Data | Despite development, social norms prevent women from entering the labor market in South Asia

Social norms and attitude towards gender in South Asia are strongly linked to the low participation of women in economic activities

Social norms and attitude towards gender in South Asia are strongly linked to the low participation of women in economic activities

Despite decades of rapid economic growth, rising education and declining fertility, women in South Asia continue to be disadvantaged in accessing economic opportunities. South Asia’s female labor force participation rate (FLFP) is far below that of all other regions of the world except West Asia and North Africa. Education, a key determinant of FLFP, also does not explain low participation, as female gross enrollment in secondary schools has steadily increased in South Asia. Total fertility rate also declined in most South Asian countries, but this did not lead to an increase in FLFP. Thus, a World Bank document concludes that social norms and attitudes towards gender in South Asia are strongly linked to the low participation of women in economic activities.

Fall behind

The graph shows the female labor force participation rate (FLFP) in the regions of the world. South Asia lags behind all other regions of the world except the Middle East and North Africa. In 2019, only 23.6% of women in South Asia were in the labor force, compared to around 50-60% in other regions

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Registration rate

The graph shows girls’ secondary school enrollment rates in all regions of the world. In 2020, enrollment rates in South Asia have improved significantly and moved closer to developing regions. However, this improvement did not lead to an increase in FLFP

Falling fertility levels

The graph shows the fertility rate (the number of children an average woman has in her lifetime) in all regions. In South Asia, with the exception of Afghanistan and Pakistan, all countries recorded a significant reduction in the fertility rate. This indicates that the decline in the fertility rate has also not impacted FLFP trends.

Social Norms

The graph shows the results of a global survey that measured personal beliefs (blue) and social expectations (red) about gender equality. South Asian responses to the statement “A woman’s most important role is to care for her home and her children” are among the most conservative, and the gap between personal beliefs and social expectations is also narrow.

Source: World Bank Office of the Chief Economist for South Asia

Click on here to access the research paper

Read also: A step back in gender equality

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