Emerging Focus: Narrowing Gender Gaps Essential to Boost Economic Growth in Emerging Market Economies

Gender inequality in all aspects of life, from healthcare and education to employment and even politics, impacts girls and women in most emerging market economies (EMEs). Females in EMEs accounted for 30.0% of the global population and 60.0% of the global female population in 2012. Most governments realise the importance of narrowing this inequality to reduce the socio-economic costs of gender gaps and boost economic growth while women in these countries possess huge consumer market potential.

Key Points

The social, economic and political status of women in most EMEs is impacted at all stages of life – from a general preference for a male child before birth, discrimination in health and education through childhood and lack of job opportunities in adulthood. Physical and sexual violence prevails to a large extent posing a threat to the emotional and physical well-being of women;

  • There are, however, some EMEs where gender gaps are narrower than some advanced economies. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index 2012, the Philippines ranked 8th out of 135 countries – the best ranking amongst EMEs followed by South Africa (16th), Kazakhstan (31st), Argentina (32nd) and Poland (53rd). These five countries ranked ahead of France (57th) in 2012;
  • On the other hand, EMEs in the Middle East and Africa had the worst gender inequality in the world thanks to highly patriarchal societies where women are expected to take on traditional roles and look after their families. According to WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index 2012, Saudi Arabia ranked 131st out of 135 countries – the worst gender inequality in EMEs followed by Morocco (129th) and Egypt (126th);
  • Bridging gender gaps can help boost economic growth. According to the WEF, restrictions on female participation in the workforce can reduce GDP growth by up to 2.0% per year.  In 2012, although almost 50.0% of the working age (15-64) population in EMEs were women, the female employment rate averaged 50.6% of working age female population suggesting a huge potential to improve productivity;
  • Women in EMEs represent a significant consumer market potential for marketers across industries. Even though many them are not part of the workforce, they largely influence consumption decisions in households. In addition, with gender gaps closing in health and education, women are attempting to abandon traditional roles and join the workforce impacting their purchasing power and spending habits.


  • By 2020, the total female population in EMEs is forecast to reach 2.2 billion, up from 2.0 billion in 2012. Thanks to better education and government and non-governmental initiatives, opportunities for women are set to rise and the female employment rate is forecast to reach 55.0% of the working age (15-64) female population in 2020, from 50.6% in 2012. This will significantly boost economic output and labour productivity in these economies;
  • Education is one the key factors that will help bridge gender gaps in most EMEs. It not only helps females acquire the knowledge and skills to earn a livelihood but also unlocks their potential for better healthcare and wider human rights. This will benefit the economy by making the most of the entire skilled workforce and has a direct impact upon overall economic performance;
  • Women in these markets will become an important consumer segment and impact consumer spending patters. Between 2013 and 2020, the average female annual disposable income per capita in EMEs is forecast to rise by 34.4% (fixed US$ constant terms). During this period, India will experience the largest expansion in this indicator within EMEs, rising by 70.8% in real terms, followed by China (61.9%), Indonesia (53.6%) and Russia (53.5%).