The World Bank Group works with public- and private-sector clients to close gaps between males and females globally for lasting impact in tackling poverty and driving sustainable economic growth that benefits all. In the last two decades, the world has narrowed the divide between men and women, especially in primary education and health. Yet critical gaps remain. Major challenges—from climate change to forced migration, pandemics, or the global jobs crisis—affect women and girls, men and boys, in specific ways. Less recognized is that women and girls have a unique role to play as drivers of growth and progress and powerful agents of change.
Gender norms and stereotypes constrain the opportunities of both women and men, girls and boys, through different pathways. Most inequalities based on gender norms have historically put females at a disadvantage. Yet in some domains, reverse gender gaps are appearing, such as in male mortality in some European and Central Asian countries and male school dropout rates in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Despite some significant gains, an estimated 130 million girls globally are out of school. Only 23 percent of low-income countries have achieved gender parity at primary level and 15 percent at secondary level. In contrast, 79 percent of middle- and high-income countries have achieved parity at primary level and 41 percent at secondary level.
More than one-third of countries are still to achieve gender parity in primary education. Where there is disparity, this is at the expense of girls in more than 80% of countries. In 2014, 54% of countries had not achieved gender parity in lower secondary education and 77% in upper secondary. But issues of learning and quality of services remain, and in some regions, reverse gender gaps—whereby males are disadvantaged—are appearing at secondary and tertiary levels.
Globally, women’s labor force participation has stagnated and indeed fallen from 52 percent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2016. Women remain half as likely as men to have full-time wage jobs. Those who have paid work earn up to one-third less than men, partly as a result of occupational sex segregation. Women are more likely to engage in low-productivity work and work in informal sector, and they spend at least twice as much time on unpaid domestic work and care activities as men; they contribute significant unpaid work, about 58 percent, to family enterprises and farms.
Across the world, women are overrepresented in education and health; equally represented in social sciences, business, and law; and underrepresented in engineering, manufacturing, construction, and science. As with enrollment and completion, these choices matter because they translate into gender differences in employment, productivity, and earnings.
The credit gap for formal women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises is estimated at about US$300 billion dollars globally. Nor is the gender gap in account ownership closing: In 2011, 47 percent of women and 54 percent of men had an account; in 2014, 58 percent of women had an account, compared to 65 percent of men—a 7 percent gap.
In many countries, women face legal and social barriers that prevent them from owning or inheriting assets, opening bank accounts, or accessing credit on their own. In 2016, 137 countries had laws on the books against domestic violence, up from 13 in 1995. Yet gender-based violence—perhaps the most extreme constraint on voice and agency—remains a global epidemic, affecting more than one in three women over the course of a lifetime. Women also hold roughly twice as many parliamentary seats as they did about 20 years ago, but that’s still only about 23 percent of seats globally.
Last Updated: Sep 22, 2017