Good news: Women are closing the education gap with men. Bad news: A global gender equality study reported that equal access to education does not necessarily mean equal access to quality jobs and government representation. It turns out gender inequality persists despite gains in education because key gender gap remains.
In analysing decades of data from more than 150 countries and measuring gender inequality in three categories—capability, livelihood, and agency—the study found that women have reached 91 percent of the education that men have. However, these women only have 70 percent of employment rate and 25 percent of political representation.
This finding challenges the widespread notion that education translates to equal access to high quality jobs with equal pay and equal participation in socio-political affairs.
But why education has failed to promote gender equality or bring equal pay and equal political representation? Stephanie Seguino, study author and an economist at University of Vermont, said that gender norms and male hierarchies that persisted throughout centuries are the key reasons. The belief that markets will naturally promote gender equality fails to account for these deep-seated social and cultural predispositions.
Education alone is not enough to solve this problem according to Seguino. She suggested the need for concrete policy tools that would break down gender barriers that markets alone are not able to eliminate.
The gender equality study also provided two more specific reasons why women still experience lower employment rate and unequal pay. These reasons are greater exclusion from high-paying jobs and a disproportionate amount of unpaid household work that includes care for children and aging parents.
Seguino stressed the fact that without equal access to quality work, women become vulnerable and disempowered. Their lower job status also perpetuates the stereotype that men are breadwinners of society.
In the case of political representation, women remain underrepresented at 25 percent although this representation for women has increased from 14 percent in 1990 according to the study. Legislative bodies in some nations such as Haiti and Qatar still have no female members.
Governments without women officials are more likely to spend taxpayer money in ways that disproportionately benefit men or at least ignore the extra burdens on women according to the gender equality study of Seguino. In addition, governments need women to ensure their life conditions and needs are reflected in policy and funding decisions.
To specifically resolve issues with employment and income, Seguino stressed the need for policy changes that would level the playing field by creating a community that would allow women to freely enjoy employment or better promote their access to work. Examples of suggested policies are paid parental leave and affordable daycare, diverse hiring practices, public transportation access, and rural health clinics, among others.
Increasing political representation of women might be possible by employing gender quota. The gender equality study cited Canada as an example wherein the implementation of gender quota lead to an overnight increase in women representation by 50 percent.
The same gender quota is also applicable in the business community. Rwanda has adopted this policy and Norway now requires equitable representation of women on corporate boards.
Further details of the study of Seguino are in the article “Global Trends in Gender Equality” published in April 2016 in the Journal of African Development.