Gender Inequality and Women’s Health
The world has made progress toward gender equality since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995 – but substantial hurdles remain. Harmful gender norms fuel discrimination and violence against women, including sexual assault and trafficking in human beings. Gender inequality also hinders the health of women and children, as well as economic growth.
Almost everywhere, women earn less than men. But gaps in wages are narrowing, even in high-income countries. The gap between the average hourly earnings of men and women is largely explained by differences in worker characteristics: education, experience and occupation. When these factors are taken into account, the gender wage gap disappears. This is why the GII measures both raw and adjusted pay gaps, as well as the ratio of female to male labor force participation (a proxy for unemployment).
While the proportion of women in the workforce has been increasing globally, progress in this dimension of gender inequality has stalled. This is partly due to “sticky floors” – social and cultural expectations that prevent women from entering higher-paying jobs and male-dominated industries, and a lack of opportunities for skilled training. In addition, in the developing world, the gender gap in wages is often exacerbated by lack of access to finance and capital — particularly for women who want to start their own businesses.
Women’s health is often compromised by the same issues that undermine their economic prospects, such as limited access to quality healthcare. This is reflected in poor maternal and child outcomes, such as low birth weight and infant mortality rates. This is partly due to lower levels of medical coverage, and to the fact that more women than men live below the poverty line in low- and middle-income countries.
In addition, women and girls have fewer assets than men, as demonstrated by this chart showing the percentage of household wealth owned by each gender across countries. The lack of assets can be explained by a number of factors, such as the greater prevalence of men’s inheritance rights, a higher propensity to invest in land and other fixed assets, and the fact that more women live in poverty than men.
The good news is that governments can take steps to reduce gender inequality. For example, they can implement policies to ensure equal pay for women, and provide more flexible work arrangements. They can also make it easier to access affordable healthcare and promote research into diseases that affect women disproportionately. And they can support initiatives such as Prime Minister Modi’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign to empower women to have a say in their own lives. Ultimately, however, the key to achieving gender equity lies in people themselves – becoming allies, reporting instances of injustice and giving honest feedback to leaders. By doing so, we can create a world in which everyone has the opportunity and means to thrive.