Gender inequality: How much does it affect development in Europe and Central Asia?


Inequality between women and men has been clearly identified as one of the causes blocking development over the last two decades.

It is often difficult to establish evidence based causal links between impacts of gender inequality on a country's development because of the lack of available sex-disaggregated data.  

And because of limited data, we also can’t capture the complexity of gender inequality in different contexts.

One way to measure gender inequality is to look at the differences for women and men in areas such as education, health, decision making and access to economic opportunities.  

Analysis based on quantitative data reveals that considerable progress has been made in terms of women’s access to education and healthcare in the region.  (see attached data below)

However, this level of analysis doesn’t show how gender inequality influences policies. This is why we decided to dig deeper.  

For instance, increasingly, many governments in this region decided to invest in education, in part to encourage participation in the labour market - which would then boost economic development.  

However, most investments supported by education policies are gender blind (and not gender neutral): data from all countries in the region reveal that investments in education produce distinct outcomes for women and men:

  • Women outnumber men in universities

  • Working women have higher university degrees than men

But investments in education are not directly leading to women participating in the labour market. On average, in the region, women represent 44 percent of the workforce.    

So, why is it that the gains in women’s education don’t increase the number of women in the workforce? And how can we change it?

The reason why investments and education policies are producing different outcomes for women and men is because they happen in societies where gender inequality is deeply entrenched.

Gender inequality is often driven by existing gender stereotypes that determine how we perceive the roles of women and men in society. (See: Women’s vision: Maybe not what you think it is...)

Investment in education can actually reinforce existing patterns of gender inequality.

In university, women are typically over-represented in subjects such as health, social science and education, and consequently, these choices influence their job choices, and in the long run, their competitiveness in the labour market.  

Women also tend to be over represented in public employment (health, education), and consequently, they are less likely than men to be re-employed in similar jobs in the private sector, putting them at a disadvantage if they lose their job - not to mention increasing state investment in social benefits.

In a time of the financial constraints, this situation represents a waste of resources and consequently, impedes development progress.

Even though the loss cannot be estimated in actual cash terms and detailed impact cannot be established for each country because of limited data available in the region, we wanted to give it a try!  

Do you agree with our analysis? What do you think?

>> Find out more about our work to promote gender equality


Blog post Europe & Central Asia Gender equality

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