UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund

State of World Population 2005



© Jacob Silberberg/Panos Pictures
Three girls watch as their teacher points to a chalk board in a school classroom in the village of Koutagba,
South Benin.

Strategic Investments:
The Equality Dividend

-A Poverty of Opportunity and Choices

-Critical Investments, Large Payoffs

-Reconciling Productive and Reproductive Roles

-Accountability for Gender Justice

Reconciling Productive and Reproductive Roles

The productive and reproductive roles of women are inextricably linked. Though their time and energy may be thinly stretched between family responsibilities and the need to earn money, women increasingly do both. However, public policies have not kept pace with the social changes generated by the increasing workforce participation of women and changing family structures. Nor have they fulfilled women's fundamental right to determine the number and spacing of children.

More and more countries are realizing that women need support to balance work and family life and that raising children is a shared right and responsibility of men and women. Targeted support can enable women to secure better employment and encourage men to enjoy a greater share of reproductive health and child-rearing responsibilities. This, in turn, is likely to contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction.

International Labour Organization conventions bar discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and motherhood and call for the provision of maternity care.(63) Many countries have taken measures in response. Scandinavian countries established family-friendly policies early on, and European countries are increasingly paying attention to the importance of fathers' roles within the family and providing paid paternity leave.(64) Kenya found that reducing the costs of childcare increases women's participation in the labour force and girls' secondary schooling.(65) Half of the governments reviewing ten years of progress on the commitments agreed at the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women report that they have made some efforts to support both women and men in balancing family and work responsibilities.(66) Policies generally do not address fathers' roles and how they relate to the employment of working mothers, who are still primarily responsible for resolving childcare needs.(67) Policies are rarely tailored to the specific needs of particular groups, such as lower-income, indigenous or ethnic minorities.(68) Gender norms also make it more challenging for fathers to take parental leave even when it is available.(69) In Europe, men's careers suffered when they took advantage of familyfriendly policies.(70) Leave policies also vary widely in terms of entitlements and financial support. In all cases, national policies addressing the interconnections between reproductive and productive roles should be guided by the right of individuals and couples to choose the number of children they wish to have, and to offer support and flexibility in balancing the demands of family and work life.

Reproductive health programmes that address gender relations and economic empowerment offer greater potential benefits than those that ignore the context in which reproductive decisions are made.(71) Providing opportunities for education and training, and for delaying marriage and childbearing, can enable young women to develop their full potential as economic agents.(72) Because millions of working women have children, employers can help by establishing family-friendly policies encouraging flexible work schedules, and offering childcare facilities and access to health care. In Jordan and Malaysia, employers are now responsible for providing childcare in workplaces.(73) In a number of countries, employers have begun to provide reproductive health and HIV prevention information and services because they understand that good health increases productivity and reduces absenteeism. Business for Social Responsibility, an international NGO with a global membership of 80 major companies (such as Coca-Cola and Sony), has developed a guidebook that details the economic benefits of supporting the reproductive health of female employees.(74)

POLITICAL RIGHTS, POWER AND PARTICIPATION. Women's political participation transforms the process of setting priorities for public policy and helps make governance more egalitarian and inclusive.(75) By exercising this right more fully, women can advance poverty reduction efforts. Research shows that as larger numbers of women enter politics, public agendas change, corruption is reduced and governance improves.(76) Such shifts can accelerate the broad social change required for achieving the MDGs-a key reason why the UN Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality identified increased political participation of women as a strategic priority.(77)

However, stereotypes and family responsibilities restrict women's participation in political decisionmaking, and women remain largely absent from national decision-making bodies. In general, progress is slow and uneven.(78) Women hold only 16 per cent of national parliamentary seats globally, up by less than 4 percentage points since 1990. To date, only 19 countries have met the 30 per cent target set by the United Nations for achievement by 1995.(79) In another 31 countries, women hold between 20 and 29 per cent of seats. Nevertheless, women have made progress in political life since 1990. Quota laws have been a major factor in raising women's national parliamentary representation in Latin America and the Caribbean, in sub-Saharan Africa and in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Increased representation is also the result of lobbying by women's groups, which continue to mobilize support and build constituencies.(80)

At the local level, women often have greater opportunities to wield power-especially where decentralization is occurring. In both India and France, policies to increase the grass-roots political participation of women led to their entry in large numbers into local decision-making bodies. In India, over a million women serve in local government.(81) A study of panchayats, the local government councils in India, found that the inclusion of women members has resulted in profound changes, including councils that are more responsive to local demands for better infrastructure, housing, schools and health care.(82) Research indicates that female-headed panchayatsdrafted policies more sensitive to the needs of women, children and families. Ethiopia, Jordan and Namibia, among others, also report increased women's participation at local levels.(83)

The political participation of women does not necessarily correspond to national levels of poverty: A number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the world's poorest region, are ahead of France, Japan and the United States, where women hold only 15 per cent or less of legislative seats.(84) Rwanda has now surpassed Sweden as the country with the highest proportion of women in parliament in the world (see Chapter 8).(85)


Globalization, urbanization, modernization, migration, wars, natural disasters and population dynamics have transformed family life. Fewer extended families live together. Poverty has forced ever-larger numbers of parents and young people to seek work far from their families. In some places, the rapid spread of AIDS has redefined what it means to be a family-including groups of orphaned siblings living together under the care of the eldest or of a grandparent. These changing family structures have important policy implications. Femaleheaded households are on the rise in both developed and developing regions, comprising a fifth to a third of households in many countries. A growing proportion of these are headed by mothers who are also providing most or all of the economic support. Their children may also need to work in order to help the family survive.

Support networks once provided by extended families are less available to working women today, and social measures have not yet filled the gap. "No single country provides the investment in care services that is required to fully meet the needs of women and their children," the UN Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality reports. In the absence of childcare, single mothers face particular challenges, including restrictions on hours or type of employment. Irregular or missing child support further complicates their struggle to provide for their children.

Women traditionally bear the brunt of caretaking for both young and old. As life spans lengthen and populations age, the time and resources required to care for the elderly may outstrip the ability of younger generations to cope. For older women, the cumulative consequences of life-long discrimination in labour markets, inadequate pensions and weak social supports often mean impoverishment and lower standards of life in later years. A lifetime of poor nutrition and reproductive health may result in chronic ill health-particularly for older women living in developing countries. Geographical distance from other family members may contribute to isolation and neglect. See Sources

"The under-representation of women in decision-making structures reflects the level of maturity of the democratic process.and is an indication that a society is less democratic and less egalitarian."

- Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, Heads of State and Government of Member States of the African Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 2004

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