Journal Issue

Women in the Workplace in Developing Countries

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
January 1992
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Although more women are now entering formal job markets, they face major social and economic hurdles, posing challenges for policymakers

In spite of the increasing public attention to the importance of women in the economies of the developing world, progress toward increasing their participation in the job market has been less than satisfactory. Women work. In most cases, they work longer hours than men. Studies have shown, for example, that in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, women average 12-13 hours more a week than men. Moreover, an increasing number of women now function as heads of households in the developing world, as ill-health, death, migration, and other disruptive factors have separated males from their families or made them unable to take on the task of running the household. But much of the work done by women is not captured by formal employment statistics, since it is in the household or in family run agricultural or other subsistence activities.

Recent international estimates, prepared by the Statistical Office of the United Nations Secretariat from International Labour Office data (see box), indicate that the proportion of economically active women rose between 1970 and 1990 in most parts of the world except Sub-Saharan Africa. But gaps between women and men’s economic participation in the developing world remain wide, reflecting, among other things, fewer educational opportunities and lingering social restrictions.

Roughly 830 million women are economically active today. About 70 percent of them live in developing countries. The accompanying tables and charts reflect the state of women in the workplace in the developing world today.

More than three quarters of the world’s women live in the developing world

Regional shares (In percent)

Seventy percent of economically active women live in developing countries, half of them in Asia

Regional shares (In percent)

But three out of tour women over 25 years in Asia and Alrica are illiterate

Note: Based on total population of women aged 25 years and over in each region.

1/ Includes Somalia and Mauritania; excludes Cyprus, Israel and Turkey.

2/ Includes Sudan; excludes South Africa.

Young women in rural areas face high barriers of illiteracy

Illiterate women aged 15-24,1980 (Irt percent)

Note: Average basied on a limiled number at countries in, each region for census Years around 1980

Much fewer girls than boys are enrolled in secondary schools

Girls enrolled per 100 boys, 1985

As a result, fewer women are economically active than men

Average percentage aged 15 and over

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