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A Developing Country Perspective?

By Chandr van der Merwe



The common occurrence of a lack of gender equality in todays developing world prevents growth of individuals and holds back economic development. For the sake of the argument, gender equality in less developed countries goes hand in hand with the empowerment of women. In general, women bear almost all responsibility in providing for the basic needs of the family. Among others, they carry the primary responsibility for child rearing. Of course, the resources available to women to bring to this task particularly health, education, earning opportunities, rights, and political participation will determine whether the cycle of transmission of deficiency from generation to generation will be broken (Morrison et al., 2007:4). The mission statement of The Hunger Project, a global non-profit, strategic organization committed to the sustainable end of world hunger in Africa, South Asia and Latin America, concludes that: When women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits (Empowering Women as Key Change Agents, 2009). Thus, the means to obtain economic development at a sustainable rate is to improve the role of women to the same level as the rest of society. For example, children whose mothers are equally responsible as fathers in making household decisions seem to be more likely to receive proper nourishment, education, and health care services (Lofstrom, 2001:8). In general, mothers dedicate the biggest part of their lives to their children, noted by the instinctive habit of motherhood where, on the brink of starvation, mothers will deny themselves their last meal to ensure that their children is fed. This may result into a long-term downward spiral towards malnutrition if her conditions are already miserable. These facts create an idea of how severe the role of women is for future generations. Consequently, a factor that is most often denied by developing societies is the level of life-quality of women, which enables them to create a beneficial environment in order to improve the well-being of offspring so that the offspring can go on to survive and contribute to future economic growth.

The main goal of the essay is to explain how the promotion of gender equality will accelerate the growth of individuals and economic development in less developed countries. In order to add significance to the analysis, the essay is structured as follows: First, the origin of the gender gap is investigated to determine why it exists in the first place. Second, ways in which the gender gap can cause economic stagnation will be explained. At last a conclusion will be made based on the existence of an already implemented policy for women empowerment.


The origination of gender inequality:

The prerequisite for explaining how the promotion of gender equality will accelerate the growth of individuals and economic development in less developed countries, is first to investigate the source of the problem. What caused the gender gap to exist in the first place? The most common and obvious explanation for differences between men and women could be a consequence of norms, traditions, family perceptions, discrimination, structures and legislation. This is surprisingly not entirely correct. Two important key factors that explain the existence of gender inequality in developing countries are life expectancy and educational investment. According to the results of research conducted by Kalemli-Ozcan, et al. (2000:12) and Soares (2005:549), there exists an intimate relationship between life expectancy and educational investment. Their studies conclude that, if a countrys life expectancy is improved, it will serve as an incentive to invest in human capital and in turn contribute to economic growth. Of course, an investment that provides a certain amount of dividends every year, will obviously be more valuable if the stream of dividend payments last longer.

Lucas (2005) studied several countries that underwent malaria eradication and found that children born after malaria eradication are more educated than those born before. Women are more likely to be directly affected by maternal mortality, because complications from pregnancy and childbirth can result in subsequent disability or illness such as fistulae. Reductions in maternal mortality could be associated with higher or lower incidence of these health issues. Consider a unitary household consisting of a woman and man who make two decisions, whether to have a child, and how much schooling to give their child. The decisions depend, in part, on the risk of maternal mortality. For the fertility decision, the risk of maternal mortality is a cost of childbearing and also affects the utility derived from a daughter. For the schooling decision, a daughters maternal mortality risk will affect her returns to schooling.

On the other hand, childrens education can be promoted when their mother is less likely to die in childbirth. A decline in maternal mortality will have a positive effect on girls education because expectations about the girls future maternal mortality risk are revised, and the mother will also be at lower risk of dying in childbirth (Miguel & Kremer, 2004:192).

By providing a country with better health institutes, maternal mortality will decrease, life expectancy will increase, society will be more willing to invest in education and as a result of all these factors, the gender gap will decline (Miguel & Kremer, 2004:196).


In what ways are negative growth caused by the gender gap?

According to Lofstrom (2001:10), womens participation in the labour market is extremely beneficial for complete resource utility. Also, because women mostly bear the responsibility of children and household necessities, they are likely to have a greater propensity to save and incentive to consume than that of men, which contribute to economic prosperity. The argument is supported by his empirical studies on global level of the relationship between gender equality and economic growth. Thus, his findings are based on the experience of both developed and developing countries. Economic stagnation in developing countries is the result of limiting womens access to education, a source of important information (Klasen, 2004:350). Knowledge is power and therefore a crucial means for empowering ones self and improving ones quality of life. Womens long history of experiencing an absence in important information prevented them from acknowledging harmful consequences of their actions, causing health drawbacks and low life expectancies. They are unable to employ themselves, because they do not consist of the basic skills needed to perform tasks and therefore serve no contribution to the economy. They are unable to nurse themselves and their children when they are unhealthy and are more vulnerable to contagious diseases, resulting into national outbreaks. This is why most developing countries experience high unemployment rates and mortality rates, low life expectancy, as well as the counter-effect of both high fertility rates and under-5 mortality rates.

Another reason how negative growth is caused by the gender gap, is the differences in social capital between men and women (Stotsky, 2006:29). Social capital comprehends an individuals social and political participation outside the family or household setup. In countries where women are restricted from joining the labour force or where men completely dominate public life, the gender gap usually is extremely wide. In a study conducted by Dollar, Fisman & Gatti (2001:426), they confirm that men tend to be more corrupted than women, which directly affects growth. Since women are more likely to be suppressed by men, corruption seems to be very high in developing countries. There is a considerable risk that institutions will function less effectively which can also cause investments to be fewer due to the high risks it burdens.



It is therefore evident that greater equality between women and men is a highly significant factor in pursuit of change in developing countries. The analysis found that, by providing a country with better health institutes, maternal mortality will decrease, life expectancy will increase, society will be more willing to invest in education and consequently, the gender gap will decline.

Gender equality is a legitimate policy goal of itself, as evidenced by the existence of third Millennium Development Goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women (Morrison et al., 2007:13). Gender equality is also desirable from an efficiency perspective: increases in opportunities for women, like access to education and better health institutes, lead to improvements in human development outcomes, poverty reduction through more employment and social and political participation, and potentially accelerated rates of economic growth.




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Morrison, A., Raju, D. & Sinha, N. The World Bank. 2007. Gender equality, poverty and economic growth. Policy Research Working Paper no. 4349, 1 September. Klasen, S. 2002. Low schooling for Girls, Slower Growth for All? Cross-Country Evidence on the Effect of Gender Inequality in Education on Economic Development. World Bank Review, 16(3):345373.



Stotsky, J.G. 2006. Gender and Its Relevance to Macroeconomic Policy: A survey. IMF Working Paper no. 233, 1 June.


Dollar, D., Fisman, R. & Gatti, R. 2001. Are Women Really the Fairer Sex? Corruption and Women in Government. Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization, 46(4):423429


Kalemli-Ozcan, Sebnem, Ryder, H.E. & Weil, D.N. 2000. Mortality Decline, Human Capital Investment, and Economic Growth. Journal of Development Economics, 62(1):123.


Soares, R.R. 2005. Mortality Reductions, Educational Attainment and Fertility Choice. American Economic Review, 95(2):580601.


Edward, M. & Kremer, M. 2004. Worms: Identifying Impacts on Education and Health in the Presence of Treatment Externalities. Econometrica, 72(1):159217.


Lucas, A.M. 2005. Economic Effects of Malaria Eradication: Evidence from the Malarial Periphery. Mimeo, Brown University.