Facts and stats

Gender inequality in access to and recognition of work

Women participate in labor markets at a much lower rate that men do. When they do, they get paid less than men for the same work.

  • In South Asia, women’s participation in the labor market is 50% lower than men; this is due to social norms, the care burden and discriminatory laws.

Reference: ILO (2016b), Women at Work: Trends 2016

  • In the majority of countries, women’s wages represent between 70 and 90% of men’s, with even lower ratios in some Asian and Latin American countries.

Reference: UN Women, In Brief: Economic Empowerment of Women.

  • Women bear disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work. Women devote 1 to 3 hours more a day to housework than men; 2 to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick), and 1 to 4 hours less a day to market activities.

Reference: UN Women, In Brief: Economic Empowerment of Women.

    • Research estimates that 57 million people supply full-time unpaid work that fills gaps caused by inadequate healthcare provision world wide – the majority of whom are women who gave up employment to play this role. The net contribution of unpaid work to the global economy is estimated at $10 trillion per year.

    Reference: UN Women, In Brief: Economic Empowerment of Women.

        The economic role of women is often invisible, underpaid and unrecognized:

        • Crops like cocoa in West Africa rely on women as producers, but are erroneously identified as “male crops.”

        Reference: Carr, E. (2007). "Men's crops and women's crops: the importance of gender to the understanding of agricultural and development outcomes in Ghana's central region. World Development, 5(2008): pp. 900-915.

        • There are at least 52.6 million domestic workers worldwide, and 83% of them are women. Domestic work accounts for 7.5% of women’s wage employment worldwide, and a far greater share in some regions. Domestic workers often face discrimination based on their race or caste.

        Reference: International Labour Office, Domestic Workers Across the World: Global and Regional Statistics and the Extent of Legal Protection, 2013.

        • Neoliberal policies have led to poor working conditions and pay – meaning poor people, especially women, are pushed into jobs with poor safety, long hours and wages that are not enough to sustain their families. For example, an Oxfam study of garment factory workers found employees working 18 hour shifts, sometimes working through the night to make wages that do not sustain workers or their families. At the same time, the companies that employ them -such as the fast fashion companies like Zara and H&M – reap huge profits and have some of the wealthiest CEOs in the world.

        Reference: Rhodes, F., Parvez, A., and Rowan, H. (2017). An Economy that works for women: achieving women's economic empowerment in an increasingly unequal world.

        • Women earn on average three quarters of their income from agricultural activities, and work on average 12 hours more per month than male farmers, and yet earn less than male farmers.

        Reference:  Dyan Mazurana, Prisca Benelli, Huma Gupta and Peter Walker, “Sex and Age Matter: Improving Humanitarian Response in Emergencies.” Feinstein International Center, Tufts University, August 2011

        • Women who engage in sex work face violence and discrimination, often linked to criminalization of their work and stigma surrounding it. 45% to 75% of sex workers experience workplace violence over their lifetime. 32% to 55% of sex workers experience violence within the past 12 months.

        Reference: Deering K., Amin A., Shoveller J., Nesbitt A., Garcia-Moreno C, Duff P, Argento E, Shannon K. (2014). “A Systematic Review of the Correlates of Violence against Sex Workers”. American Journal of Public Health: 104(5): e42-54

        • Women make up 43% of the agriculture labour force. However, women are less likely to own land, and own fewer amounts of land when they do. When women have the same amount of land as men, there is over 10% increase in crop yields.

        Reference: USAID Infographic "Why Invest in Women"

        • The yield gap between women and men farmers averages 20-30% and if women were given the same access to resources as men women would achieve the same yield level as men thus boosting total agriculture inputs in developing countries by 2.5 – 4%.

        Reference: Source FAO - The State of Food and Agriculture

        Drivers of economic exploitation

        The economic condition of women and the extent to which women are able to realize their economic potential are also shaped by underlying economic systems and public policies.

        • For example, privatization of basic health, water, education and agricultural services in periods of structural adjustment, and the commodification  of land, water and natural resources, has limited opportunities, recognition and resources for women’s roles in the economy as well as added burdens on households to meet basic needs.

