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Post-2015 Consensus: Gender Equality Assessment, Clots-Figueras

Assessment Paper

Summary Of Targets From The Paper 

Gender Equality Targets Benefit For Every Dollar Spent
Improve access to sexual and reproductive health for all women. $120 
Improve women’s access to economic opportunities. $7
Increase the number of years of education attained by women. $5
Ensure equal rights of women to own and inherit property, sign a contract, register a business and open a bank account. Likely To Be High
Increase women’s political representation. Likely To Be High
Reduce violence against girls and women.

Unknown But Costs Likely To Be High, and Effectiveness Questionable

Reduce child marriage. Unknown But Costs Likely To Be High, and Effectiveness Questionable


The Current Situation and the MDG, What Has Been Achieved?

Women in the developing world have the highest incidence of poverty, poor health, lack of education, unequal rights and violence. Some of the Millennium Development Goals were either directly targeted at women, or were targeted at reducing gender differences. However, although remarkable progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.


The main target of the third MDG was to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education. Good progress has been made in the primary sector but access to secondary and university-level education still remains highly unequal. Differences in enrollment in primary education have decreased in all regions, but Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa are still lagging behind. The contributory factors are poverty, living in rural areas and early marriage.


The first MDG targets full and productive employment for all, including women, but gender disparity has not decreased much, particularly in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Women are also more likely to be in less secure and lower paid work.

Maternal Health

The fifth goal aims to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters and provide universal access to reproductive health care. Antenatal care provision has improved, but access to contraception has not. Maternal mortality has decreased but is still extremely high in South-Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa; there were still an estimated 287,000 deaths worldwide in 2010.

Water and Sanitation

The sixth goal aimed to halve the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation, which would be of particular benefit to women, who carry most of the burden of fetching water. Access to water has improved considerably, although more than 30% of people in sub-Saharan Africa still lack this.

The Post-2015 Goals

Education can have effects on labor force participation, health, child care, prevent early marriage and maybe even reduce violence against women, but for the post-2015 targets more dimensions of gender equality should be considered. The HLP proposals include four objectives to empower girls and women and achieve gender equality, which are considered below. When estimating benefit-cost ratios, we have to be aware that they can vary between countries and that both positive and negative externalities can have an impact. Another potential drawback of the use of economic analysis in the area of human rights is the ethical implications of quantifying issues such as women’s lives or wellbeing.

Some of the goals would require changes in laws that would not be very costly to implement; these include, for example, increasing female political participation or ensuring that women and men have the same rights to hold property, open a bank account or register a business. Other goals are also really important,  but we still do not know the benefits and costs of attaining them. The recommendation of this paper would be to invest in programs improving women’s education and economic opportunities, given that this will also be a way to reduce child marriage.

The Goals That Have Been Proposed: An Evaluation of The Costs and Benefits (when available) of Different Policies to Attain Them

Prevent and Eliminate All Forms of Violence Against Girls and Women

Violence against women is widespread and persistent. This includes rape, domestic violence, violence outside the household, and “honor” killings all of which affect women of all ages and irrespective of their socio-economic status. Sex-selective abortions are a form of violence against women and have increased in some countries. Women are also likely to suffer more from violence in conflict and crisis situations. Reporting levels are often low because they are much more likely to be reported as empowerment increases.

There is also very little evidence on how to reduce this violence, and program benefits can be difficult to estimate because of the long-lasting damage done, the severe psychological impact and effect on education and economic activities.

Domestic violence is widespread in all regions, but especially high in Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia. Sexual violence inflicted by non-partners, very prevalent in times of conflict, is very high in Africa and the Americas. Rates of violence in high income countries also seem very high, but this is likely to be because women are much more likely to report incidents. Data from different countries may therefore not be directly comparable.

Despite the high incidence, there are few programs whose main goal is reduction of violence against women. But other programs can have a beneficial effect. For example, a life skills and vocational training program in Uganda that took place in after-school clubs decreased the proportion of girls who reported having had sexual relationships without their consent. The program aimed to empower girls, and a reduction in violence is just one dimension of this. The baseline figure was of 14% of girls reporting having had sex unwillingly in the previous year, but this fell to 7.9% (a 44% reduction) after the two-year program. If we assume that the entire cost of the program gave just this one benefit, the cost of avoiding one event of sexual violence was $830 or $840 (3% or 5% discount rate). We can regard this as an upper bound.

