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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

Economic Inequity

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 (10).

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) shows that:

  • 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 (15).

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 in capabilities.

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.


Women's economic 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 home."

"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 to school.

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 survival.(24) One 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 other factors.(27)

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 in bribe-taking.(28) 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 force.

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.

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