to infant survival
and complete infant immunization.