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Fridays Academy: Gender and the Labor Market

Ignacio Hernandez's picture

As usual on Fridays, from  Raj Nallari and Breda Griffith's lecture notes.


Skills levels

Education is essential for human development.  It provides opportunities for individuals to participate in labor markets and in finding further employment opportunities.  Yet globally, two thirds of the almost 800 million adults who have not had the opportunity to learn how to read and write are women.  Furthermore, 60 percent of school drop-outs are girls (ILO, 2007). Cultural reasons that include religious factors as well as basic gender discrimination account for this inequality.  Another factor may be the segregation of women into low-paying occupations that represents an underinvestment in girls’ education (WB, 2007).     The figure below examines the literacy rates – a person’s ability to read and write with understanding a simple statement about one’s everyday life – by region between 2000 and 2004.  The lowest literacy rates for women can be found in South and West Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab States (ILO, 2007).  These are indicative of the challenges facing women in these regions.  Moreover, they are a sorry reflection of the work that remains to be done, given that securing parity in literacy rates is but one step in the education ladder.  As noted by ILO (2007) “unfortunately basic education does not always translate into better employment opportunities” (p. 6).



Literacy Rates by Region (2000-2004)

Source: ILO (2007)



There have been improvements in educational variables in recent times, in large part due to the drive to achieve MDG3. Among the indicators used to assess the progress for MDG 3 are; the ratio of girls’ to boys’ enrollment in primary, secondary and tertiary education and the ratio of literate females to males among 15-24 year olds. Gender-informed policy interventions such as stipends, conditional cash transfers and vouchers have proved instrumental in raising girls’ enrollment rates and improving gender-parity ratios, see figure below.


Progress in Girls’ Enrollment Rates between 1990 and 2005


 Source: Global Monitoring Report (2007)


Gender parity ratios in primary enrollments and literacy have been achieved for most of the low-income countries between 1995 and 2005 (World Bank, 2007; Lewis and Lockheed, 2006; EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007). Furthermore, significant gains have been in girls’ secondary enrollment such that combining girls’ primary and secondary enrollment rates for 106 countries for which data are available suggests that 83 of these countries have achieved parity in both primary and secondary enrollment rates, see table below.



Regional Performance in Attaining the Primary and Secondary Enrollment Rate by 2005


Source: Global Monitoring Report (2007)

Several challenges remain to achieving MDG 3. As shown in the table above, there are those fragile states and countries that number 23 and 16 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.  Achieving gender parity in gross enrollment rates begins from a very low base in these low-income countries and fragile states.  Moreover, females in excluded groups in low-income countries, particularly in rural areas are discriminated against when it comes to education. As noted before in this series, policy needs to target these groups to increase school enrollments of girls from disadvantaged groups.