Most women live in societies where access to money determines quality of life. Money is required to buy food and clothing, housing, healthcare, education and transportation. But most women do not enjoy the same access to money as men do and the freedom and control it offers. Globally far fewer women than men are employed (5 out of 10 women compared to 7 out of 10 men), the global workforce is still predominantly male (only 4 out of 10 workers are women), and in many countries women are overrepresented among “vulnerable” workers (e.g. unpaid family and self-employed workers) where payment for labor can be sporadic or non-existent (World Bank).
As a consequence, women’s wages are lower than men’s across all 131 countries measured in the latest Global Gender Gap Report where the female to male ratio of wages ranges from 83% in Burundi to 40% in Angola. Of great concern are the very high income gaps between what men and women earn in several high-population countries including India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Mexico, where women’s incomes all fall below 50% of men’s. Recent evidence suggests that mothers pay a special price as gender pay gaps are highest for women with dependent children. Michelle Budig’s study of the “motherhood pay gap” in the United States revealed that married mothers earn only 76 cents to a married father’s dollar and global analysis by the International Labor Organization concluded that, “the motherhood pay gap tends to be larger in developing countries” rising with the number of children a woman has. The motherhood pay penalty explains as much as 50% of the gender pay gap according to Jane Waldfogel.
The stubborn persistence of barriers to employment for women, and particularly for mothers, is one of the reasons no country has closed the economic participation gap for women, and why women have not experienced significant employment or earnings progress in the last two decades. This is all the more frustrating because of the body of evidence that finds a positive relationship between women’s employment and economic growth and development. In the words of a 2013 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report. “there is ample evidence that when women are able to develop their full labor market potential, there can be significant macroeconomic gains.”
So powerful is this relationship between women’s employment and economic growth that the IMF report cites research that if as many women as men were employed, GDP would rise by 5% in the United States, by 9% in Japan, and by a massive 34% in Egypt. Productivity could also improve as in many countries women with tertiary qualifications now outnumber men. The IMF argues that when you put these economic gains together with women’s propensity to spend more of their incomes on the education and health of their households, higher female employment can result in increased survival, enhanced development and higher school enrollment for children triggering the much sought after “virtuous cycle” of development. For all of these reasons, women’s employment has been described as “the single most important factor keeping many households out of poverty,” by the International Labor Organisation.
Further, the recent Lancet series on Violence Against Women and Girls reported that increases in women’s incomes can contribute to reductions in intimate partner violence. This implies that improving women’s earnings through employment could reduce the high rates of partner violence that exist in most countries. More than 1 in 3 women in the world experience physical and/or sexual violence by their husbands or boyfriends in their lifetimes with the rate rising to over 60% in some regions. If Valerie Hudson is correct and there is a direct relationship between these high levels of partner violence and a nation’s propensity for civil and international conflict, increasing women’s employment could even contribute to improvements in national, regional and global security over time.