Published on Eurasian Perspectives

Driving change: Empowering women for greater productivity in Europe and Central Asia

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A young woman working at a gold ore mining and processing plant in Kazakhstan. Photo: Shutterstock/ Alexey_Rezvykh A young woman working at a gold ore mining and processing plant in Kazakhstan. Photo: Shutterstock/ Alexey_Rezvykh

As we mark International Women’s Day, it is important to reflect on the strides made towards gender equality and the persistent challenges, particularly regarding access to more and better jobs in Europe and Central Asia. Despite notable progress, women still confront significant disparities in labor force participation, occupations, and wages, underscoring the pressing need for change.

For instance, the average women’s participation in the labor force in Europe and Central Asia is 21% below men’s. Data from the Human Capital Index (HCI) highlights the severity of the issue, revealing a substantial portion of untapped productivity due to low female labor force participation. Also, the most recent Women, Business, and the Law report reveals significant legal disparities faced by women in countries across Europe and Central Asia. Women only enjoy about 85% of the legal rights that men do, particularly evident in areas such as occupational segregation, equal pay, pensions, and workplace protections against discrimination and sexual harassment. These figures serve as a stark reminder of the urgency to address gender disparities and ensure more and better job opportunities for both women and men in Europe and Central Asia, particularly amidst declining productivity growth.

Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort involving policymakers, businesses, and civil society.

One critical aspect of empowering women economically is investing in social care services. Governments play a pivotal role in this by implementing laws promoting gender equality and investing in childcare infrastructure and parental leave policies. The gender gap in proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work averages 52% in Europe and Central Asia, with tangible consequences on employment outcomes. For example, in North Macedonia, having a dependent in the household reduces the likelihood of women in the labor force by 9 percentage points and 2 percentage points for men. Additionally, such investments benefit vulnerable groups and create jobs in the care sector, while improving access to quality early childhood education services enhances children’s lifelong earning potential in the labor market.

Moreover, ensuring access to quality education and skills development is fundamental for women to thrive in the labor market. While some countries in the region have made strides in achieving gender parity in STEM tertiary education graduates, there is still a need to effectively harness this human capital. Tailored training programs offer a pathway to enhancing women’s employability and career trajectories, yet regrettably, women often find themselves at a disadvantage. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, women constitute 58% of registered unemployed individuals, yet they represent only 49% of participants in Active Labor Market Programs (ALMP). In Türkiye, for instance, labor productivity is nearly 50% lower for female-run businesses compared to their male counterparts. These examples highlight the urgent need for targeted support to enable women to balance caregiving responsibilities and benefit from skill development initiatives to access more and better employment opportunities.  

Additionally, supporting female entrepreneurship is crucial for economic independence and economic growth. However, there are disparities in female participation in business ownership and challenges faced by women-led businesses. In Türkiye, for example, women-run and women-owned businesses are found to have larger gender gaps in terms of labor productivity and sales growth than the global average. Social entrepreneurship emerges as one promising solution, empowering vulnerable women economically through strong social partnerships and networks. Initiatives like the Social Entrepreneurship Community of Practice in Türkiye provide tailored support to women entrepreneurs and contribute to breaking stereotypes and changing social norms.

International Women's Day serves as a reminder of the ongoing journey towards gender equality and the imperative of empowering women economically. By investing in policies, education and training, and entrepreneurship, we can harness women’s productivity, contributing to a more equitable and inclusive society where every woman has the opportunity to reach her full potential. Let's continue working together towards this shared vision of prosperity for all.


Antonella Bassani

Vice President, Europe and Central Asia

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