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Fact Sheet: Promoting Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment

Why this report calls attention to gender equality and women’s empowerment

  • There is strong evidence that gender equality and women’s empowerment are channels to attaining other MDGs—universal primary education, lower under-five mortality, improved maternal health, and lower likelihood of contracting HIV.
  • Improving gender equality reduces poverty and stimulates growth directly through women’s greater labor force participation, productivity, and earnings, as well as indirectly through beneficial effects on child well-being.

Progress on the official MDG3 indicators

Girls’ enrollments in all levels of schooling have risen significantly; gender gaps remain in literacy rates.

  • By 2005, 83 developing countries had met the intermediate MDG3 target of parity in primary and secondary enrollment rates. Most of these countries are in regions where enrollment has been historically high — East Asia and the Pacific (EAP), Europe and Central Asia (ECA), and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
    • Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) met the target by 2005, but some have significant female disadvantage in enrollments.
    • In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) performance has been varied; less than one-quarter of countries met the enrollment targets for 2005, but some have attained parity (eg. Botswana, Rwanda, and South Africa).
  • Of the 14 fragile states for which data are available, nine are not expected to achieve the primary and secondary enrollment targets.
  • Female tertiary enrollment lagged behind that of males in 63 countries (of 130 with data) and exceeded the male rate in 65 countries. Female disadvantage was seen mainly in SSA, South Asia, and in fragile states.
  • Basic literacy skills and progress in school enrollments over time has resulted in higher youth literacy rates (age 15-24), but gender gaps remain. Of the world’s nearly 137 million illiterate youths, 63 percent were female (UNESCO estimates). The female-to-male literacy ratio was lowest in SSA, MENA, and South Asia.
  • The unfinished education agenda must attend to:
    • Fragile states and countries unlikely to meet the enrollment target—of the 22 countries unlikely to achieve the target even by 2015, 16 countries are in SSA, nine of which are fragile states.
    • Disadvantaged and excluded groups within countries, seen when statistics are disaggregated by income, race, ethnicity, disability and rural-urban residence.
    • Levels of enrollment (especially secondary), not just gender parity ratios.
    • Gender disparities in the transition from one level of education to the next.

Modest increase in women’s share of nonagricultural wage employment (1990-2005)

  • This indicator, a measure of the degree to which labor markets are open to women in industry and service sectors, showed only modest improvement. This is most notable in regions with the lowest share of women in nonagricultural wage work – SSA (from 20 to 24 percent), South Asia (13 to 18 percent), MENA (18 to 20 percent).
  • In 2005 the share of women in nonagricultural employment was high in ECA (44.5%), LAC (43%) and East Asia (39%). In 15 countries (mostly ECA), women dominated this type of work. In Cambodia, Honduras, and Vietnam, growth in export-oriented manufacturing industries increased demand for female workers.

Between 1990 and 2005 all regions except ECA increased women’s proportion of the seats in national parliament, but the level remains low.

  • Although women’s representation in the parliament nearly doubled in SSA (from 7.7 to 15.1 percent) and LAC (8 to 15.5 percent), and increased significantly in MENA and South Asia, the level remains low. In no region did the average share exceed 25 percent, either in 1990, or in 2005.
  • With quotas, countries like Argentina, Costa Rica, Mozambique, Rwanda, and South Africa have reached women’s parliamentary representation levels comparable to Nordic countries. But quota rules alone are not sufficient to ensure increased female participation; implementation and enforcement are key.

Significant improvement in gender parity in enrollments but only modest progress in female share in non-agricultural wage work and political participation, 1990-2005


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Strengthening the monitoring of gender equality and women’s empowerment

  • The report says that the official MDG3 indicators are insufficient to monitor progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment because they:
    • Only partially capture gender equality and empowerment in education, employment and political participation.
    • Do not monitor key elements of gender equality such as health outcomes, and disparities in access to productive resources.
    • Are better at measuring gender equality— the rights, resources, and voice enjoyed by women relative to those of men—than women’s empowerment.
  • The report proposes complementing these indicators with five additional indicators from data already available:
    • Primary school completion rates for girls and boys
    • Under-five mortality for girls and boys
    • Percentage of reproductive-age women, and their sexual partners, using modern contraceptives
    • Percentage of girls (15-19) who are mothers or pregnant with their first child
    • Labor force participation rates for women and men aged 20-24 and 25-49.

Aid to promote gender equality

  • Since the 1995 Beijing Women’s conference, more resources are going to meet gender equality targets, particularly in the social sectors. A quarter of bilateral aid by sector—around $5 billion/year—is now focused on gender equality.
  • However, in spite of strong donor policy commitments to gender equality objectives, implementation has been disappointing. Self evaluations of nine donor agencies’ performance reflect a gap between words and deeds.
  • The multilateral development banks have introduced systems to monitor progress with mainstreaming gender equality policies; these suggest there has been modest but steady progress. The African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and World Bank have recently adopted Gender Action Plans to make their gender mainstreaming policies more strategic and effective.
  • Progress has been greater in the social sectors (especially health and education) than in productive sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure, private sector development.
  • There is wide agreement that high-level leadership, technical expertise, and financial resources remain key to implementing donor agencies’ gender policies.

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