Week 14: Women and the Economy

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women produced the The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly.  By accepting the Convention, states commit to:

  • Principle of equality of men and women in their legal system
  • Establish tribunals to ensure effective protection of women against discrimination
  • Elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises

The Convention has helped raise global awareness of discrimination of women in the highest level of global governance.  By committing to the Convention, a state must submit a country report every four years.  A shortcoming is getting countries to honor their commitments made in closing the gender gap.  Even though a state signs on to the commitment, there is no framework to force cooperation.  Again, these policies are at a national level, when in reality the local level is where women are more likely to be affected by a gap in women’s rights.

Woman tests groundnut sheller

In Zambia, work is being done to protect women’s land rights.  Although formal law, such as the Constitution and the Lands Act supports property rights and prohibits gender-based discrimination, customary rules and practices often discriminate against women when it comes to access and control over land.

Education and challenging laws at the lower levels need to be done, to close the gap.  More sustainable gender equality work by NGOs and governments that comes from the tribal level with work its way up into the national level.  Rural parts of Africa are controlled by tribes and sometimes national laws have limited reach to tribal custom, legally and socially.

Economic opportunity is one of the best equalizers to shrink the gap.  Some challenges and constraints for women reaching their full economic potential include:

  • Women contribute substantially to economic welfare through large amounts of unpaid work, such as child-rearing and household tasks, which often remains unseen and unaccounted for in GDP
  • Gender differences in paid working hours and participation in part time work remain significant
  • Moreover, there is a significant wage gap associated with gender, even for the same occupations and even when controlling for individual characteristics, such as education
  • In many countries, the lack of basic necessities and rights inhibits women’s potential to join the formal labor market or become entrepreneurs.

The challenges of growth, job creation, and inclusion are closely tangled. While growth and stability are necessary to give women the opportunities they need, women’s participation in the labor market is also a part of the growth and stability equation. In rapidly aging economies, higher female labor force participation can boost growth by mitigating the impact of a shrinking workforce. Better opportunities for women can also contribute to broader economic development in developing economies through higher levels of school enrollment for girls.


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