Economic Growth

Gender inequalities run across economic systems, acting as barriers to the realization of individual human rights and aspirations and to poverty reduction and economic growth.

Sector Overview

Gender equality improves the well-being of women and their families and advances inclusive economic growth. The most significant source of untapped economic growth potential is unemployed and underemployed women: closing the gender gap in the global workforce could add $28 trillion to global GDP. Research also demonstrates the economic benefit of gender equality within companies, funds, and e-commerce trade activities. For instance, if women’s engagement in e-commerce trade equaled men’s engagement, in Africa alone, the e-commerce market could increase by nearly $15 billion from 2025 to 2030.


Gender-Based Barriers to Growth

Evidence shows that gender inequality drives poverty and impedes economic growth. Restrictive gender norms limit women’s mobility, financial and bodily autonomy, labor participation, sense of self-efficacy, bargaining power, and access to education and credit. Barriers to economic opportunity include harmful practices and discriminatory social and gender norms, including child marriage, gender bias in lending practices, lack of access to markets, and gender-based violence, including sexual harassment in the workplace.The overall cost of intimate partner violence is an estimated 5 percent of global GDP, including medical and judicial expenses and lost productivity: research found that in Sub-Saharan Africa, a 1 percent increase in the share of women subjected to violence can reduce economic activity by up to 8 percent.

Worldwide, 2.4 billion women of working age still lack equal economic opportunities and in only 12 countries do women have legal equal economic standing with men. After losing ground during the COVID-19 pandemic — when women were disproportionately pushed out of the labor force — estimates suggest it will take 267.6 years to close the gender economic opportunity gap at the current rate of change.

Women face numerous barriers to well-paying, high-quality employment and decent work. Women are disproportionately represented in the informal economy and low-wage occupations, including the care economy, and often in unsafe conditions without the protection of labor rights. Women are also vulnerable to external shocks such as conflict and migration, pandemics, and climate change, which exacerbate economic inequality. During such events, women and individuals who experience overlapping marginalized identities may face increased risk of losing jobs, livelihoods, businesses, and productive assets. Access to finance is a key obstacle to women’s economic security; the credit gap for formal women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises across all regions is roughly $287 billion. Another significant barrier to women’s labor force participation is the lack of safe and affordable childcare options; the International Labor Organization estimates that 300 million jobs could be created in the care industry to address this need. Women and girls are also overlooked as key consumer or client market segments, and advertising can reinforce gender stereotypes.

Promising Approaches

  1. Promote women’s access to skills and training to participate in the economy, decent jobs in the formal economy, labor and social protections, and other support needed to compete and work safely.
  2. Incentivize government and private-sector investment to expand access to care in the care economy, including child, elder, and health care, and universal early childhood education.
  3. Strengthen protections for care workers in the informal and formal economy.
  4. Invest in businesses that prioritize women’s contributions as leaders, employees, entrepreneurs, and consumers.
  5. Advance trade and investment opportunities for women-owned, -led, and -managed businesses.
  6. Close gender gaps in the digital economy and in access to banking and financial services.
  7. Address discriminatory social norms, laws and regulations, and employer policies and practices related to women’s equal access to and control over assets needed to participate fully in the economy, such as land, property, and natural resources.
  8. Prevent, mitigate, and reduce GBV and sexual harassment in formal and informal workplaces, as well as to and from the workplace.
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