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HOME: STATE OF WORLD POPULATION 2002: Women and Gender Inequality
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Women and Gender Inequality

Measuring Gender Inequality
Economic Inequity
HIV, Poverty and Gender Inequality

Measuring 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 education.

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).


UNFPA's assistance 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.

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