Support versus transformation in development financing: what works to close gender gaps?

Author:Klugman, Jeni
Position:Beyond Exclusion - Report

Increased recognition of gender inequalities and their repercussions

for human and economic development has prompted heightened attention to gender in development financing on the part of multilateral and bilateral institutions alike. The movement towards gender mainstreaming and gender-informed financing since the mid-1990s departs from a traditional approach that was, at best, gender-neutral. This has initiated important gains for development, contributing to economic growth, poverty reduction, and better trajectories for the next generation. The World Bank documents nearly USD $31 billion of gender-informed lending in fiscal year 2013. In 2011, OECD countries contributed about USD $20.5 billion towards gender equality and women's empowerment projects. Development agencies, however, have jet to exploit the full potential of gender-mainstreaming. In particular, there is a substantial need to address the overlapping constraints in which gender inequality is structurally embedded.


Gender inequality is costly to human and economic development. Various global indices capture snapshots and patterns of gender inequality across years and countries. (2) Gender gaps can also be tracked using dashboards of specific indicators. (3) All evidence suggests a common story about gender equality progress--gains exist, but are still insufficient.

One of the most prominent global rankings on gender equality is the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) published by the World Economic Forum. The index ranks countries according to relative achievements of women and men on a range of fronts. The GGGI is structured around four broad categories--Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment (see figure 1). The measures found in the index for education-including gender parity on all levels of school enrollment and adult literacy, and health, such as sex ratio at birth and healthy life expectancy--show considerable progress at the global level. Indeed, in high income countries, young women attain higher education at greater rates than young men, and are less likely to be considered "NEET" not in education, employment, or training. (4)

Yet these broad aggregates conceal major variations within and across countries. For example, India's 2011 census data show that the child sex ratio has dropped to its lowest level since India's 1947 independence--914 females to every 1,000 males--indicating tragic worsening of sex-selective abortions despite its illegality. Across developing countries, the maternal mortality ratio averages fifteen times higher than in developed countries. (5)

Gender gaps in educational outcomes are still marked in low income countries (see figure 2). Even where gender parity has been reached or exceeded in enrollment and completion rates, young women and men still concentrate into, and view themselves more competent in, different educational streams. Each of these educational streams are associated groups, with social norms around "masculine" or "feminine" areas of work--math, engineering, and physical sciences for males; arts, humanities, and human services for women and girls. Figure 3 illustrates higher-education programs into which women concentrate in countries where 50 percent or more of all graduates are female, highlighting the divisions. These patterns often persist even though young women perform at least as well in male-dominated subjects. (6) Within countries, there are significant variations in gender equality across different income groups. For instance, gender gaps in median grade attainment are wide among young people ages fifteen to nineteen in the bottom two income quintiles in Benin, Gambia, India, and Pakistan, while the gap is virtually nonexistent in the highest quintile. (7) Similarly, women in the poorest wealth quintiles of their countries have consistently higher fertility rates and more child marriage than those in the richest. (8)

Stark global inequalities remain in economic and political participation domains; 40 percent and 80 percent of the global gender gaps measured by the World Economic Forum, respectively, remain open. The path to economic and political parity presents an even longer stretch in some regions. Female labor force participation is very low in the Middle East and North Africa, averaging only 26 percent. In some countries--Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan norms and attitudes against women's work outside the home are so strong that female labor force participation remains under 20 percent. (9)

In many countries, gaps in economic opportunities--due to gaps in labor force participation, occupational segregation, and discrimination--translate to gaps in earnings. In only one-third of the 134 countries for which data are available does gender parity in earned annual income exist. (10) Evidence from a separate analysis of eighty-three developed and developing countries shows that, in aggregate, women generally earn between 10 to 30 percent less than men. (11)

Globally, dismal rates of female political representation are reflected from various indicators measured across countries. The data show significant gender gaps at high levels--namely, a lack of female representation in parliaments, at ministerial-level positions, and as heads of state. For example, women held only 21 percent of seats in national parliaments worldwide in 2012, ranging from 13 percent in the Middle East and North Africa to 26 percent in the European Union. (12) Evidence reveals gaps in local level representation, as well. According to UN analyses, women represented a minority of local councillors in all but four countries--Belarus, Costa Rica, Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine--and no more than one-fifth of mayors in seventy-three of seventy-seven countries. (13)

The reality for many women living in poverty is one of overlapping constraints. These constraints typically come in bundles such that simply moving the lever on one constraint does little, especially when others remain unchanged. In this context, simple interventions or single-sector actions are unlikely to move disadvantaged women into prosperity. The 2012 World Development Report on "Gender Equality and Development" ("WDR 2012") illustrated the interlinkages between significant gender gaps in economic opportunities, endowments, and agency. One must consider all three dimensions to understand the full extent of overlapping disadvantages that perpetuate gender inequality and impair progress on ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Constraints on agency, however, are most often overlooked, even though they disproportionately affect women, especially poor women. The multi-country Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) capture the expressions of women's agency and illustrate this point.

The DHS allow us to examine indicators of several expressions of agency across countries, including whether women have a say in: large household purchases, or control of resources; visits to friends and family, or freedom of movement; their own healthcare, or family formation; and whether intimate partner violence is justified for any given reason, or freedom from violence. With comparable data from fifty-two countries, we constructed aggregates for low income countries, lower middle income countries, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Figure 4 shows that many women in developing countries simultaneously struggle with deprivations in more than one expression of agency. In fact, in both South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa--regions for which we have an adequate level of data--three or more deprivations of agency constrain more than one in four women. The results most likely understate the overall level of constraints, since the analysis measures only a narrow selection of indicators across countries.

The evidence underlines major gender gaps across a range of critical life domains, especially in low- and middle-income economies. Research shows the tremendous economic cost of these inequalities, and the potentially considerable gains to bridging them. A Goldman Sachs study concluded that narrowing the employment gender gap could "push income per capita in emerging markets as much as 14 percent higher by 2020, and as much as 20 percent higher by 2030," relative to baseline projections. (17) A separate study estimated that a 5 percent increase in female labor force participation in the Middle East and North Africa region would increase GDP cumulatively by 1.3 percent between 2015 and 2030. This estimation is equivalent to an increase of USD $525 billion in 2007 values. (18)

In fact, similar gains have played out in East Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. These regions have made progress in gender equality in recent decades through reducing fertility rates and increasing female education and labor force participation. For example, women's labor force participation in Latin America and the Caribbean rose by over 18 percent since 1980, and the World Bank found that poverty in the region would have been 30 percent higher in 2010 were it not for women's increased role in the labor market. (19) This demonstrates that gender equality in the world of work is not a luxury in the development process, but a requirement.

The growing recognition of the extent and indignity of gender gaps, as well as their impacts on development, has generated greater urgency among the development community to act. As this paper highlights, a focus on women's empowerment and gender equality has been buoyed by the advocacy efforts of women's movements and prominent international statements and conventions, leading to increased focus among international agencies, including the World Bank Group. (20) Yet the ways through which this focus is pursued have been diverse, and the gender mainstreaming agenda is far from fully realized.


Traditional approaches...

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