European Year for Development: July – Children and youth.
Photo: ILO/Gudrun Jevne
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Contributions from participants during product standards training at Nahr El Bared.
A woman works on her computer at a services office of a local telecommunication company.
➤ lower income levels there is also considerable variation in the female-tomale ratio of secondary school enrolment among countries with similar incomes, suggesting that factors other than average GDP are important. For example, Burkina Faso (US$1,435) and Rwanda ($1,312) had similar levels of per capita income in 2011, but the ratio was significantly higher in Rwanda than Burkina Faso. This shows that even at lower levels of GDP it is possible to attain gender parity in education. The figure does not tell us whether it is economic growth that raises the enrolment ratio or whether it is greater gender equality in secondary education that supports higher incomes. And focusing on the female-to-male enrolment ratio gives an incomplete picture in terms of substantive equality, because it does not control for the quality of education that young women and men receive or differences in retention and attainment. Similarly, an increase in the female share
of labour force participation, or a reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labour force participation, has been shown to result in faster growth. Women’s labour force participation rates are typically lower than men’s – in some cases significantly so – and women working in paid employment are often concentrated in low productivity activities in which earnings are low. These patterns of segregation indicate an inefficient allocation of labour in which women are prevented from participating in activities in which they may be more productive. Therefore, relaxing gender constraints in labour markets can be expected to raise average incomes and growth rates. Gender equality may also contribute to growth through its long-term impact on human development. Evidence shows that a mother’s education and health status have a positive impact on the health of her children. This can contribute to future economic growth.
However, the reverse can also be true: when other indicators are used, gender inequality (rather than equality) seems to contribute to economic growth and macroeconomic performance, at least in the short term. Women frequently earn less than men and therefore gender wage gaps can reduce average labour costs. Research on emerging market economies in Asia, Europe and Latin America suggests that higher wage gaps boost competitiveness when women are disproportionately employed in labourintensive export-oriented activities. Gender inequalities in wages can thus contribute to the success of export-oriented growth and improve a country’s position with respect to its trade balance in the short term. Because it is premised on inequality, however, such growth cannot be considered inclusive; and in the long-term, gender equality may be more beneficial to growth through its impact on women’s human development, such as improvements in educational attainment.