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Gender Equality Analysis - Pre-COVID & During COVID - World Bank

Gender Overview: Development news, research, data | World Bank

Gender equality is central to the World Bank’s own goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity in a sustainable manner. 

Progress and persistence in gender equality matters because gender equality is a core development objective in its own right. Greater gender equality is also smart economics, enhancing productivity and improving other development outcomes, including prospects for the next generation and for the quality of societal policies and institutions. No society can develop sustainably without transforming the distribution of opportunities, resources, and choices for men and women so that they have equal power to shape their own lives and contribute to their families, communities, and countries. 

And as SDG5 says, “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”

In the last two decades, the world has narrowed the divide between men and women, especially in primary education and health.  

For its part, the World Bank Group works with public- and private-sector clients to close gaps between males and females globally in tackling poverty and driving sustainable economic growth in our client countries. 

Yet progress on many fronts has been limited.  Major challenges – from climate change, forced migration, and pandemics, to decelerating investment growth, rising poverty rates and the scourge of gender-based violence – threaten to widen gender gaps or entrench existing inequalities. In particular, the current COVID-19 pandemic risks undoing hard-earned gains in gender equality. 

It is time to double down on global commitments to advancing gender equality and women’s rights recognizing and elevating women as agents of economic growth, stability, and sustainability, and for men to work with women to accelerate progress toward gender equality.

Pre-COVID Gender Gaps

Human Development


Globally, progress has been made in improving access to quality health services for women and girls, yet much remains to be done. Maternal mortality decreased to 211 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2017, from 342 in 2000. Almost all maternal deaths can be prevented, as evidenced by the huge disparities found across regions and between the richest and poorest countries. Two regions, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, account for 86% of maternal deaths worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africans suffer from the highest maternal mortality ratio – 533 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, or 200,000 maternal deaths a year. This is over two-thirds (68%) of all maternal deaths per year worldwide. 

Across the globe, births attended by a skilled health professional had increased from 63% in 2000 to 81% in 2018. However, the numbers are still lower but improving in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa – increasing in South Asia from 41% in 2000 to 61% in 2018, and in Sub-Saharan Africa from 36% in 2000 to 76% in 2018.   Furthermore, women comprise 70% of the global health and social care workforce, however, they only hold around 25% of decision-making posts.  

With 1.2 billion adolescents in the world, with diverse interests, needs, and concerns, there have been concrete improvements in some aspects of adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. Many adolescents initiate sexual activity later than adolescents in the past. They are less likely to have sex with a partner who they are not married to or living with and more likely to use condoms when they are sexually active. Girls are less likely to be married and to have children before age 18, more likely to use contraception and to obtain maternal health care. They are less likely to experience female genital mutilation, internationally recognized as a human rights violation. 

In spite of greater awareness of the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents, some key issues have not improved. In many contexts, menstruation is still seen as a taboo topic. Adolescents are the only age group in which HIV-related deaths are not decreasing and from the limited data available, their levels of other sexually transmitted infections are high and growing. An unacceptably high proportion of adolescent girls have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence. There is still a lack of good data on levels of unsafe abortion among adolescents, and the risk of mortality and morbidity resulting from it.


In many countries today, primary and secondary school enrollment rates are the same for girls and boys. Two-thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary enrollment. Globally, however, girls continue to lag substantially behind boys in secondary completion rates.   Furthermore, gender bias in the education system reinforces occupational segregation. When gender stereotypes are transmitted through the design of classroom learning environments or through the behavior of faculty, staff, and peers, it has sustained impacts on academic performance and field of study, especially in STEM fields.

Poverty remains the most important factor for determining whether a girl will access an education. Recent research looking at data from 24 low-income countries show that, on average, only 34% of girls in the poorest-quintile households in these countries complete primary school, compared with 72% of girls in the richest-quintile households. Studies consistently reinforce that girls who face multiple sources of disadvantage such as income level, location, disability and/or ethno-linguistic background are farthest behind.

Girls’ education goes beyond getting girls into school. It is also about ensuring that girls learn and feel safe while in school; have the opportunity to complete all levels of education; acquire the knowledge and skills to compete in the labor market; learn the socio-emotional and life skills necessary to navigate and adapt to a changing world; make decisions about their own lives; and contribute to their communities and the world. Better educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. They are more likely to participate in the formal labor market and earn higher incomes. All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and countries out of poverty.

