Mind the Gap - Bridging the Gender Gap in Developing Regions
According to conventional wisdom, health and education are important factors for economic and social development: they improve productivity and income distribution, and the poor gain the most. Nonetheless, in many regions of the world not all members of society receive these services equally. To a large extent, women are left out of health and education systems; as a consequence, they constitute an economically and socially disadvantaged group. Disproportionate poverty, low social status, and their reproductive role expose women to high health risks, resulting in needless and largely preventable suffering and death. A woman’s health and nutritional status is not only an individual welfare concern, but also a national one, because it has an impact on her children and her economic productivity. Similarly, women’s education still lags far behind men’s in most developing countries, with far- reaching adverse consequences for both the individual and national well being. Indeed, more schooling increases the incomes of males and females, but educating girls generates much larger social benefits. Why? Because women will use both the newly acquired knowledge and related extra income for the benefit of the family. This article analyzes the gender gaps within health and education in six regions of the developing world: Sub-Saharan Africa; South Asia; East and Southeast Asia; The Middle East and North Africa; Latin America and the Caribbean; Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In all of these regions, there is an unfinished agenda in terms of access and equity. Three substantial reasons support an active government interest in the field of women’s health and nutrition and justify public expenditure in gender-targeted educational policies: equity, economic development and social cohesion. On the one hand, investment in women’s health and nutrition promotes equality, widespread benefits for this generation and the next, and economic efficiency because many of the interventions that address women’s health problems are cost-effective. On the other hand, educating women brings about the potential benefit of educating the population. The failure to educate women can result in the loss of raised productivity, increased income, and improved quality of life. In general, the exclusion of women from health and education delivery can act as a severe constraint on the achievement of higher development levels. Hence, it is a high priority to invest more in these social services and to remodel their delivery systems.
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