Ending Gender Inequality
Despite important progress, substantial gender inequality remains worldwide in areas such as education, labor force participation, wages and leadership positions. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, girls faced gender discrimination in their access to schools and had to shoulder more household responsibilities — thus increasing their risk of early marriage and pregnancy — than boys (see figure below). The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated pre-existing gender disparities by keeping many women from going to work and taking time off to care for sick children. This was especially true in countries with high levels of conflict and poverty.
One reason why it can be hard to measure progress in reducing gaps between men and women is that different dimensions of inequality have different causes. For example, a gap in pay is caused both by discrimination and by factors such as differences in skills and the choice to pursue higher-paying jobs. The latter is a social norm rather than a result of direct discrimination, but it can still lead to large gaps.
Closing the remaining gaps will be more challenging than closing earlier ones. It may be harder to distinguish preferences/comparative advantages from gender bias and cultural barriers; it may take longer to change people’s minds; and it is likely that policies will have to tackle both the root causes and the symptoms (e.g., legal reforms to remove barriers and educational programs and information campaigns).
The economic costs of persistent gender inequality are high. They are borne by individuals and families, society as a whole and the global economy. The most significant cost is the loss of human potential, particularly that of women. Gender equality would reduce these losses and increase overall economic growth, financial stability and income inequality.
Moreover, it is widely recognized that gender inequality undermines development, which itself has a direct impact on health and well-being. The most serious health problems facing the world today, such as maternal mortality, unintended pregnancy, child malnutrition and infectious diseases, are closely linked to gender inequality – and can be overcome only by addressing the underlying social norms that perpetuate them.
It’s time to make a commitment to end these inequalities. This includes tackling everyday biases that contribute to them – from making sure all household chores are equally divided to fighting gender stereotypes. It also means ensuring that every person, including women and girls, is given equal opportunity to learn, earn and lead – no matter their sex or sexual identity.
It’s crucial to understand that a woman-friendly economic policy can be an effective poverty reduction strategy. We can start by reducing the obstacles in people’s path and helping them build skills to become self-sufficient. We can then help them access the capital they need to start or grow a business. We can help them build savings and secure credit, and provide safe and affordable childcare and family-friendly working conditions. All these measures will ultimately help to create a world in which women and men have equal opportunities for success, prosperity and happiness.