Gender Equality : Progress and Challenges worldwide

In its latest World Development Report released in September 2011, the World Bank recognises again that gender equality is smart economics – and that it matters for development.

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With women now representing 40% of the global labour force, 43% of the world’s agricultural labour focre and more than half of the world’s university students, there is great potential in increasing productivity levels.

Numerous studies have shown that better access to education for women contributes to better outcoimes for their children in terms of education, health and employment.

Increasing women’s voice at all decision-making levels is crucial to make more inclusive policies, that respond to the needs of socity as a whole.


There has been progress over the last two decades in terms of educational enrollment, as gender gaps in primary education have closed in almost all countries, and there has been great progress made in secondary education as well, with a reverse effect in regions such as Latin America or East Asia, where boys are now at a disadvantage. Women’s life expectancy has also increased since 1980, and more than half a billion women have entered the global labour force.


There are still persisting gaps, even in developed countries. In particular, the World Bank’s report pinpoints the following issues:

  • Excess deaths of girls and women
  • Disparities in girls’ schooling across regions
  • Unequal access to economic opportunities (especially in terms of informal employment and wage gaps)
  • Differences in voice in households and in society


The World Development Report 2012 calls for action in the following areas:

  1. Addressing human capital issues (e.g. excess deaths of girls and women, gender gaps in education
  2. Closing earning and productivity gaps between men and women
  3. Giving women greater voice within households and societies
  4. Limiting the perpetuation of gender inequality between generations.

Specifically, the report recommends strong and sustained domestic public policies in developing countries that focus on the root causes of gender gaps (i.e. the constraints, such as weak service delivery institutions in the case of maternal mortality). The WDR also highlights the key role of the international community in complementing these efforts: more funding (targeting the poorest countries), improved gender -disaggregated data and more effective partnerships also with the private sector and civil society organisations are essential.

Sources: World Bank; Wikigender

Digging deeper into the report:

“Since 1980, the female participation rate at each level of income has increased sharply over time. So, at every level of per capita income, more women are now engaged in economic activity outside the home than ever before.”

Read more about the scientific background of  the “Feminization U”:

A. Luci (2009): “Female labour market participation and economic growth.” International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, Vol. 4, nos 2/3.

Related article on this blog:

Gender Equality – THE cross-cutting issue for development

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