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Gender equality and women's empowerment

In the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, Member States have committed to promoting and ensuring gender equality. The Addis Agenda's strong focus on gender is anchored in its first paragraph, which commits to ensure gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment, and is reflected in gender-specific commitments throughout the seven action areas of the Addis Agenda.

Tracking public allocations for gender equality

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda underlines the importance of achieving greater transparency and accountability on financing gender equality and women’s empowerment through gender responsive budgeting and tracking. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commits the development community to working “for a significant increase in investments to close the gender gap.” In line with these commitments, the design and implementation of comprehensive tracking systems is essential to ensure resources are mobilised and allocated effectively to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.

SDG Indicator 5.c.1 measures the proportion of countries with systems to track and make public allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The indicator assesses progress towards Target 5c of the SDGs to “adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels. By tracking resource allocations, governments introduce deliberate measures into the planning and budgeting cycle to meet their gender policy objectives and by making these allocations public, governments commit to higher levels of transparency and accountability in budget decision making.

Building on Indicator 8 of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC),[1] in 2017, UN Women, UNDP and the OECD spearheaded refinement of the Indicator 5.c.1 methodology to increase specificity and rigour of measurements. To test its validity, the indicator was piloted in 15 diverse countries in consultation with Ministries of Finance and National Statistical Offices.[2]Overall, the methodology was identified as clear, relevant and applicable to national efforts to strengthen budget tracking systems.

The pilot results demonstrated the variation in national tracking systems. More countries currently have gender responsive public financial management functions that constitute a basic tracking system. For example, almost all 15 pilot countries issue gender responsive budget call circulars which provide a directive about integrating gender equality into programmes and budgets. However, fewer countries have developed more mature tracking systems, as evidenced by the lower number that implement impact assessments and gender responsive audits of the budget. In line with capturing this variability and based on country responses to the indicator questionnaire, a scoring system was developed to classify countries into one of three categories: ‘fully meets requirements’, ‘approaches requirements’, and ‘does not meet requirements.’ This scaled classification provides an assessment of the quality of tracking systems that can facilitate cross-country learning and incentivize countries to improve systems over time.


Note: Responses based on a survey answered by Ministries of Finance. Sample size of the pilot is 15 countries.                                                              Link: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/files/meetings/iaeg-sdgs-meeting-06/Tier%20re-classification%20requests%20for%206th%20IAEG-SDG%20meeting_web.zip.

Based on a request submitted by UN-Women, along with supporting documentation, the Inter-Agency Expert Group (IAEG)-SDGs reclassified Indicator 5.c.1 from Tier III to Tier II in November 2017. This means the indicator is conceptually clear and has an internationally established methodology and standard. Going forward, data for the indicator will be collected via the GPEDC through administration of a survey to the Ministry of Finance, National Statistical Offices and women’s ministries. As part of its regular gender responsive budgeting programming, UN-Women will support Ministries of Finance to collect high quality, accurate and reliable data on Indicator 5.c.1. and support capacity development of women’s ministries and civil society organizations to validate the data.[UNW1]

[1] Indicator 8 of the GPEDC and SDG Indicator 5.c.1 are defined in identical terms.

 [UNW1]To be updated with new figures/data on SDG 5.c.1 when SG Parliamentary and glossy SDG report public ~ July.


Aid activities targeting gender equality

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are key cross-cutting priorities in the Addis Agenda. In 2016–17, DAC countries committed an average of USD 44.8 billion of ODA targeting gender equality and women’s empowerment on average per year. The DAC country average for the share of development assistance that had a gender equality and women’s empowerment objective was 38 per cent in 2016–17.

DAC members have consistently increased bilateral aid for programmes that integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment as a significant objective since 2010. Despite this overall increase, aid for dedicated programmes that target gender equality and women’s empowerment as a main objective remains low at 4% and 62% of aid still gender blind.

Trade and gender equality

Changes in a country’s trade take place in the context of gendered social and economic institutions; this, in turn, leads to a two-way relationship between trade and gender. On the one hand, changes in trade structures and policies lead to economic outcomes that vary by gender in the different economic roles of women and men as workers, producers, traders, consumers, and taxpayers. On the other hand, gender inequalities in different domains of economic and social life (i.e. capabilities, access to resources and opportunities, security) have implications for trade outcomes of women and men, and for countries’ export competitiveness strategies.

The outcomes of trade and gender nexus are context-specific, being shaped by economic and social structures, and legal and institutional frameworks on gender equality. Therefore, they need to be analysed on a case-by-case basis. UNCTAD published two regional studies on the ex-post gender impact assessment of trade integration in the East African Community (EAC)[1] and the Southern African Development Community (SADC)[2] in 2018, the findings of which reveal many similarities.

