The inequalities of gender and development

Gender inequalities are a structuring component of poverty and an obstacle to development. These inequalities are particularly significant in the following areas:


60% of the billion poorest people on Earth are women and girls. The chasm between men and women in the poverty cycle has continued to widen over the last decade.

Labour market access

About a billion women are not able to make their full economic contribution because of obstacles encountered concerning decision-making, financial services, education and training. In 2012, the World Bank concluded that eliminating all forms of discrimination against women in the labour market would increase productivity by 40% per employee. The FAO has estimated that giving female rural producers the same access to fertilizers, seed, tools and other forms of support as men would increase agricultural production sufficiently to feed 100 to 150 million starving people.


Reducing the gender gap around universal primary education is one of the great successes of the Education for All (EFA) programme since 2000, while «the proportion of unschooled girls fell from 58% to 53% in developing countries over a decade. But despite that success, many countries are still not on track to achieve gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2015. Far too many girls (32%) do not complete a full course of schooling and 39 million of them aged 11-15 were unschooled in 2012. Girls face particular obstacles throughout schooling, including the costs of education, early marriage, safety, particularly in travel, and sexual violence. Keeping girls aged 11-15 in education is a decisive development factor and a key to their empowerment.

Early marriage

In developing countries, more than 60 million women aged 20-24 were married/in union before the age of 18. Over thirty-one million of them live in South Asia and more than 140 million girls will be married between 2011 and 2020.

Control of their bodies, births and access to sexual and reproductive health

117 million girls are missing worldwide. The situation has worsened in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa most hard-hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and 76% of all HIV-positive women in the world live in this region. Maternal deaths are the second biggest killer of women of reproductive age. Every year, approximately 287 000 women die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth, 99% of them are in developing countries.

Genital mutilation

129 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East. Around 140 million young girls and women worldwide currently suffer from the after-effects of genital mutilation. These harmful practices are carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.


Women suffer multiple forms of violence and are the greatest victims of armed conflicts, where sexual violence has become an arm of war.

Updated : May 2014