Most women live in societies where access to money determines the 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 that men do and the freedom and control it offers. Globally far fewer women than men are employed. Less than five out of every 10 women are employed compared to more than seven out of every 10 men. The global labor force is still predominantly male with less than four out of every 10 workers female. And in many countries, women are overrepresented among “vulnerable” workers (e.g., unpaid family and self-employed workers). For these women payment for their labor can be sporadic or non-existent, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
As a consequence, women’s wages are lower than men’s in all countries measured in the Global Gender Gap Report and range from 40% to 88%. Of great concern are the very high gaps in income between what men and women earn in several high-population countries including India, Pakistan, Iran, Brazil, Turkey, Germany, Bangladesh and Mexico, where women’s wages fall below 60% of men’s. Recent evidence suggests that mothers pay an even steeper price as gender pay gaps are highest for women with dependent children. Michelle Budig’s study of the “motherhood pay gap” in the USA revealed that married mothers earn only 76 cents to a married father’s dollar. The motherhood pay penalty explains as much as 50% of the gender pay gap in the USA, according to Jane Waldfogel. Analysis by the ILO confirmed that the motherhood pay gap is larger in low- and middle- income countries and rises with the number of children a woman has.
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 the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “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 if as many women as men were employed, GDP would rise by 5% in the USA, by 9% in Japan and by a massive 34% in Egypt, according to the IMF. Productivity could also improve as in many countries women with tertiary qualifications now outnumber men.
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 ILO.
Increases in women’s incomes can also 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 one in three women in the world experience physical and/or sexual violence by their husbands or boyfriends in their lifetimes, and the rate rises to over 60% in some regions, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 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.