Trade liberalization leads to a change in the relative prices of goods and services, which results in a change in production and employment structure. It is therefore useful to examine the changes in employment composition by broad sectors for women and men in the course of regional integration (figure 1). There has been a shift of employment from agriculture to mainly services in both EAC and SADC. Despite this change, agriculture continues to be the main employment sector, and its share in total employment is higher for women than for men in both regions. The industrial sector lost its share in female employment in both EAC and SADC reflecting the role of mining, a predominantly male sector, in industrial sector. Within the services sectors, women tend to be concentrated in low-skilled subsectors of services to a greater extent than men in both regions. For example, in the EAC, wholesale and retail trade and tourism were the main sources of employment for women in services, while transport, storage and communications ranked second to wholesale and retail trade for men.

In order to have a direct estimate of the impact of trade policy on gender employment patterns, UNCTAD carried out econometric analyses of how sectoral tariff changes influenced women’s employment share in manufacturing firms in EAC and SADC members using data from World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys and the World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS) database. Sectoral tariff change is distinguished as export tariffs to assess the impact of tariff changes faced in export markets and as import tariffs to examine the effect of increased import competition in the domestic market.

The empirical findings show that tariff liberalization on exports within the EAC region had a positive effect on women’s share of employment in manufacturing firms in all members but one being studied. This effect was observed only for women production workers, while no significant effect was observed for women non-production workers. The estimation results for the SADC region reveal similar findings on the gender employment effects of the removal of tariffs on intra-regional exports. These findings imply that tariff liberalization in export markets within regional integration led to a feminization of labour force in blue-collar jobs in both regions. It might be due to trade-induced technological upgrading, which reduces the required physical strength in blue-collar jobs and hence increases women’s relative employment only in those jobs. It might also be the case that exporting firms take advantage of the gender wage gap and hire female workers in products tasks as a cost-cutting strategy under increased competition on global markets. It is therefore important to introduce supportive labour market policies and enforce labour protection laws to avoid the segregation of women into low-skilled and low-paying positions as workers under trade liberalization policies.

Women’s limited access to resources, market information and training may push them into lower value-added activities as producers. Credit, in particular, plays an important role for female farmers and entrepreneurs in starting or expanding their enterprise, as they often possess fewer resources and assets compared to men. Existing gender-biased customs and traditions often limit women’s access to formal sources of credit despite the introduction of laws and programmes to support gender equality in access to finance. Figure 2 shows that gender gap exists in access to finance across several indicators for the EAC. The gap in account ownership narrowed over time thanks to the expansion of mobile money accounts. However, women borrow to a lesser extent than men from financial institutions and for investment purposes. Achieving gender equality in access to resources and other domains of economic life is necessary to ensure equal and successful economic participation of men and women in trade-related activities.

[1] UNCTAD (2018). East African Community Regional Integration: Trade and Gender Implications, UNCTAD/DITC/2017/2, Geneva: UNCTAD

[2] UNCTAD (2018). Teaching Material on Trade and Gender Volume 1: Unfolding the links, Module 4b: Trade and Gender Linkages: An Analysis of Southern African Development Community, UNCTAD/DITC/2018/1, Geneva: UNCTAD.



Gender gaps in digital access

SDG 5 includes a target on enhanced use of enabling technology, particularly ICT, to support women’s and girl’s empowerment. This focus emphasizes the potential of ICT and other digital technologies to improve women’s and girls’ health and empower them through access to information, education and commercial opportunities. However, globally women are constrained in their access to, participation in and benefit from digital technology. This ‘digital gender divide’ has negative effects for society overall by limiting the participation and contributions of women and girls to digital technology development.

The ‘digital gender divide’ can be seen in rates of global and regional internet usage. For example, the proportion of men using the Internet is higher than the proportion of women using the Internet in two-thirds of countries worldwide. The only region where a higher percentage of women than men are using the Internet is the Americas. The largest gaps are observed in developing countries (7.2 percentage points) and in the Arab States and Asia Pacific countries (8.3 and 8.2 percentage points respectively).

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The proportion of women using the Internet is 12 per cent lower than the proportion of men using the Internet worldwide. While the gender gap has narrowed in most regions since 2013, it has widened in Africa where the proportion of women using the Internet is 25.3 per cent lower as compared to men. Overall, in least developed countries (LDCs), only one out of seven women is using the Internet compared with one out of five men.

Proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work

A major contributing factor to gender inequality in labour force participation is the unequal distribution of unpaid work between women and men. The amount of time women spend on unpaid domestic work and caregiving at home is almost triple that of men, according to survey data from 83 countries and areas. While this unpaid work is critical for the well-being of families, communities and economies overall, it remains mostly under-recognized and uncounted in economic terms. These care responsibilities limit opportunities for education, training and engagement in formal employment, which further reinforces women’s socio-economic inequality.

