Recommended readings for PAGE II themes (1st round: 2016/2017)

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Theme 1 Theme 2 Theme 3 Theme 4 Theme 5

 Theme 2: Gender and women’s economic empowerment

Economic development and female empowerment are closely related. While economic development has the potential to reduce gender inequality, which is of intrinsic value, female empowerment also has instrumental value in its ability to benefit development. Three main areas of gender inequality are evident: (1) human capital endowments such as education and health;

(2) access to economic opportunities and productive resources; and (3) agency, or the ability to make choices and take action. These aspects of inequality work together to prevent women from achieving economic empowerment on par with men (World Bank, 2012). Existing evidence indicates that continuous policy commitment is needed to bring about gender equality in these areas, and that policies need to focus not only individuals and households, but also markets and institutions, both formal and informal (World Bank 2011; Duflo, 2012). This is especially the case when focusing on closing gender differences in access to economic opportunities and the ensuing earnings and productivity gaps (World Bank, 2011)

Earlier studies indicate that empowerment of women is multidimensional, and its outcomes may be influenced by individual, household and geographical characteristics to varying degrees (Mason, 2003; Wiklander, 2010; Kahn and Awan, 2011). Empowerment can be measured through improvements in their capacities and options to access various types of resources, to participate in decision making process for acquiring and using those resources, and in turn to improve their quality of life (Kabeer, 1999a). Much progress has been made over the last twenty five years in improving the lives of women and reducing gender disparities in the developing world. Significant gains have been recorded, especially in terms of maternal health, life expectancy and equal access to education for girls. Female life expectancy has increased from 67 in 1990 to 73 in 2015, with proportionately larger increases in least developed countries exceeds male life expectancy in every region in the world. Maternal mortality has declined globally from 380 in 1990 to 230 (per 100,000 live births) in 2015, with a larger reduction to 510 in 2015 from 1100 in 1990 (per 100,000 live births). Gender parity in primary and secondary school enrolments is closer to target at 97 percent globally, and 94 percent in low income countries. The ratio of females to males in tertiary education has increased from 93 to 110 globally, and from 43 to 55 in low income countries.

However, these achievements in improving women’s health and education endowments have not necessarily translated into more equitable access to economic opportunities and productive resources. Women continue to have lower labour force participation and earn less than men when they do participate in the labour force, whether as employees, or as self-employed entrepreneurs. They also continue to have inequitable access to land, capital, and technology. In addition, women continue to bear disproportionate responsibility for domestic (unpaid family) work and they are over-represented in the informal and care economies. In many regions in the world, they have limited ability to make their own choices in important areas that determine their economic empowerment.

Gender disparities in the labour market are significant. ILO (2015) finds that the labour force participation rate is 77 percent for men and 50 percent for women. The disparity is eve

acute in certain regions. For instance, in South Asia, the corresponding labour force participation rates are 81 and 32 percent, respectively. In North Africa, the corresponding figures are 75 and 22 percent. These huge disparities are carried over to employment rates. The employment rate in North Africa for men is 92 percent, much higher than the 81 percent for women. These rates reflect a general stagnation or decline in female labour force participation and employment in the last two decades in East Asia, South East Asia, South Asia, and Central and South Eastern Europe and slow growth in the same in Latin America, Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa (ILO, 2015).

Females still earn considerably less than men in similar jobs, according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2014. Its composite indicator of economic participation and opportunity stands at 60% worldwide, having closed by 4% from 56% in 2006 (World Economic Forum, 2014). Wage equality survey data from the same report show that in a sample of 100 countries, female wages were more than 80 percent of male wages in only five countries. In the bulk of the sample, gender wage gaps were between 20 and 40 percent of the male wage. Gaps in estimated earned income were greater, with women in India earning 24 percent of average male earnings, while at the upper end, women in Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania earned between 84-93 percent of the male wage.

All over the world, women own fewer productive assets than men, and they are of lower value. In agriculture, there are significant gender differences in the ownership of land and livestock, and access to financial services, modern inputs, information, extension and labour. Interlinkages in these differences explain, for example, why women farmers do not benefit from extension or use less technology (FAO, 2011). Assets are critical to women’s economic empowerment on-farm as well as in off-farm entrepreneurship. However, capital alone may not be sufficient to grow female micro-enterprises, and may need to be combined with training (Woodruff and McKenzie, 2014).

In addition to individual indicators, indicators of agency are few and imperfect, with political empowerment indicators of women in parliament being the most commonly used. It remains low at 21%, although it has improved vastly since 2006 (World Economic Forum, 2014). Social security measures in many developing countries tend to be restricted to the small, male-dominated section of the workforce employed in the formal state and private sector. While their market contributions have become more important within household livelihood strategies, women are concentrated in informal and labour intensive work, often face particular risks and vulnerabilities (e.g. health risks, interrupted and insecure employment) and are less likely to have been able to save or contribute to pensions. In most regions of the world, women live longer than men and hence face a longer period of widowhood, and risk of decline into greater poverty and insecurity (Thakur et al., 2009). An emerging lesson from global experience is that cash transfers alone are not as effective as cash plus key complementary interventions (Samson, 2008). Gender-related examples include providing childcare support for working mothers, enhancing recipients‟ access to the labour market through job training, and linking to agricultural input support. This type of integrated approach responds to the importance of recognising women’s needs as workers as well as their needs as mothers (Thakur et al., 2009)

While there are policies and programmes in place to foster women empowerment, further enhancements are still needed particularly in terms of making them more-responsive to women’s

needs in the context of changing labour market environment. Further policy action is needed to improve women’s capacities to achieve higher benefits from their work, to access financial services and to promote gender sensitive social protection policies (Kabeer, 2009). On the other hand, there is a need to further examine the influence of providing access to financial services on empowerment as its impact also depends on other factors such as the individual’s capacities (e.g. education, networking, political participation) and environment characteristics (Cheston and Kuhn, 2002; Swain and Wallentin, 2008). This implies the need for better knowledge to understand the existing  development conditions and potentials of the target women beneficiaries.