        Reference: Madzwamuse, M. (2015). Economic justice as a site for women's empowerment. Open Society Initaitive for Southern Africa (OSISA).

        • The neoliberal overhaul of public services also cost public sector jobs, which represent decent work opportunities that tend to have more equitable gender hiring practices in many countries around the world.

        Reference: Kabeer N (2013) Paid Work, Women’s Empowerment and Inclusive Growth: Transforming the Structures of Constraint. UN Women.

        • In addition, trade and financial liberalization, dismantling of worker rights and privatization of natural resources driven through transnational corporate interests have essentially triggered a ‘race to the bottom’ on pricing and labor standards which have disproportionately impacted poor working women.

        Reference:  Moussié, R. (2016) Challenging corporate power: struggles for women's rights, economic and gender justice. Association for Women's Rights in Development and the Solidarity Center.

        Gains from gender inclusive economies

        Restricting women’s economic potential and under-investing in women slows economic growth and poverty reduction, and prevents more equitable, sustainable models for economic development.

        • If women participated equally in the economy, it would add $28 trillion to the global economy (26% of global GDP).

        Reference: Olney, S. (2015). The future of work depends on the future of women at work. Women, work and the Sustainable Development Goals. International Labour Organisation.

        • Women’s economic equality is good for business. Companies greatly benefit from increasing leadership opportunities for women, which is shown to increase organizational effectiveness. It is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organizational effectiveness.

        Reference: UN Women (Retrieved March 20, 2017). Facts and figures: economic empowerment.

        Female labor organizing and entrepreneurship are critical promising avenues for women’s economic empowerment.

        • Success of women organizing for better work conditions are evident from historic union organizing like the New York Shirtwaist Strike of 1909, which led to work safety and wage standards in the US, to mobilizations of strawberry farm workers in Morocco and domestic worker alliances in Latin America.

        Reference: Wikipedia (Retrieved March 20, 2017). "New York shirtwaist strike of 1909"; Rhodes, F., Parvez, A., and Rowan, H. (2017). An Economy that works for women: achieving women's economic empowerment in an increasingly unequal world

        • Around the developing world, women own approximately 8 to 10 million small and medium-sized enterprises, accounting for 31-38% of all small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets.

        Reference: IFC and GPFI 2011, Strengthening Access to Finance for Women-Owned SMEs in Developing Countries.

        • The majority of the 1 billion women that will enter the workforce by 2020 will do so through entrepreneurial work.

        Reference: PricewaterhouseCoopers (2014). Next Generation Diversity: developing tomorrow’s female leaders.

        Evidence: Levers for change

        There is an emerging body of evidence for levers to promote women’s economic empowerment.

        • Evidence from the UN shows that savings is one of three interventions proven to accelerate the economic empowerment of women regardless of their context; the other two interventions are childcare provision and control over land.

        Reference: United Nations. (2016). A Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment.

        • A work survey (Kabeer) found that the quality of paid work – characterized by formal work based on employment contracts, predictable work, regular income, legal rights and basic security - as important for achieving positive outcomes in women’s lives.

        Reference: Cornwall (2014). Women’s empowerment: What Works and Why?

        • Studies have found that women who are able to exercise choice on if and when to have children (and how many) can enable their economic empowerment. For example, globally, participation of women aged 15-39 in the labor force goes down by 10-15 percentage points with each additional child they have.

        Reference: Grepin KA and Klugman J (2013) Investing in Women’s Reproductive Health: Closing the Deadly Ga p Between What we Know and What we Do. Washington: World Bank. Available at Accessed 14 January 2015

        • Education is another key driver for employment, and research has found that each additional year of schooling for girls, particularly at the post-primary level- can support employment opportunities and increase future earnings by 10%.

        Reference: World Bank (2002) Opening Doors: Education and the World Bank

        • Government regulatory frameworks that protect women against discrimination based on their gender, potential maternity and childcare needs can support women’s access to the formal wage economy.

        Reference: Kabeer N (2013) Paid Work, Women’s Empowerment and Inclusive Growth: Transforming the Structures of Constraint. UN Women.