Women and Gender Inequality
PAID AND UNPAID LABOR In
many developing countries women are responsible for
agricultural production and market work as well as unpaid,
non-market work. Unpaid work ranges from care for the
children, the elderly and the sick to subsistence production
and domestic chores, which in developing countries may
include walking many miles to fetch firewood and water
Recent time-use surveys show that
at least half of women's total work time is spent on
unpaid work. Data from nine developing countries showed
even larger differences, with women spending on average
34 per cent of their time on paid market work and 66
per cent on non-market work, compared to 76 per cent
and 24 per cent, respectively, for men (11).
In rural Nepal, men spend eight
hours a day on market work and only two hours on home
production, but women work 7.4 hours on market work,
and five hours on home production. Women also overlap
activities such as taking care of children while working
in the home or in the fields (12).
Research in 31 countries, both
industrial and developing, on the amount of time women
and men spend on market and non-market activities (13)
- Women work longer hours than men in nearly every country.
Of the total burden of work, women account for 53 per cent
in developing countries and 51 per cent in industrial countries.
- Of men's total work time in industrial countries, roughly two
thirds is spent in activities that are counted towards measures of
GNP and one third in unpaid activities; for women, the shares
are reversed. In developing countries, more than three fourths of
men's work is included in the national income accounts.
- Low-income women have longer working days than
higherincome women, to the detriment of their health
and nutritional status (14).
When time spent on home production is included in the computation,
women contribute 40 to 60 per cent of household income.
Non-market production by women
is a crucial element in determining the quality of life
and directly affects the health, development and overall
well-being of children and other household members.
Yet women's voices and lived experience-whether as workers
(paid and unpaid), citizens, or consumers-are still
largely missing from debates on finance and development
EFFECTS OF INVISIBILITY The differences in the work
patterns of men and women, and the "invisibility" of unpaid work
not included in national accounts, lead to lower entitlements to
women than to men. This inequity in turn perpetuates gender gaps
For example, when girls reach adolescence
they are typically expected to spend more time in household
activities, while boys spend more time on farm or wage
work. By the time girls and boys become adults, females
generally work longer hours than males, have less experience
in the labour force and earn less income (16).
This has implications for investments
in the next generation. If parents view daughters as
less likely to take paid work or earn market wages,
they may be less inclined to invest in their education,
women's fastest route out of poverty (17).
THE DOUBLE BURDEN More women
are taking paid work in industry and services. In most
developing countries a growing number of women are employers
or self-employed, most of them in agriculture and in
informal sector small-scale and microenterprises. (18).
But entering the labour market can leave women poor
in both time and money. They work double days, at work
and at home. They often earn less than men for the same
work, and have less opportunity to improve their skills.
In addition, women's unpaid labour
and the need for non-marketed goods and services increases
with economic shocks, such as those associated with
economic restructuring or the HIV/AIDS pandemic, when
governments reduce social services or when their market
costs become unaffordable. Poor women do more unpaid
work, work longer hours and accept degrading working
conditions during these times of crisis, just to ensure
that their families survive (19).
ACCESS TO RESOURCES Women today have more opportunity to
invest in and make use of "human capital", such as education
and health, but there has been less progress in recent decades in
securing their access to natural and physical capital such as
money and land. This has high costs at both the individual and
the household level.
HOUSEHOLD POWER RELATIONSHIPS Many decisions about
the distribution of resources between men and women are made
within families. This is not a straightforward process; it involves
negotiation and the use of power, which are in turn strongly
shaped by social context.
Control of resources is determined in part by what an individual
brings into the household-physical assets, wages or other
income, transfer payments or welfare receipts that may affect their
ability to bargain. The threat of withdrawing from the household
adds bargaining power, providing the threat is credible. It is a
threat most commonly used by men in relation to wives, daughters
and other female relatives.
Some external influences, like legal rights and community
support, can increase joint decision-making. Women can also mobilize
personal networks to improve their bargaining power.
Membership in organizations, access to kin and other social networks,
and other forms of "social capital" may add bargaining
power in the household.
Many influences are intrinsic, such as knowledge of personal
rights and the self-confidence to use it. Education confers a big
advantage. Physical power is also an advantage.
Recent household surveys by the International Food Policy
Research Institute (IFPRI) show that assets brought to marriage
have an impact on bargaining power within marriage. In five
developing countries studied-Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, the
Philippines and South Africa-men bring more land and assets
to marriage than their wives. In most of these countries,
husbands also have more years of schooling than their wives.
