Emerging Markets’ Feminine Future

LONDON – According to the United Nations, 70% of women worldwide experience violence in their lifetime. The World Bank adds that women aged 15-44 are more likely to experience rape or domestic violence than cancer, car accidents, war, or malaria. Such indicators are even more alarming in emerging markets, where discrimination and gender inequality are particularly prevalent.

This partly reflects the failure of public policy to ameliorate the distributive consequences of rapid economic growth. With the informal sector continuing to play a major role in emerging economies, women often have access to only unreliable and transitory employment that offers casual and irregular wages. Meanwhile, unprecedented urbanization has disrupted traditional family structures, further undermining the role that women can play in economies and societies.

The damaging impact of active gender discrimination – such as bride burning and female infanticide – is clear. But passive discrimination – tolerating rules and institutions that deny women equal say in reproductive decisions, equal access to education and employment, equal pay for equal work, equal rights before the law, and equal political influence – is similarly destructive.

In all of its forms, gender discrimination makes women vulnerable to sexual slavery, trafficking, and forced marriage, deprives women of their inalienable rights, and diminishes their quality of life. At the same time, it stunts the capacity of boys and men to understand women’s plight, thus diminishing their motivation to change the situation. While these issues are global, they are most urgent in emerging markets, where they are undermining the social and economic progress on which the rest of the world increasingly relies.