Published on Data Blog

This Sunday, International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women, while calling for greater gender equality. Ahead of several high-profile campaigns and initiatives launching this week and next, I thought I’d highlight some gender data and trends that you might not know about.

Note: as these data are from different sources, some of the members of regional groupings may differ between charts, please refer to the original sources for details.

1) 91% of the world’s girls completed primary school

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Data from UNESCO Institute for Statistics and World Development Indicators

In 2012, more girls completed primary school than ever before. Since 2000, there’s been progress across the world but large disparities remain between regions and countries. Only 66% of girls in Sub Saharan Africa completed primary school in 2012, and in three countries this figure was under 35%. Educating girls is one of the best investments we can make and by 2015, developing countries as a whole are likely to reach gender parity (about the same numbers of boys and girls) in terms of primary and secondary enrollment.


2) Globally, the adolescent fertility rate fell 40% between 1970 and 2012

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Data from UIS and United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects

Globally, the adolescent fertility rate declined from 77 per 1,000 women ages 15–19 in 1970 to 45 in 2012. This happened while female secondary school enrollment increased from 35 percent to 72 percent. As you can see from the bubble chart above: teenage women are less likely to become mothers when they attend secondary school.  The relationship between the two tends to be similar across regions, except for Latin America and the Caribbean and East Asia and Pacific, where the correlation is much weaker.

If you’re wondering how exactly fertility rates are measured and want to know about global trends in the last 50 years, don’t miss this episode of “The Data Minute”:
The Data Minute

3) At 64%, Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest female participation in the labor force

Chart 3

Modelled Data from the International Labor Organization Key Indicators of the labour Market 8th edition database and the WDI

The female labor force participation rate – the ratio of the employed and unemployed to the working-age population – ranges from 22% in Middle East and North Africa to 64% in Sub-Saharan Africa. In almost all countries labor force participation rates are lower for females than males, partly because female labor participation rates are likely to be underestimated due to difficulties in capturing those (often women) in non-regular, unpaid or informal work. In addition, a high labor force participation rate isn’t always a positive sign, since it may imply little choice to remain out of work. As Alice Newton notes, policies that ensure that women can take part in the workforce on equal terms with men are key to achieving gender equality and poverty reduction.


4) Globally, 137 economies have laws mandating maternity leave

Chart 4

Some differentiations in labor law may increase job opportunities for women, while others may limit them. Parental leave policies are generally expected to generate a more equitable division of child rearing responsibilities, giving women the same opportunities for career advancement as men. In the case of maternity leave, according to Women, Business and Law, the global average mandatory minimum is about 100 paid days and it’s Bulgaria that leads the way with a minimum of 410 days leave at 90% of salary, fully paid for by the government.


5) 30% of East Asia’s top management positions are held by women

Chart 5

Women’s participation in economic activities, particularly in business leadership roles as the top managers in firms, highlights their economic empowerment and advancement. Although the East Asia and Pacific region leads the way, the average share of firms with female top managers around the world is low, at about 20 percent.  These statistics also don’t fully capture  women-led firms, which tend to be smaller than male-led firms and concentrated in such areas as retail businesses.

Bonus chart: Fewer Women Run S&P 1500 firms than men named John

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The New York Times using data from Execucomp recently created a “ Glass Ceiling Index” which also finds that only 1 in 25 S&P 1500 CEOs is a woman. Meanwhile in East Asia, “47 percent of the overall staff and 33 percent of people” are women in Chinese firm Alibaba where according to CEO Jack Ma: “"Women think about others more than themselves," which is key for Alibaba and its ability to serve users.”


6) More than 700 million women globally have been subject to physical or sexual violence

Chart 6

The World Bank’s “Voice and Agency” report finds that 1 in 3, or more than 700 million women globally have been subject to physical or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends, or partners. Gender-based violence is a global epidemic, affecting women across all regions of the world. In most of the world, no place is less safe for a woman than her own home. Across 33 low- and middle-income countries, almost one-third of women say that they cannot refuse sex with their partners.


7) Women are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men

Chart 7

According to the GSMA’s “Connected Women 2015” study which surveyed 12 countries, women see mobile phones as tools that make them feel safer, save them time and money and open up employment and education opportunities. The report finds that in low and middle-income countries, over 3 billion people still do not own mobile phones, of which approximately 1.7 billion are female. Nearly 2/3 of these unconnected females live in the South Asia and East Asia & Pacific regions and a significant number, over 300 million, also live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Gender Data Gaps

The fundamental challenge for understanding and tackling the gender gaps and issues highlighted above is more and better data and evidence. But for many developing countries, we don’t have the data to help us understand just how big these gender gaps are, or how to address them.  Recently, Data2x identified 28 gender data gaps across five domains: health, education, economic opportunities, political participation, and human security

The World Bank is working in partnership with Data2x and on a number of other initiatives to improve the quality and availability of gender data. You can find out more on the Bank’s Gender homepage and via the Gender Data Portal.

Finally, thanks to several colleagues in the World Bank Data Group for sharing their expertise and contributing to the stories above, in particular Masako Hiraga, Haruna Kashiwase, Emi Suzuki, Hiroko Madea and Buyant Khaltarkhuu.



Tariq Khokhar

Global Data Editor & Senior Data Scientist

Masako Hiraga

Senior Statistician/Economist, Development Data Group, World Bank

Emi Suzuki

Demographer, Development Data Group, World Bank

Hiroko Maeda

Program Manager, Development Data Group

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