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Study notes

Development and Growth Constraints - Gender Inequalities

  • Levels: A Level, IB
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

The unequal opportunities available to hundreds of millions of women around the world represent one of the biggest barriers to growth and development.

The economic impact of gender equality
The facts about gender equality and the Sustainable Development Goals

This study note draws heavily on a range of data on aspects of gender inequality made available by Our World In Data.

Aspects of gender inequality

  • No society can achieve its potential without the full and equal participation of women and men
  • 62 million girls are not in school. Pregnancy/poverty/early marriage are the main reasons for girls dropping out of school
  • Over 100 countries have at least one law that acts as a barrier to female participation in the labour market.
  • Across the globe women occupy, on average, 23% of parliamentary seats in 2016, up from 12% in 1997

According to the UN Human Development Report:

“All too often, women and girls are discriminated against in health, education, political representation, labour market, etc. — with negative repercussions for development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice.”

Historical Gender Equality Index

Gender ratios for mean years of schooling

Fertility and female labour market participation


  • Just over half of the world’s female population aged 15-64 is in employment, compared to more than 8 out of 10 men. But the proportion of economically active women has declined in the last 20 years
  • In many countries women are subject to cultural norms preventing them playing a full and active role
  • According to the World Bank, 232 million women live in economies where they can't get a job without their husband's permission
  • Only 1 in 4 women in the Arab world participate in the labour force
  • Less than 10% of credit for small farmers in Africa is directed to women
  • Women make up 70% of Africa’s farmers but the majority are locked out of land ownership
  • In only two countries, Cuba and Rwanda, does the share of women in parliament match or exceed their share in the population
  • Some progress is being made, from 2009 to 2011, 39 developing countries made legal changes towards gender parity – but only 38 out of 141 nations set the same legal rights for men and women
  • Women in many countries have a substantial role in the informal economy, working in family businesses, doing domestic work and producing goods for self-consumption. This type of work generally offers low, irregular or no pay and little or no access to social security or legal protection.
  • Gender inequality has cost the world an estimated $160 trillion, according to a new report

Short video resources on aspects of gender inequality as a barrier to development

Getting to Equal in Mongolia’s Labor Market: Women Speak Out
What’s Keeping Sri Lankan Women Out of the Workplace?

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