Gender equality has made great strides over the last decades, supported by international commitments made at Beijing 1995 in particular. Companies are increasingly joining internal calls to promote gender equality, and reports now highlight the economic costs of gender inequality. In 2015, the global development community enshrined a strengthened commitment to gender equality in Sustainable Development Goal 5, to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Despite progress, many inequalities remain. Progress in reducing gaps in education and health is not matched by equal progress in economic and political participation. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2015 for example highlights that more women are entering the labour force, but gaps in pay are hardly being reduced. UN Women emphasises women much more often than men work as unpaid workers, or work in informal and unprotected jobs.
Those disadvantages are persistent, and caused by a multitude of factors. Women are often paid lower wages for the same jobs and even if they have the same qualifications. Recruitment and promotion processes are often biased by ideas about ‘suitability’ of women. Deep-rooted biases can have impacts on women themselves, reducing their self-confidence. In many countries, women face legal disadvantages, reducing also their ability to develop economic opportunities.
Women are disadvantaged in pretty much all economies, poor and rich. While there is evidence that gender inequalities can be and are successfully combated when countries become richer continue to exist, and new ones tend to open up: for example, venture capitalists, a study reported in the New York Times showed, tended to prefer pitches by men, even if the content was the same, and very little of the available capital actually goes to women.
Importantly, women continue to be disadvantaged by the double burden of work outside and inside the household, including for care of children and elderly. According to a 2016 ILO report, women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men. Women’s careers in top positions tend to be affected by disproportionate responsibilities for families. Poor women in developing countries are limited in expanding economic opportunities because they are time poor, and are seen as responsible for care for the family.
As economies develop, some of the constraints women face weaken, as we documented in a review of the literature. New industries often provide jobs for young women. For example, infrastructure and technological progress can benefit women and reduce the time needed for activities like water collection and chores within the household. But the disadvantages for women disappear only partly and often very slowly: women continue to be disproportionately burdened and carry out most of the unpaid work.
For the promotion of gender equality, and ensuring women’s economic empowerment in particular, addressing the unpaid work that most women perform as caregivers is critical. The unequal burden of unpaid care hinders women from seeking employment and income, holding them back economically. Unpaid care work, Rosalind Eyben convincingly argues, has been relatively absent from development agendas. We identified this as a key policy and research priority: to better understand how women and families in low-income households balance unpaid care work with income-earning activities; and to ensure the design of women’s economic empowerment programs and policies include consideration of women unpaid care tasks.
A panel that IDRC hosted on International Women’s Day discussed a part of the global landscape on child care. Daniel Weinstock discussed concerns whether child care in Canada was helping to reduce socio-economic inequalities. Arijit Nandi spoke about new GrOW-funded research about child care provided in Sewa Mandir in Rajasthan, and Shelley Clark and Stella Muthuri showed early research results indicating that childcare in slums in Nairobi is helping women’s decision-making power.