Challenges in Girls’ Education: The Numbers Tell the Story

  • There are over 129 million girls out of school worldwide: approximately 32 million of primary-school age, and 97 million of secondary-school age.  In South Asia, approximately 45.6 million primary and secondary school age girls are out of school. In Sub-Saharan Africa, that number is 52 million.  
  • While there are similar rates for primary completion globally (89.9% male, 89% female), in low-income countries, female school completion is lower – 63% compared with males at 67% at the primary level. 
  • In FCV contexts, girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys, and at the secondary level, are 90% more likely to be out of secondary school than those in non-FCV contexts.  
  • It has been estimated that two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population are women. The literacy rate (above 15 years old) for females is only 83% compared to 90% for males.  
  • There is a large gender gap in labor force participation (LFP), which is especially stark in South Asia, which has one of the lowest female labor force participation rates at 24%.  
  • Both boys and girls are facing a learning crisis.  Learning Poverty (LP) measures the share of children who are not able to read proficiently at age 10. While girls are on average 4 percentage points less learning-poor than boys, the rates remain very high for both groups.  The average of LP in LMICs is 59% for boys compared to 54.9% for girls.  The gap is narrower in low-income countries, where LP averages about 93% for both boys and girls.  


Economic opportunities / jobs

Women have lagged men in terms of employment opportunities, as demonstrated by a large gap in labor force participation in most countries, as well as wage gaps and occupational sex segregation, which push women toward lower productivity jobs. In India, for example, female employment remains concentrated in industries related to sanitation, education, chemicals, and tobacco, while higher-value industries such as research and development, computers, and transport have the lowest rates of female participation. Removing legal restrictions on the jobs that women can hold can reduce occupational segregation and the gender wage gap. According to Women, Business and the Law 2021, 88 countries restrict women’s work, for example, at night or in factories and mines.

Women in all countries face earnings gaps. If women could have the same lifetime earnings as men, global wealth could increase by $172 trillion, and human capital wealth could increase by about one-fifth globally. However, Women, Business and the Law 2021 found that only 90 economies worldwide legally mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value in line with international standards. 

Women who work as farmers or entrepreneurs are often less productive than their male counterparts. Research using data from 126 countries and covering more than 46,000 firms reveals a sizable gender gap in labor productivity, with women-run businesses being about 11% less productive than men-run businesses. In many African countries, women farmers have lower productivity due to less access to productive resources such as fertilizer and seeds. In Ethiopia, for example, women produce 23% less per hectare than men. 

Despite the challenges, women-led businesses are responding to the COVID-19 crisis with resilience and innovation. A survey of 45, 000 firms in low and middle-income countries found that women-led small and microbusinesses were much more likely to increase the use of digital platforms compared to those led by men. 


Women spend three times longer on unpaid care work than men, devoting 1 to 5 hours more a day to unpaid domestic work, childcare, and other family care work. Caregiving responsibilities have increased during COVID-19, brought about by the closure of schools, the confinement of elderly people and the growing numbers of ill family members. Access to good quality, affordable childcare and reliable and safe transportation can improve labor market and other outcomes for women and men. Improving employment opportunities for women involves not only public policies, programs, and investments, but also engaging the private sector.  

Gender-based Violence (GBV)

Gender-based violence affects more than 1 in 3 women over the course of a lifetime. Violence against women and girls has a significant toll on not just their wellbeing, but also on their families across generations and societies more broadly. In some countries, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP, which is expected to increase during the pandemic. Still, 32 countries do not have laws specifically addressing domestic violence, and 49 countries still lack robust laws that prohibit and punish cases of sexual harassment in employment.     

Assets / Financial / Digital


According to the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 202140% of countries worldwide limit women’s property rights. In 19 countries, women do not have equal ownership rights to immovable property. In 43 countries, male and female surviving spouses do not have equal rights to inherit assets and 41 economies prevent daughters from inheriting in the same way as sons. In 10 economies, the husband has administrative control over marital assets. But the evidence shows that property rights are the key to economic development. Countries with more gender egalitarian legal regimes generally have higher levels of property ownership by women. When women have access to assets, communities thrive. It increases their ability to start and grow businesses by giving them the collateral they need to secure credit. It allows them to invest in their families, changing outcomes for their children. Perhaps most importantly, it ensures that they can live with agency and dignity. 

Financial and digital services

Women globally are 9% less likely to have an account with a financial institution or mobile banking than men, and the gap is larger in poorer countries. Some research suggests that digital financial services can improve women’s economic participation and, therefore, facilitate economic development. Compared to cash, digital financial services offer several potential benefits to women, including greater financial control and lower transaction costs. These benefits can make it easier for women to invest in businesses, get jobs, and manage financial risk. The IFC estimates a $1.5 trillion annual credit deficit for women-owned small- and medium-enterprises.

