The countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia have a long history of striving for gender equality. Not only was this an important goal during the socialist era, but governments continued to pursue gender equality during the difficult years of transition.
Governments in the region allocated substantial resources toward the health and education of both women and men. They also adopted legislation that treated women and men equally in the labor market and they provided child care services.
However, two-and-a-half decades of unprecedented political, economic and social transformations in the region have had profound and long-lasting gender-differentiated impacts that vary country by country.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s led to dramatic economic disruption, prolonged recession, and increased joblessness and poverty. The rapid shrinkage of state-sponsored services such as childcare facilities and child allowances adversely affected women’s employment, and land privatization led to male-dominated ownership.
Many countries in the Europe and Central Asia region today experience gaps between men and women in labor force participation and pay. The participation gap is especially high in Turkey (42%) and in the Western Balkans (22%).
Women’s participation rates for ages 15–64 range from a low of 16% in Kosovo to a high of 86% among working-age women in Belarus. Women make up slightly less than half the labor force in the region, and they earn on average 30% less than men. In most countries, the services sector employs the majority of women.
The region has a low level of female entrepreneurship, compared with East Asia and Latin America. Only one in five firms in the region have women in top managerial positions. Financial access for women is also low, compared with other regions. Women are less likely than men to have formal bank accounts, to save at financial institutions, or to obtain loans from financial institutions.
World Bank Group Approach
The World Bank Group strategy on gender equality aims to help countries close gender gaps and accelerate progress in economic equality. The Group's Gender Action Plan is focused on four key areas:
- Improving human endowments;
- Removing constraints for more and better employment;
- Removing barriers to women’s ownership and control of assets;
- Enhancing women's agency and voice and engaging men.