Gender Inequality and Development

gender inequality

Gender inequality, based on the social, cultural or legal differences between men and women in access to rights, opportunities, income, leadership and power, is one of the world’s most stubborn and long-lasting forms of injustice. It has been a major focus of efforts by governments, international organizations and NGOs, as well as by individuals and communities around the world.

Gender is a fundamental part of who we are, and the gender dimension of development addresses not only the needs and rights of men and women but also their interrelationships with each other. Using a gender perspective in policy and programming can help increase equality, reduce poverty, promote economic growth and improve human well-being.

There are many causes of gender inequality. It is often linked to social and cultural attitudes and beliefs about gender, such as sexism and stereotyping. Those views can affect how children are raised and what kind of jobs they get, as well as what kind of men and women they become. Those beliefs can also make it hard to change, even when there are laws and policies that support equal treatment or a change in mindset.

Although important progress has been made on many fronts, gender inequality remains intractable in many countries, with a persistent gender gap in literacy, enrolment in secondary and tertiary education, earnings, labour force participation, land ownership, leadership positions and health outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing disparities, especially in low- and middle-income countries, where women faced increased burdens of caregiving during the outbreak.

Despite these challenges, a number of indicators suggest that global gender inequality may be slowly declining. One key indicator is the “gender pay gap,” which combines earnings for men and women by country and divides the result by the ratio of men’s wages to female wages. The data for this chart comes from the International Labour Organization and is updated annually. The chart allows you to compare the data for individual countries by clicking on the “Change Country” button.

Another measure of equality is the share of the top 1% of earners who are women, as shown in this chart. While there is some variation from country to country, the trend over time has been steady: In 1960, almost every third income-earner in the world was a man; today it is only every fifth or sixth.

The decline in gender inequality is likely due to both exogenous pressures from the global community and internal processes within nations, including rapid economic development and modernization. However, uneven population growth is a potential obstacle to this trend; if the rate of decline in less-developed nations slows, that can raise overall levels of inequality. The next step is to continue to build momentum to accelerate the pace of progress, and redouble efforts in the face of setbacks and delays. It will be a challenging, but worthwhile, effort for the sake of all our futures. This article is being published by the Gender Inequality Initiative, a joint project of the UN Foundation and the Overseas Development Institute.