Women at Work: A Key Agenda for Business Environment Reform

The range of labour force participation in DFID partner countries is huge:  from 18% in West Bank and Gaza to 86% in Rwanda (see table of World Bank quoted ILO data).    This ratio really matters because it reflects a lack of livelihoods and economic empowerment for millions of women, exacerbating the problem of disproportionately high numbers of women and children in poverty.   It may be debated exactly what proportion of the world’s poor are women, but but few would argue that they do not form the majority.

The number of women excluded from the labour market in some countries is sufficient to have a significant macro economic impact:  if India were to increase its labour force participation rate for women (27%), to match that of men (79%), this would increase the labour force by 50%.  This could boost GDP per capita by a very significant amount.

Increasing female labour force participation in countries where it is low should be a very high priority for Business Environment Reform and complementary measures.  This is particularly important in South Asia, which has a female labour force participation rate which is less than half of that in Sub Saharan Africa; and a number of Middle Eastern countries.  Whilst it is true that there are many complicated cultural and other reasons which contribute to the inequality of labour force participation between men and women, measures should be identified and implemented to move in the direction of greater equality and participation.  This will not just benefit women, but the country as a whole.

Country Name 2016
Rwanda 86.3
Mozambique 82.3
Uganda 82.3
Malawi 81.2
Nepal 79.7
Zimbabwe 77.9
Ethiopia 77.1
Ghana 75.6
Tanzania 74.0
Congo, Dem. Rep. 70.5
Zambia 69.9
Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding high income) 62.8
Kenya 62.3
Tajikistan 59.5
Ukraine 52.2
Nigeria 48.5
South Africa 46.3
Bangladesh 43.2
Somalia 33.3
South Asia 29.1
India 26.9
Yemen, Rep. 26.0
Pakistan 24.6
Sudan 24.3
Afghanistan 19.2
West Bank and Gaza 18.1