Gender development and inequality indices

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has conducted a global review of gender budgeting efforts and released an online database toolkit of gender equality indicators. The project produced six regional country studies that identified 23 countries considered to have “prominent” gender budgeting efforts, an additional 37 countries with gender budgeting efforts that were of interest, and 30 countries with limited or other forms of gender budgeting (the list does not include all countries that have undertaken gender budgeting).

The project generated data for two time consistent versions of existing UNDP indices (1) the Gender Inequality Index—GII, which incorporates measures of reproductive health, empowerment, and labor market outcomes; and (2) the Gender Development Index—GDI which incorporates measures of life expectancy, education, and gross national income. Analyzing the trends in the evolution of the GII by the level of gender budgeting that a country has suggests that countries with prominent gender budgeting started with lower levels of inequality and have progressed to even lower levels. Countries with moderate gender budgeting efforts progressed at a faster rate than countries with limited or no gender budgeting in reducing gender inequality.

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Analyzing the trends in the GDI index suggest that countries with gender budgeting (prominent and otherwise) have been more successful in increasing equality between women and men, while equality in countries with limited or no gender budgeting has a decreasing trend since the late nineties.

Participation in firm ownership and management

Benchmarking female participation in firm ownership, management, and the workforce is important to achieving gender equality and empowerment of women. With the latest data, it is possible to estimate that, worldwide, the per cent of firms with majority female ownership is of 14.5; the per cent of firms with a female top manager is 18.6; and the per cent of firms with female participation in ownership is 34.7. The survey results show that there is still ample room for increasing women’s economic empowerment via fostering their participation as managers and as owners of businesses.


Women's participation in parliaments

Women are underrepresented in decision-making positions in parliament, although there is some evidence of recent improvement: there has been an increase from 13.9 percent in 2000 to 24.3 percent as of 1 January 2019 in the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments worldwide. However, gender parity in parliamentary representation is still far from being realized. Without representation at this level, it is difficult for women to influence policy. A strong and vibrant democracy is possible only when parliament is fully inclusive of the population it represents. Parliaments cannot consider themselves inclusive, however, until they can boast the full participation of women. This is not just about women's right to equality and their contribution to the conduct of public affairs, but also about using women's resources and potential to determine political and development priorities that benefit societies and the global community.

Notes: Women in parliaments are the percentage of parliamentary seats in a single or lower chamber held by women. Aggregation Method: Weighted average.       Link: Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (www.ipu.org).

Financial inclusion

There is a significant gender gap in account ownership, savings, credit, and payments behavior. In 2017, 65 percent of women worldwide had an account, compared to 72 per cent of men. In 2011, 46.8 per cent of women and 54.5 per cent of men had an account. This means that globally, even with overall increases in account ownership, a 7-percentage point gender gap persists over time. This gap points to the importance of continued efforts in strengthening financial inclusion to improve investment opportunities and risk management for women.

Note: Data represents the percentage of male or female aged 15 or above that have an account at a financial institution (time series,  ts).  Link: https://globalfindex.worldbank.org/.


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The International Monetary Fund’s Financial Access Survey (FAS) collects annual data on indicators tracking financial access—an important pillar of financial inclusion. As the importance of financial inclusion becomes increasingly evident, demand for more granular financial access data has also increased. A growing interest in ensuring equitable access to financial services for all has created a need for gender-disaggregated financial access statistics. In response, the FAS collaborated with national authorities to assess their capacity to extract these statistics directly from administrative sources. The newly available data suggest a financial access gender gap with wide variations between countries. On average, women hold 40 percent of deposit accounts and receive a similar proportion of outstanding loans. However, country-specific data also reveal progress made in narrowing this gap.

Additional resources


  • UN Women

Financing for Gender Equality:


Addis Ababa Action Plan on Transformative Financing for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment:



  • Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation



HLM2 Website:



  • International Labour Organization

Gender Statistics:


Women and Work Trends:


ILO Helpdesk for Business on International Labour Standards, Webpage on Discrimination and Equality:


Women's Entrepreneurship Development (WED) Programme:


Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB). A comprehensive business management training that supports female and male entrepreneurs in creating and growing their businesses: http://www.ilo.org/siyb


  • International Monetary Fund

Gender Budgeting and Gender Equality Indices:


Gender Site:


IMF-DFID research on Gender and Macroeconomics, Including on Gender Budgeting:


Financial Access Survey:



  • Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Social Institutions and Gender Index:


Gender Equality and Development:




UNCTAD Work Programme on Trade, Gender and Development:


UNCTAD Trade and Gender Toolbox (UNCTAD/DITC/2017/1):


Implementing gender-aware ex ante evaluations to maximize the benefits of trade reforms for women - UNCTAD Policy Brief No. 51 (UNCTAD/PRESS/PB/2016/7)




Institute of Statistics:



  • UN Stats

Gender Statistics:


Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) Initiative:



  • World Bank

Women, Business and the Law Project:


Gender Data Portal:


Global Financial Index: