Gender Inequality: Realities, Reasons, and What We Can Do About It

If you have ever interacted with a woman, I’m sure you would have noticed that women can be every bit as opinionated, capable, creative, and stubborn as a man. Sometimes when you’re speaking with people, it’s difficult to imagine that among the great diversity of human individuals, there can be that much of a divide between men and women. You can start to imagine that, maybe, this difference doesn’t exist at all. Or if it does, it has a small impact on our lives. After all, we’re all individuals who make free choices, aren’t we?

How does gender fit into development? Image © Pexels

On average, women earn less than men (Lopez-Claros & Zahidi, 2005). But, some would argue, isn’t that just the result of individual choices? Men simply choose to work longer hours, pursue promotions, and prefer to take less time out for family responsibilities. A few men are engaged in gender-based violence because they choose to be bad. In general, women simply decide to spend more time caring for family and we see fewer of them in top positions because they are less interested in moving up the career ladder. Right?

As with all things, it’s complicated. Especially when we’re comparing gender inequality between different countries, societies, and cultural contexts.


How Do We Measure Gender Inequality?

When we discuss “gender inequality,” we can use UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index (GII), which uses several indicators to measure gender inequality. This evidence-based approach is meant to aggregate data to help policymakers, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders identify issues and find solutions:

  • Reproductive health: Measures the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) and the Adolescent Fertility Rate (AFR).
  • Empowerment: Measures the share of parliamentary seats held by each sex and attainment of secondary education and above.
  • Labor market participation: Measures women’s participation in the workforce, which accounts for paid work, unpaid work, and actively looking for work.

Now, we’re all wondering: how do countries stack up? The full report is available online here and I highly recommend reading it yourself if you’re interested in the methodology or want more of the nuance. In brief, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that Scandinavian countries dominate the top positions. Canada slid in as number 8 while the U.S. is ranked as number 28. India is number 95 out of 129 countries.

But these are just numbers…

Gender plays a subtle but persistent role in shaping our social world. Image © Pexels

Working for a social enterprise in India, we witness the effect of gender inequality every day. Usually, it’s subtle but it’s always persistent. The result and reason for gender inequality can be seen in the fact that fewer women apply for jobs, work full-time, and get promoted. In Rajasthan, 5 million women have full-time employment, compared to the 15 million men who have formal employment. 64.88% of women (21 million) in Rajasthan are not formally employed (2011 Census).


Why Are Women Not Gaining and Keeping Formal Employment?

Social pressure: Women are often responsible for organizing family events such as funerals, weddings, and managing daily household tasks. In Jaipur, office work weeks are typically 6 days a week, 8 hours a day, plus taking time out for the commute. Women find it difficult to balance their various commitments and often decide to leave full-time employment due to the rigid schedule. Additionally, companies are wary of hiring single women because when they get married, typically they will move to their husband’s location and all the investment the company has put into her training will be lost (Pearson, 2007).


  • Offering flexible working hours and part-time options for all employees so both men and women can spend more time taking care of their family obligations (Chopra, 2015).
  • Encouraging paternity leave for men and women (preferably paid), once again to more fairly balance parenting responsibilities and to encourage companies to hire women even though they are in their child-bearing years (Lopez-Claros & Zahidi, 2005).


Lower rates of education and literacy: According to the 2011 census, 83% of men in Rajasthan are literate compared to 56% of women who are literate.


  • Raising awareness of the importance of educating girls and creating opportunities (see the above point) for women to use the education they acquire. If women never have a chance to use their education to earn money, fewer women will pursue education.
  • Reducing the number of girls who are married at a young age. About 85% of girls are married before the legal age and 50% of girls are mothers by the age of 19 (2011 Census). This means family planning methods are also important for women to have access to (Cleland et al., 2006).


How can women better contribute to the national economy? Image © Pexels

Less mobility: Concerns, both real and perceived, mean that many women prefer not to move to different locations or travel for work. In India, being able to drive a motorbike or scooter is crucial for mobility, but many women never learn.


  • Improving safety for women is important, especially increasing her ability to report crimes and pursue justice in court (Merry, 2001).
  • Shifting cultural conversations about young women living alone and travelling by themselves can open more opportunities for women.


Fewer women managers and CEOs: Gender divides persist in corporate work environments unintentionally. Men often eat with men, women chat more with women, and working teams seem to spontaneously divide across gender lines. As most managers are men, subordinates who spend more time with those managers and reflect similar traits, tend to get more high-profile assignments and are in line for promotions when the time comes (Lopez-Claros & Zahidi, 2005).


  • Having mentorship programs for women and intentionally involving them in high-profile projects.
  • Encouraging career growth so women have a stronger incentive to stay at the company even after marriage or childbirth. Flexible work schedules will also help with this.


Awareness of gender and conscious efforts to keep women involved in the company can go a long way. Image © Frontier Markets

Perhaps you are reading this list and finding many of the challenges familiar. Perhaps you recognize them in your own country. You would be right. We’re all on the same spectrum. Some countries do better than others and some companies to do better than others. The point is that it’s possible to change! However, we need to first recognize the problem before we can solve it.


Works Cited:

  • 2011 Census (2019). “Alwar District Population Census 2011-2019, Rajasthan Literacy Sex Ratio and Density.” [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Jun. 2019].
  • Chopra, D. (2015). “Balancing Paid Work and Unpaid Care Work to Achieve Women’s Economic Empowerment.”
  • Cleland, J., Bernstein, S., Ezeh, A., Faundes, A., Glasier, A. and Innis, J. (2006). Family planning: the unfinished agenda. The Lancet, 368(9549), pp.1810-1827.
  • Equal Measures 2030 (2019). SDG Gender Index. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Jun. 2019].
  • Merry, S.E. (2001). “Women, Violence and the Human Rights System.” Women, Gender, and Human Rights: A Global Perspective. Ed. M. Agosin. Pp. 83-98. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  • Lopez-Claros, A. and Zahidi, S., 2005. “Women’s Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap.” Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum, 2005.
  • Pearson, R. (2007). “Reassessing Paid Work and Women’s Empowerment: Lessons from the Global Economy.” Feminisms in Development: Contradictions, Contestations and Challenges. Pp. 201-213. London: Zed Books.
  • Prata, N., Fraser, A., Huchko, et al. (2017). “Women’s Empowerment and Family Planning: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Biosocial Science49(6), pp. 713–743.
  • Sharma, B.R. and Gupta, M. (2004). “Gender-Based Violence in India: A Never-Ending Phenomenon.” Journal of International Women’s Studies6(1), pp. 114-123.
  • Sharma, P. and Varma, S.K. (2008). “Women Empowerment through Entrepreneurial Activities of Self-Help Groups.” Indian Research Journal of Extension Education8(1), pp. 46-51.
  • UNDP (2019). Gender Inequality Index (GII): Human Development Reports. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Jun. 2019].

Molly has extensive experience in fundraising, project management and NGO communications, acquired in West Africa and East Asia. During her three years of Peace Corps service, Molly managed development projects funded by USAID, Rotary International, and private donors to set up libraries and deliver malaria and HIV/AIDS awareness raising campaigns in rural Burkina Faso. More recently, Molly spent three years in China where she developed project proposals and managed donor reporting for Save the Children’s China Program in the areas of disaster risk reduction and inclusive education. Molly will complete her MSc degree at the University of London's School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) in 2019. Currently, she is working with Frontier Markets in Jaipur, India.

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