Woman engineer at work: The IMF's research shows that countries can reap benefits from closing gender gaps (photo: nimis69/iStock by Getty Images)

By IMFBlog

November 22, 2017

Versions in  عربي (Arabic),  中文(Chinese); Español (Spanish);  Français (French); 日本語 (Japanese);  Русский (Russian)

Women count. They contribute to society in every way, including as a crucial part of their countries’ economic growth and prosperity.

Not long ago, few people would have expected the International Monetary Fund to be engaged in work on gender inequality. We began by incorporating gender analysis and policy advice in our annual assessments of countries’ economies. Today, with some 30 gender consultations completed, and a dozen more planned, we have made a dent. But there is still a long way to go.

Gender inequality persists. About 90 percent of countries have at least one legal barrier to women owning property, receiving an inheritance, and opening a bank account. In middle-income countries, less than 53 percent of women have bank accounts. Gender gaps in income levels and labor force participation persist. Raising female labor force participation rates to male levels could boost gross domestic product by five percent in the US, nine percent in Japan, and 27 percent in India.

The IMF’s research shows that countries can reap benefits from closing gender gaps. It boosts economic growth, reduces income inequality, and strengthens economic resilience.

Here are the five ways the IMF is helping countries assess and adapt their policies.

  1. Female labor force participation: Strengthening analysis and policy advice. IMF supported programs with Egypt and Jordan include provisions to improve public transport safety for women, and provide more child care options to help women seek work. In Germany, the IMF recommended the expansion of full-time childcare services and after-school programs.
  1. Financial inclusion: Data collection on access to and use of financial services. A pilot survey in 28 countries found that women represent only two-fifths of total bank account holders and borrowers, and that documents required by banks may be a barrier to financial access for women. IMF research shows that widening access to finance, for both men and women, can boost economic growth by two to three percent.
  1. Gender budgeting : Analyzing the fiscal and budgetary impact. The IMF has examined, both globally and in the G7, how fiscal policies can promote gender equality and women’s development, and advised how governments can then integrate these ideas into the laws, regulations, and practices governing the budget. Morocco and Afghanistan prioritized budgetary spending in areas where there were specific targets to improve women’s health care and opportunities for education and paid employment.
  1. Legal barriers: Study and identify the impact of discriminatory laws. An IMF study found that while economic development in the Latin America and Caribbean region has contributed to the increase in labor force participation rates, there were other factors also at play, including equal legal rights for women and men. In another study, the IMF noted that in Namibia female labor force participation rose when the country strengthened women’s legal rights, including the right to sign contracts and open a bank account.
  1. Research and analysis: Conduct further research and publish new studies. An IMF paper on women's leadership in finance found that a greater share of women on bank and banking supervision boards could be associated with greater bank stability. Banks with a higher share of women were associated with higher capital buffers and lower non-performing loan ratios. Another recent IMF paper on the Western Balkans found that women’s participation in the labor force could increase through improvements in the education system, more balanced family leave policies, greater availability of childcare, and lower immigration of male population.

For further reading, see Gender and the IMF.