Research issues

Two key aspects often dominate the analysis of gender and women’s economic empowerment.

(1)  Traditional gender roles lead to a gender division of labour in the household which influences how women make decisions on the type and location of and hours spent at work and how these vary over the life cycle. (2) Present and past social norms may also determine women’s access to education, capital, and training, which determine their productive capacity to be economically empowered. Thus, reflecting on these two aspects, the analysis of policies for women’s economic empowerment in this thematic area will address three broad areas of research focusing on household labour supply decisions and female employment; the role of education on labour market opportunities and gender inequalities; and the linkage between economic growth, informality and labour market policies.19

 2.1           Household labour supply decisions and female employment

Gender roles have often determined that women spend more time in care-giving, both of young children and aged parents. To design successful policy interventions, it is important to identify the key institutional barriers that prevent mothers, daughters and partners from engaging in the labour market. Institutional barriers may take the form of social norms or labour market policies or their absence. In the first case, a better understanding of the mechanisms that form, change, and transmit gender role attitudes is necessary. In the latter case, a better understanding of the impact of policies such as child-support programmes, parental leave etc. is important (Del Boca and Locatelli, 2006; Mauro-Fazio et al., 2011; Campos-Vasquez and Velez-Grajales, 2013; Klasen and Pieters, 2013).

In order to understand the dynamics of intra-household decision regarding labour supply and female employment, some relevant research questions include:


19 Research issues discussed under youth employment are also pertinent to the research agenda for gender and women’s economic empowerment. For example, both groups may be constrained to be in vulnerable employment for they may lack productive skills and experience.

·         How do women make decisions on the type and location of and hours spent at work?

·         How does it vary across their life cycle?

·         What are the key institutional barriers for women to improve their capacity to balance their work decisions with their role as mothers, partners (and daughters)?

 2.2           Education and labour market opportunities and inequalities

All around the world, women lag behind men with respect to employment levels, and also productivity and income if and when they find a job. This has been linked to the fact that they manage smaller firms with low and unstable earnings or they work in irregular and insecure wage jobs. This, in turn, has contributed to significant productivity gaps between men and women (Doss and Morris, 2001; Wagura et al., 2014). Moreover, they typically have lower levels of human capital and work experience (World Bank, 2012; Buvinic and Furst-Nichols, 2014). With education, individuals can gain entry into higher-earning occupations (Reyes et al., 2014; Fasih, 2008), and returns to education are typically high for females (World Bank, 2012) although in some cases, there may be threshold effects (Aslam et al., 2008). However, there is evidence that despite higher returns to education for females, gender wage gaps may still persist (Gunewardena et al., 2009). A study in India shows that education may also reduce female’s participation in the labour force when marginal utility of the female’s earnings is decreasing and overcompensated by an increase in unearned income from other household members, particularly the well-educated husbands (Verick, 2014; Klasen and Pieters, 2012; Klasen and Pieters 2013).

In addition to formal education, business and job training programmes have been two of the main policy responses to foster women’s labour force participation. Several rigorous evaluations of such programmes have been conducted to understand their role in promoting women’s economic empowerment suggesting mixed or poor results (see the Women’s Roadmap Project Report, Buvinic et al., 2014, for a review). Evaluations of business training programmes find slightly positive impacts on business creation, but weak results when it comes to business expansion (see McKenzie and Woodruff, 2014 for a survey in developing countries; Rosendahl Huber et al., 2014 for the Netherlands; and Fairlie et al., 2014 for the US). Results are also mixed for vocational training programmes. Studies in developed countries find modest effects concentrated in the adult population (Heckman et al., 1999 for the US; and Kluve, 2010 for Europe). In developing countries, where the skills gap is more likely to be a binding constraint, field experiments find slightly more positive results (for a review see Buvinic et al., 2014 and Grimm and Paffhausen, 2015).

Some key policy research questions to explore the influence of education on labour market opportunities and inequalities include:

·         Is female education an effective tool to achieve gender equality in the labour market?

·         Does reducing gender gap in education lead to lower gender gap in occupation?

·        How business and vocational training can support formal education for women to participate in labour markets?

2.3           Economic growth, informality and labour market policies

Development has the potential to create more and better jobs for women, through structural change, as well as increase their labour force participation by increasing their educational attainment and reducing fertility. However, the empirical evidence for this hypothesis is limited (Gaddis and Klasen 2013). Country level studies indicate that as development leads to the increase of male incomes, this may have the effect of reducing the probability of females working. Evidence points to the ‘feminisation of informal labour’, or a significant increase in women’s participation in the informal economy (IDS Policy Briefing, January 2015). Women tend to work more in sectors such as home-based work, domestic work, construction and labour-intensive manufacturing, where labour regulations and social protection are usually inadequate.

Some relevant research questions which address the linkage between economic growth, informal employment, and labour market policies include:

·         Have the recent upsurges in economic growth in several developing countries led to the reduction in the gender wage gaps or the patterns of sectoral segregation in female employment?

·         Why do women usually land a job in the informal economy?

·         What labour market and complementary policies can increase employment opportunities for women?