Global Gender Inequalities – A Statistical Overview

Last Updated on February 18, 2021 by Karl Thompson

Gender inequality is an extremely important aspect of development. Even if we put aside the significant social justice issues associated with the historical power differences between men and women, when you have half the population that are disempowered with less access to education, employment and healthcare, that alone is enough to drastically skew the social development statistics downwards!

Hence there is an argument that promoting gender equality should be the primary development goal, simply because it’s the easiest way to have a positive knock on effect in every other area of social life.

Global Gender Inequalities in 2020

The United Nations notes that

The commitment to achieving gender equality remains unfulfilled:

  • In 2019, one in five young women aged 20 to 24 was married in childhood (down from one in four in 2004). In Sub-Saharan Africa, one in three young women was still married in childhood.
  • In 2020, almost 25% of MPs in national parliaments were women (up slightly from 22.3 per cent in 2015). Women hold 36 per cent of elected seats in local parliaments.
  • In 2019, 28 per cent of managerial positions in the world were occupied by women (up from 25 per cent in 2000).
  • Women are still less likely to work than men. They make up half of the world’s working-age population but only 39 per cent of the world’s workers.
  • Only 55% of married or in-union women aged 15 to 49 made their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • In 2019, 73 per cent of the laws and regulations needed to guarantee full and equal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights were in place (based on data from 75 countries).
  • At least 200 million girls and women have been subjected to female genital mutilation (data from 31 countries where the practice is concentrated). The harmful practice is becoming less common, but progress is not fast enough to meet the global target of its elimination by 2030.

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting women and girls harder than men:

  • Globally, women make up three quarters of medical doctors and nursing personnel.
  • Women already spend three times as many hours as men on unpaid care work at home. The closure of school and day-care centres has put an extra burden on women to provide home-learning for their children.
  • Reports from several countries suggest that domestic violence against women and children is also rising during the global lockdown.

Statistics on Global Gender Inequality

The World Economic Forum produces the Global Gender Gap Report, which in 2020 noted that none of us will see global gender equality in our life time as it will take almost 100 years to achieve global gender equality at current rates of progress!

It measures gender inequality by using 14 indicators in 4 categories:

  • Economic Participation and Opportunity
  • Educational attainment
  • Health and Survival
  • Political Empowerment

It reports similar global stats to the United Nations, but is more useful for finding out the country rankings by gender inequality. If you download the report and scroll to the back, you can even look at each individual country’s score card for each indicator.

Another ‘gender equality world ranking’ system is The Women Peace and Security Index. This is a bit more niche/ focused than the WEF report and measures gender inequality in countries by using 11 indicators in 3 categories:

  • Inclusion
  • Security
  • Justice

The world country rankings for both the above two monitoring tools are similar:

2019-2020Global Gender Gap ReportWomen Peace and Security Index
Top five countries for gender equalityIceland
Bottom five countries for gender equalityDRC
South Sudan

The countries with the highest ‘Peace and Security Scores’ for Women.

Discussion Questions

Explore the rankings above. (1) Are you surprised by any of the results. (2) Do you think any of these indicators are more valid/ important than others as measurements of gender equality?


The United Nations – Progress towards SDG Five – improving gender equality.

The World Economic Forums The Global Gender Gap Report

The Women Peace and Security Index – findings summarised by National Geographic

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NB the material below is from 2017 and is pending an update, which will be forthcoming! (You know the score, not enough time to update everything as often as you’d like!)

Gender Inequalities in Employment

For every dollar earned by men, women earn 70-90 cents.

Women are less likely to work than men – Globally in 2015 about three quarters of men and half of women participate in the labour force. Women’s labour force participation rates are the lowest in Northern Africa, Western Asia and Southern Asia (at 30 per cent or lower).

When women are employed, they are typically paid less and have less financial and social security than men. Women are more likely than men to be in vulnerable jobs — characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity and substandard working conditions — especially in Western Asia and Northern Africa. In Western Asia, Southern Asia and Northern Africa, women hold less than 10 per cent of top-level positions.

When all work – paid and unpaid – is considered, women work longer hours than men. Women in developing countries spend 7 hours and 9 minutes per day on paid and unpaid work, while men spend 6 hours and 16 minutes per day. In developed countries, women spend 6 hours 45 minutes per day on paid and unpaid work while men spend 6 hours and 12 minutes per day.

Gender Inequalities in Education

The past two decades have witnessed remarkable progress in participation in education. Enrollment of children in primary education is at present nearly universal. The gender gap has narrowed, and in some regions girls tend to perform better in school than boys and progress in a more timely manner.

However, the following gender disparities in education remain:

  • 31 million of an estimated 58 million children of primary school age are girls (more than 50% girls)
  • 87 per cent of young women compared to 92 per cent of young men have basic reading and writing skills. However, at older age, the gender gap in literacy shows marked disparities against women, two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women.
  • The proportion of women graduating in the fields of science (1 in 14, compared to 1 in 9 men graduates) and engineering (1 in 20, compared to 1 in 5 men graduates) remain low in poor and rich countries alike. Women are more likely to graduate in the fields related to education (1 in 6, compared to 1 in 10 men graduates), health and welfare (1 in 7, compared to 1 in 15 men graduates), and humanities and the arts (1 in 9, compared to 1 in 13 men graduates).
  • There is unequal access to universities especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. In these regions, only 67 and 76 girls per 100 boys, respectively, are enrolled in tertiary education. Completion rates also tend to be lower among women than men. Poverty is the main cause of unequal access to education, particularly for girls of secondary-school age.

Gender Inequalities in Health

Women in developing countries suffer from….

  • Poor Maternal Health (support during pregnancy) – As we saw in the topic on health and education, maternity services are often very underfunded, leading to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary female deaths as a result of pregnancy and child birth every year.
  • Lack of reproductive rights – Women also lack reproductive rights. They often do not have the power to decide whether to have children, when to have them and how many they should have. They are often prevented from making rational decisions about contraception and abortion. Men often make all of these decisions and women are strongly encouraged to see their status as being bound up with being a mother.

Gender Inequalities in the Experience of Overt Violence

Around the world, women are more likely to be…

  • Victims of Violence and Rape – Globally 1/3 women have experience domestic violence, only 53 countries have laws against marital rape.
  • Missing: More than 100 million women are missing from the world’s population – a result of discrimination against women and girls, including female infanticide.
  • At risk from FGM – An estimated 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting each year.
  • Girls are more likely to be forced into marriage: More than 60 million girls worldwide are forced into marriage before the age of 18. Almost half of women aged 20 to 24 in Southern Asia and two fifths in sub-Saharan Africa were married before age 18. The reason this matters is because in sub‐Saharan Africa, only 46 per cent of married women earned any cash labour income in the past 12 months, compared to 75 per cent of married men

Gender Inequalities in Politics

  • Between 1995 and 2014, the share of women in parliament, on a global level, increased from 11 per cent to 22 per cent — a gain of 73 per cent, but far short of gender parity.


Most of the above information is taken from the sources below…

The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics (United Nations)

The Global Gender Gap Report (Video link) (Rankings)


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