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Yash Tiwari
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The worldwide gender employment gap that leaves women more likely to work in low-paid jobs and often without the benefits accorded to men—such as genuine pay equity, maternity leave, or paid sick leave—is the product of a wide range of mitigating factors, including politics, culture, societal norms, and family laws. Because of various barriers (including lack of education), women often have less access to the paid labor market. These barriers exist at several levels: in some countries, some laws or traditions severely limit women’s autonomy, whether it is a matter of physical restrictions (only men can drive), cultural norms (women don’t work outside the house), or hiring practices (companies hire men because they are more assertive).

There are many reasons why we see such large differences between the labor force participation rates of men and women, a big one being the role of choice. The labor force participation rate is used to measure the percentage of people either working or actively looking for employment. When making this measurement, you’re excluding people who may be able to work but choose not to. In many places, especially in the West, where there is no cultural pressure on women to stay home full-time.

According to a report from the World Economic Forum, if the gap between rates of male and female participation in the global economy is closed, women would add about $28 trillion to annual GDP output worldwide by 2025. If that growth were distributed equally, it would be worth almost $10 trillion to women alone—about $650,000 per woman. This means that increasing women’s employment translates into increased economic security for an entire family, but also includes the social and political empowerment of an individual woman.

Unemployment is a significant risk factor for poverty. Not only does it reduce women’s access to purchasing power, but also, because less income is available, their food security and nutrition are compromised. According to UNDP (2005), the severity of food insecurity has an impact on the level of education that women receive. In general, higher prevalence rates were found in rural areas than in urban areas, and among widowed and divorced/separated/never-married women. Given the positive link between women’s employment and higher levels of human development, reducing gender inequality at work is an important component of supporting women’s agency and broader efforts to promote human development. In particular, promoting women’s employment contributes to the well-being of children.