Opportunities for Men and Women: Emerging Europe and Central Asia
- The region’s advantage in gender equality has eroded, making it look similar to the rest of the world.
- Structural changes in the region's economy have opened up employment opportunities for women, while reducing means of prosperity for men.
- Dramatic demographic changes have different implications for men and women, which must be taken into account if economic growth is to be sustained in the medium to long term.
Europe and Central Asia have suffered a setback in economic growth because of the recent global crisis, which revealed fundamental structural weaknesses previously hidden by the prosperity before the crisis. The major weaknesses are the large savings deficits, the lagging reforms in the social sectors, and the deterioration in competitiveness. Policies can address these weaknesses by taking into account the role of the behavior of firms, public spending on health and education, the consequences of demographic pressures, particularly on pension systems, and the bottlenecks created by skilled labor force shortages.
While aiming to achieve equal opportunity among men and women, we must not forget that men and women differ. Women differ from men in terms of their roles in the private sphere, their greater vulnerability to physical insecurity, longer life spans, and their fertility, among other factors - and these different realities need to be taken into account. We also believe that more effective use of women’s human capital and removal of the impediments that women face in contributing to the economy will help countries in their economic growth.
Gender Issues in Human Capital
A nation’s stock of human capital influences economic growth, productivity, and, ultimately, poverty reduction. Investing in the building blocks of human capital—education and health—has both direct and indirect effects on economic growth, but also on poverty reduction. The socialist legacy of investment in education and health for both men and women in Europe and Central Asia has provided an important foundation for the majority of the countries as they have embarked on a significant transformation and liberalization of their economies and on global integration. This stock of human capital is all the more valuable now because of the demographic transition occurring in the region and the decline in population in 21 of the 30 countries. The shrinking population underscores the importance of using available human resources more effectively in terms of the share of the population that is economically active, as well as the productivity of the population.
Women in the Labor Market
While the second decade of the transition to a market economy brought economic growth to Europe and Central Asia, the growth varied across countries. Until the recent global crisis, growth was robust, yielding better living standards and lower levels of poverty. Many of the reforms adopted since the fall of the Berlin Wall had begun to mature and yield results. Ten new member states of the European Union (EU) from the region showed strong indications of convergence with the high-income economies of the EU. However, despite all of the favorable economic and social changes, the labor market was an exception; it was less responsive to economic growth; and labor force expansion and employment growth were minimal during this period.
Women in Entrepreneurship
The expansion and recognition of the formal standing of entrepreneurship were among the major changes brought about by the transition from the planned economy to the liberalized market economy in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the 1990s. In the rapidly changing social and economic environment of the transition countries, entrepreneurship held the potential to contribute to both economic development and social inclusion. Moreover, entrepreneurship also provided another means of income generation among men and women in economies characterized by limited growth in employment even during high-growth years.
This report reviews the performance of women and men during the first decade of the 21st century in three spheres: human capital endowments, labor markets, and entrepreneurship. Data are analyzed to determine whether women and men are performing well compared with each other, but also how they fare in a global context. The analysis is primarily quantitative and mines various data sets. This is the report’s strength because a quantitative analysis can add value by providing some measure of the degree of differences in the outcomes observed. Yet, it is a weakness as well because the outcomes are measured, but not always explained. Consequently, more work is needed in this area, especially qualitative analysis that is followed up by targeted individual surveys.