INCOMES AND BETTER HEALTH FOR LAOTIAN WOMEN
contribution in one Laotian village is
now seen to be as important as their role as
mothers and wives, as a result of UNFPA
assistance. Villagers now have access to
reproductive health information and services,
too, thanks to the efforts of the Fund
and its national partners, the Lao Women's
Union and the Ministry of Health.
Ban Bo Piet is a village of 54 households
in one of the most inaccessible mountainous
areas of the Lao People's Democratic
Republic. It was settled in 1993 by a previously
nomadic group that practised
slash-and-burn subsistence farming.
Poverty and malnutrition were prevalent.
Agricultural production is slowly changing
to commercial production, including rice
and pig farming.
UNFPA helped start a seed fund so the
community's women could begin cultivating
cardamom, an environmentally friendly
and productive cash crop. The village has
two reproductive health volunteers, who
provide information and promote services
that include family planning counselling.
One has just attended a gender and reproductive
health course organized by the
women's union with UNFPA support.
"Before I became a volunteer, no one in
my village knew about family planning,
gender issues or male involvement," she
says. "We would marry very young, carry
out all of the domestic work and have no
time for ourselves or for helping in the
fields, especially when we had so many
children. We now know about HIV/AIDS
prevention, family planning methods and
where health services are located. We have
also encouraged our husbands to help us at
"We all support the reproductive health
programme because it helps us break out
of the cycle of poverty," says the village
chief. We understand well that better
health for women is linked to smaller families
and better nutrition for our children."See Sources
Women's assets may nevertheless provide some independence
and influence household decision-making, particularly on food,
education, health and children's clothing. Even where husbands
control most of the resources, as in Bangladesh, women's assets
positively affect spending on children's clothing and education,
and also reduce girls' rate of illness.
REDUCING GENDER INEQUALITY Programmes that reduce
gender inequality can significantly improve individual and household
welfare as well as national economic growth.
If sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia
and West Asia had had the same female-male ratio in
years of schooling that East Asia did in 1960, and had
closed the gap at the rate achieved by East Asia from
1960 to 1992, their per capita income could have grown
by 0.5 to 0.9 percentage points per year, a substantial
increase over the actual growth rates of 0.7 per cent
per year in sub-Saharan Africa, 1.7 per cent in South
Asia and 2.2 per cent in West Asia.(20)
IFPRI research shows that reducing
inequalities within the household by equalizing human
capital, land and inputs used by women can increase
crop yields by 20-25 per cent.(21)
In Kenya, giving women farmers the same education and
resources as men increased yields by 22 per cent.(22)
EDUCATION INITIATIVES Scholarships for girls and incentive
programmes to increase girls' enrolment, such as those in
Bangladesh and Mexico, motivate parents to send their daughters
The programmes have had a powerful effect on income,
education, nutrition, health and women's sense of empowerment.
Boys' school enrolment (particularly beyond primary school)
increased because they work less. Girls' secondary school enrolment
increased by as much as 14 per cent.
Improving women's education also
helps reduce child malnutrition. A recent study shows
that increases in women's education made the greatest
contribution to reducing the rate of child malnutrition,
accounting for 43 per cent of the total reduction. Improvements
in food availability came in a distant second, contributing
26 per cent.(23)
Closing the gender gap in education
also helps women to reduce fertility and improve child
study found that an additional year of female education
reduced total fertility by 0.23 births,(25)
another that the reduction was 0.32 births.(26)
In countries where girls are only
half as likely to go to school as boys, there are on
average 21.1 more infant deaths per 1,000 live births
than in countries with no gender gap, controlling for
CREDIT AND EMPOWERMENT Part of the success of groupbased
credit programmes such as the Grameen Bank has been
attributed to a lending and support mechanism in which the group
empowers the individual woman. Effective NGOs have developed
explicit empowerment objectives that go beyond economic empowerment
to include legal awareness, political participation and
use of contraception.
GOVERNANCE Improving gender equality also involves
ensuring that women are fully represented at all levels of decisionmaking.
Women need to be able both to participate directly
in making tax, health, labour, land or budget policies and to hold
policy makers accountable for their impact.
Improving gender equality can improve
governance. Some reports suggest that women are less
involved than men in bribery, and are less involved
Cross-country data from 98 countries, both high- and
low-income, show that corruption, measured using a "graft
index", is less severe when women hold a larger share
of parliamentary seats and senior positions in the government
bureaucracy, and make up a larger share of the labour
The most dramatic gain in women's representation occurred
in South Africa, where the first election after the end of apartheid
increased the proportion of women in the national Parliament
from 1 per cent to 30 per cent. The resulting pressures for gendersensitive
innovations such as the Gender Budget-which analyses
the different impacts government expenditure and revenue have
on women and men-attest to the effects of women's participation.