Gender Equality

Women have an enormous impact on the well-being of their families and societies – yet their potential is not realized because of discriminatory social norms, incentives, and legal institutions. And while their status has improved in recent decades, gender inequalities remain pervasive.

Gender inequality starts early and keeps women at a disadvantage throughout their lives. In some countries, infant girls are less likely to survive than infant boys because of parental discrimination and neglect – even though biologically infant girls should survive in greater numbers. Girls are more likely to drop out of school and to receive less education than boys because of discrimination, education expenses, and household duties.

The differences between boys’ and girls’ schooling are greatest in regions with the lowest primary school completion rates and lowest average incomes. In low-income countries, the ratio of girls’ enrollments in primary and secondary education as a percent of boys’ was 84 percent, compared to 101 percent in upper-middle income countries.

Past progress and future requirement to achieve girls’ school enrollment target

All regions except Latin America and the Caribbean are still short of the 2005 target. In South Asia girls’ primary enrollment in primary schools is 12 points lower than boys’, and only 61 percent of girls complete primary school compared with 86 percent of boys

Beyond Schooling

Gender disparity in literacy: Literacy is a fundamental skill to empower women to take control of their own lives, to engage directly with authority and give them access to the wider world of learning. Educating women and giving them equal rights is important for many reasons:

  • It increases their productivity, raising output and reducing poverty.
  • It promotes gender equality, within households and removes constraints on women’s decision making this reducing fertility rates and improving maternal health.
  • Educated women do a better job caring for children, increasing children’s chances of surviving to become healthier and better educated.

In most regions, literacy is higher among young men

The number of literate women aged 15-24 years in the went up between 1990 and 2002. This represents a global increase in the female literacy rate of approximately 5 percentage points from 78 to 83 per cent. At current rates, however, the target of eliminating gender disparity in education by 2015 will not be met, with the literacy rate for women 15-24 projected to be 88 per cent, versus a projected rate of 90 for young men.

Gender disparity in labor market: Women, although largely engaged in many sectors of the economy, they are not equally integrated into the monetary economy. Of major concern is also the fact that the decent work deficit, i.e. short supply of productive work undertaken in condition of freedom, equity, and human dignity, is still much more pronounced for women than it is for men. Over the last decade there has been only a small progress, globally, in gender equality in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector, which measures the degree to which labor markets are open to women in industry and service sectors. Of the 109 countries with data for the late 1990s, only 18 had a share of women equal or slightly higher than that of men. They are mainly countries in the developed regions (mostly transition countries). In 14 countries the share of women in non-agricultural paid employment is below or well below 30 per cent.

Women’s equal participation with men in power and decision-making is part of their fundamental right to participate in political life, and at the core of gender equality and women’s empowerment. While almost all countries in the world now grant to both women and men the right to vote and be elected, women continue to experience difficulties in exercising this right. In 2003, globally the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments stands at 15 percent. This constitutes a modest increase of just 6 percentage points since 1987. At the same time, the percentage of women in parliament and the changes in their parliamentary representation continues to be characterized by large differences across regions and sub-regions.

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