In low- and-middle-income countries, fewer women have access to the internet and to mobile phones. Even before the pandemic, women in low- and middle-income countries were 8% less likely than men to own a mobile phone. And 300 million fewer women than men use mobile internet, representing a gender gap of 20%.  

ID / Law


In today’s world, without gender equality in access to identification, governments will struggle to ensure universal access to basic services, economic opportunities, and fulfillment of rights and protections, and to empower women to participate fully in the digital economy. Women, Business and the Law data from 2020 shows that in 9 countries, women cannot obtain a national ID card in the same way as men. The 2017 Global Findex survey found that 45% of women in Low Income Countries (LICs) do not have an ID compared to 30% of men.  

Laws and regulations

Countries are inching toward greater gender equality, but women around the world continue to face laws and regulations that restrict their economic opportunity, with the COVID-19 pandemic creating new challenges to their health, safety, and economic security.  Reforms to remove obstacles to women’s economic inclusion have been slow in many regions and uneven within them. On average, women have just three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men. Women were already at a disadvantage before the pandemic, and government initiatives to buffer some of its effects, while innovative, have been limited in many countries. Despite the pandemic, 27 economies in all regions and income groups enacted reforms across all areas and increased good practices in legislation in 45 cases during the year covered, the greatest number of reforms introduced or amended laws affecting pay and parenthood. Progress towards legal gender equality is key for a successful economic recovery. More gender equal laws have been linked to higher female labor force participation, a smaller wage gap between men and women and better development outcomes, such as women’s health and education.



Countries around the world are working to contain the spread and impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Evidence from outbreaks similar to COVID-19 indicates that women and girls can be affected in particular ways, and in some areas, face more negative impacts than men. In fact, there is a risk that gender gaps could widen during and after the pandemic and that gains in women’s and girls’ accumulation of human capital, economic empowerment and voice and agency, built over the past decades, could be reversed.  

COVID-19 has added a new lens on the WBG’s work in Gender.  The WBG is supporting countries to address the immediate health crisis and its corresponding social and economic impacts, as well as to rebuild economies that are more inclusive and resilient to future shocks.  While male mortality has been higher and there are risks of both boys and girls not returning to schools after lockdowns end, the pandemic impacts women and girls disproportionally because of: 

  • disruptions in key health services, including reproductive, adolescent, and maternal health; 
  • greater exposure to contagion and mental health stress as women are overrepresented in the health sector and are more likely to be caregivers; 
  • jobs held by women have been lost at a faster rate than jobs held by men, and women-owned and -led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are also more severely affected; 
  • increased domestic work and care responsibilities; 
  • inadequate social safety nets, including for those who are informally employed, where women are over-represented; 
  • gender gaps in access to – and use of – digital technologies; and 
  • sharp increases in gender-based violence (GBV).

Women entrepreneurs around the world have been deeply impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) is supporting these women not just to survive the crisis, but to thrive with greater long-term resilience. By working to improve women’s access to finance, markets, networks, and information, We-Fi is helping them fulfill their potential and become engines of economic growth and job creation.  Within three years of its launch in 2017, We-Fi has allocated nearly $300 million in donor contributions to programs that are mobilizing an additional $3 billion to benefit close to 130,000 WSMEs in 39 countries worldwide.

In Zambia, the Bank is ensuring the continuity of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health and nutrition services. In Cambodia, the Bank is improving the availability of services that are critical to preventing mortality among women; this includes better access to family planning, reduction of teen pregnancies, and effective screening and treatment for cervical cancer.

We are helping women return to economic activity, including through cash-for-work programs, expanded childcare support, agricultural inputs, and better access to credit and liquidity for women-led firms. In AfghanistanMauritaniaMozambique, and Togo, the Bank is providing cash transfers through mobile payments to address lower incomes and bank account ownership among women. In Nepal, the Bank is promoting entrepreneurial business development skills for women and providing them with better farm equipment. 

The Sri Lanka COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project is supporting the government’s ‘test, track, isolate, and treat’ strategy to control the pandemic by providing a steady supply of essential medical necessities, testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE), supporting contact tracing efforts, and maintaining 32 quarantine centers. It is also working to strengthen the health system to better manage health emergencies in future.  In particular, the project will strengthen mental health services and services for victims of GBV at the community level especially during emergency situations.

Last Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Извор: WUNRN – 19.01.2022




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