Global Progress Towards Gender Equality Has Stalled: IMF

By: Economy Watch News Desk Team   Date: 24 September 2013
While women now represent 40 percent of the world’s labour force, female labour force participation rate globally have been stuck around the 50 percent mark for the past two decades, warned a new IMF study released on Monday, further highlighting that women were still holding fewer salaried jobs and receiving lower wages than men.

The study, entitled Women, Work, and the Economy: Macroeconomic Gains From Gender Equity”, sought to demonstrate the need to strengthen the role of women in the economy, arguing that a greater women labour force could raise global growth prospects and improve development.

Just having as many women in the labour force as men could boost economic growth by 5 percent in the United States, 9 percent in Japan, and 34 percent in Egypt, the IMF said.

“There is ample evidence that when women are able to develop their full labour market potential, there can be significant macroeconomic gains… GDP per capita losses attributable to gender gaps in the labour market have been estimated at up to 27 percent…[and up to] 865 million women worldwide have the potential to contribute more fully to their national economies.”

The IMF found that female labour force participation rates (FLFPR) varied greatly across regions. East Asia and the Pacific saw the highest FLFPR at over 63 percent, while this rate dropped to around 21 in the Middle East and North Africa. Latin America and the Caribbean experienced the highest growth in FLFPR over the last two decades (a 13 percent increase), while the rates in North America and Europe have stayed broadly consistent during the same period (around 55 percent and 50 percent respectively).

Meanwhile though the gender wage gap was slowly decreasing, across advanced economies, the difference between male and female wages remained at 16 percent.

“Occupational segregation and reduced working hours, in combination with differentials in work experience, explain around 30 percent of the wage gap, on average,” according to the IMF.

“While narrow for young women, the wage gap increases steeply during childbearing and childrearing years, pointing to an additional “motherhood penalty,” estimated at 14 percent across the OECD countries,” the study added.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told Reuters that the world has faced difficultly in sustaining momentum on gender equality after the great progress during the 1950s.

“There’s an element of maybe fatigue, maybe déjà vu, maybe we should go back to business because we’ve made so much progress,” Lagarde said in an interview. “And yet it’s really … a cause that needs constant attention, resilience, and continued momentum.”

The global recession has also complicated the problem. In advanced economies, fewer women than men lost their jobs during the initial years of the crisis (from 2007 to 2009), as job losses were concentrated in male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction; but from 2011 to 2012, women continued to lose jobs while the unemployment rate for men stabilised or fell.

The IMF called for a range of policies to support female labour force participation and gender wage equality. This included fiscal policies such as increasing government spending on social welfare benefits and pensions, changes in legislation to increase the awareness of legal rights to equal treatment, as well as improved incentives for females to engage in entrepreneurship.

The IMF said it would continue to contribute to enhance the analysis of the macroeconomic effects of gender inequality, while working with other international financial institutions such as the World Bank to improve the access of education in developing countries.

“The challenges of growth, job creation, and inclusion are closely intertwined. While growth and stability are necessary to give women the opportunities they need, women’s participation in the labour market is also a part of the growth and stability equation,” wrote the report.

Women make up a little over half the world’s population, but their contribution to measured economic activity, growth, and well-being is far below its potential, with serious macroeconomic consequences…. Implementing policies that remove labour market distortions and create a level playing field for all will give women the opportunity to develop their potential and to participate in economic life more visibly.”


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