Facts & Figures on Women, Poverty & Economics

Poverty & Employment

  • There is a direct link between increased female labour participation and growth: It is estimated that if women’s paid employment rates were raised to the same level as men’s, America’s GDP would be 9 percent higher; the euro-zone’s would be 13 percent higher, and Japan’s would be boosted by 16 percent. [1]
  • Women’s nominal wages are 17 percent lower than men’s.
  • In some regions, women provide 70 percent of agricultural labour, produce more than 90 percent of the food, and yet are nowhere represented in budget deliberations [3].
  • In Mexico, women in paid employment devote an additional 33 hours to domestic chores per week, while men’s weekly contribution six hours [4].
  • If the average distance to the moon is 394,400 km, South African women together walk the equivalent of a trip to the moon and back 16 times a day to supply their households with water [5].
  • In Arab states, only 28 percent of women participate in the workforce [6].
  • OECD Official Development Assistance (ODA) for gender equality has tripled in 2006 compared with 2002, going up from US$2.5 billion to US$7.2 billion. This has meant an increase in the proportion of total ODA from 6 to 8 percent.

Impact of the economic crisis on women

  • Women constitute around 60–80 percent of the export manufacturing workforce in the developing world, a sector the World Bank expects to shrink significantly during the economic crisis [7].
  • The global economic crisis is expected to plunge a further 22 million women into unemployment, which would lead to a female unemployment rate of 7.4 percent (versus 7 percent of male unemployment) [8].
  • Women are concentrated in insecure jobs in the informal sector with low income and few rights; they tend to have few skills and only basic education. They are the first to be fired.
  • The global vulnerable employment rate is expected to range between 50.5–54.7 percent for women, compared to a range of 47.2–51.8 percent for men [9].
  • 80 percent of women workers are considered to be in vulnerable employment in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
  • 700,000 clothing and textile workers in India lost their jobs in 2008 [10].
  • More than half of the 40,000 jobs lost in the Philippines come from export processing zones, where 80 percent of workers are women [11].
  • Sri Lanka and Cambodia have each lost 30,000 mostly female garment industry jobs to date — in both countries, the garment industry accounts for at least half of export earnings [12].
  • Nicaragua’s export processing zone, where female labour is prevalent, lost 16,000 jobs in 2008 [13].
  • Growth collapses have a direct impact on development. For instance, in times of crises parents are likely to take their children, often girls, out of school and send them to work. Or they might be forced to feed their children less nutritious food or be unable to take them to the doctor when they are ill.
  • In Sri Lanka, food took up to a quarter of migrant women workers’ wages in 2008, so women since then have reduced their meals from three to two times a day and/or reduced the quality of their diet in response to declining wages and dramatic increases in the costs of basic necessities.
  • Female garment workers on abysmal wages in Bangladesh are still reeling from last year’s food crisis — and the situation can only worsen as the effects of the economic crisis kick in later this year.


First the company reduced our pay, then we lost our jobs. They have refused to pay us severance or other benefits. Since I lost my job sometimes we eat only once or twice a day. I don’t know what to do, we are just camping in front of the factory gates, waiting for the company to pay us. — Ms. Kry Chamnan, Cambodia [13]

About 1,700 people used to work here and all are unemployed now. Many women were pregnant, many are ill and are left with nothing. It’s been three months since the factory closed and we haven’t been paid anything, no severance, no social fund payments. — Ana Ruth Cerna, El Salvador [13]

My factory retrenched 150 workers including me. I’m 35 years of age and I’m too old to join another factory. I’m in deep trouble, thinking about how to live with my two children. — Lalitha, Sri Lanka [13]

Women Migrant Workers

  • Migration is crucial to development: last year, migrants worldwide sent US$305 billion home to developing countries — three times the volume of aid [14]. Remittances from migrant workers are an important source of national income in countries like the Philippines and Bangladesh, and in Central America.
  • Women constitute 50 percent or more of migrant workers in Asia and Latin America.
  • While women increasingly migrate alone or as the primary income earners, female international migration is often under-reported.
  • In Cambodia, more than 90 percent of garment workers are women and almost all of them are migrants from rural provinces who support their families back home [15].
  • Women who have migrated to cities in their own country and abroad to support themselves and their families are being hit hard by the economic crisis. Female wages are an important source of income for families who depend on their remittances to put food on the table and relatives through education.


I can’t support my family back home any more. We’ve had to reduce our expenses on food, medicine, and other necessities. I often feel dizzy and have stomach pains through feeling hungry. — Mrs. Chin SreyPov, Cambodia [13]

Before the factory closure, we had two people working to support two families — now there is only one person working to support two families. My parents and my son staying at home back in Sichuan need our support. At home in the village, the cost of living is not low at all, especially the medical expenses. — Fan, China [13]

Since my sister was made redundant I am having trouble meeting my rent and I don’t know if I can afford to support my younger sister studying in Ha Noi. If things get worse I will return to Thanh Hoa province. I still won’t have any money but at least there’s food. — Binh, Ha Noi, Viet Nam [13]

Gender-Responsive Budgeting (GRB)

  • Gender-responsive budgeting initiatives at the local level can have a direct, positive impact. In Rosario, Argentina, the number of gender equality projects in the participatory budget process increased from 14 in 2007, representing a budget of 742,448 Argentine pesos, to 24 in 2008, with a total budget of more than 3 million Argentine pesos.
  • In Morocco for three consecutive years starting 2005, spending departments have prepared a gender report which is annexed to the budget. This report includes a gender budget analysis of their respective budgets. In 2007, 19 spending departments participated in this exercise compared with three in 2004.
  • In Senegal, the National Women’s Machinery formulated the National Strategy for Equity and Gender Equality (NSEGE) including costed targets. The 2008 budget included an allocation of US$450,000 towards the implementation of this strategy.


  1. Annual Report of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), 2007.
  2. World Economic Forum, ‘Women’s Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap’, 2005
  3. UNICEF, ‘Women and Children: The Double Dividend of Gender Equality’, 2007.
  4. UNDP, ‘Water and Human Development Report’, 2006.
  5. UNIFEM, ‘Progress of Arab Women; Jordanian News Digest’, 26 Feb 2007.
  6. World Bank, ‘World Bank calls for expanding economic opportunities for women as global economic crisis continues’, press release 29 January 2009.
  7. ILO, ‘Global Employment Trends for Women’, 2009.
  8. ILO, ‘Global Employment Trends for Women’, 2009.
  9. The Clothesource Digest of Sourcing Intelligence 2008, edition 12, Clothesource Limited: Oxfordshire.
  10. J. Aning and J. Andrade, ‘Women marchers call for jobs’, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 9 March 2009.
  11. World Bank ‘Swimming against the tide: how developing countries are coping with the global crisis’, Background paper prepared by World Bank staff, 13–14 March 2009.
  12. Oxfam International Discussion Paper, ‘Paying the Price for the Economic Crisis’, 2009.
  13. World Bank, ‘Women in 33 countries highly vulnerable to financial crisis effects — World Bank estimates increase in infant mortality, less girl education and reduced earnings’, press release 6 March 2009.
  14. Interview with Kong Atith, President of Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, February 2009.