Benefits are more difficult to quantify, but are physical, psychological and economic (lifetime income can be reduced). In the USA, it is estimated that a rape costs the victim $151, 423. Scaling this on the basis of GDP would give a figure of $1,709 for Uganda. Using these figures suggests a benefit-cost ratio of about 2. The study’s authors conclude that economic and social empowerment is possible even in situations where social norms are difficult to change. They report annual benefits of $32.80 and costs of between $21.80 and $17.90, but this is based only on household expenditure; including the reduction in sexual violence would increase the benefits and BCR.

Intimate partner violence is also a big problem in developing countries. A study from South Africa showed how a combined microfinance and training intervention reduced the incidence of both sexual and physical violence by 55%, although no cost data are available.

Empowerment can lead to an apparent increase in violence: an increase of female political representation in local governments in India caused a large increase in documented crimes against women. Given the lack of evidence on the effects of programs that are targeted to reduce violence against women and given its high prevalence everywhere in the world, a zero target is not feasible and should not be included in the post-2015 goals. The recommendation would be to focus more on programs that provide empowerment, education, and economic opportunities for women.

End Child Marriage

Child marriage is defined as marriage below the age of 18, and affects girls disproportionately. Child brides are more likely to finish education early, end up in poverty and suffer higher levels of maternal mortality. A study in Bangladesh found that each additional year that marriage is delayed increases years of schooling by 0.22 and literacy by 5.6%.

There are a few programs which focus specifically on reducing child marriage, but they are not randomised, and it is difficult to find a causal link with outcomes. However, there are programs under which fewer child marriages are a by-product, and overall it seems that the best option is to extend education, either by providing better employment opportunities or via educational subsidies. One of the benefits of such programs is a reduction in the level of early childbearing. The fertility rate has decreased in all regions but it is still disproportionately high in Sub-Saharan Africa.

A trial was conducted in rural India in which randomly selected villages received recruiters for well-paid jobs in the business process outsourcing industry, with control villages receiving no visits. This was a three-year program, with villages being revisited twice after the initial contact. Women’s employment and schooling increased, and women aged 15-21 were 5-6 percentage points less likely to get married or give birth over this period. Recruiters were paid $12 for each individual seen, and the probability of marriage in year two was reduced by 5.1 percentage points. The cost of delaying marriage by three years is calculated as $239-253, depending on the discount rate.

A program of educational subsidies in Kenya (free school uniforms for the last three years of primary school) reduced early marriage rates by 2.6, 2.9 and 3.9 percentage points after three, five and seven years respectively. The cost of one avoided early marriage during the first three years was $884-902, with uniforms costing $6 a year.

Reductions in the rates of early marriage and cohabitation were also found for the Ugandan program discussed earlier. The provision of vocational training and information on sex, reproduction and marriage resulted in a fall of 6.9 percentage points, or 58%, two years later, at a cost of $733-742 per delayed marriage.

Marriage can be delayed if girls stay in school longer, but a study in Malawi showed that unconditional cash transfers were more effective than conditional ones because they still affected girls who had dropped out of education. Both girls and their parents received payments and, after two years, the girls were 44% less likely to be married than the control group, a decrease of 7.9 percentage points. The cost of increasing the age of marriage by two years is $2,775-2,802, but the program did, of course, deliver other benefits.

These programs have very different costs, but it is clear that they may well be cost-effective and increasing education or economic opportunities for women is a good way of reducing the age of marriage. The drawback of these programs is that they rarely provide evidence on the long-term effects.

A major problem associated with early marriage is early childbirth. This results in lost lifetime earnings because young mothers are less well educated. We can assume a ‘motherhood tax’ of 5% for one child and 10% for two. Yearly benefits of avoiding early pregnancy are calculated at between $565 and $2,091 for the various programs, with the one in rural India having by far the greatest benefit. Its costs were also considerably lower, but it would be misleading to assume the rather high benefit-cost ratios would apply elsewhere. The Kenyan and Ugandan studies have BCRs of about 2.9 and 1.7, but the Malawian program does not seem cost-effective, having a BCR of less than 0.4. However, in all cases, the costs are overestimates and the overall benefits underestimates.

Overall, delaying adolescent and child marriage is almost always associated with staying in school longer. We conclude that improving economic opportunities for women and increasing women’s education should definitely be included in the post-2015 agenda, but that it is not feasible to have a zero target for early marriage.

Ensure Equal Right of Women to Own and Inherit Property, Sign a Contract, Register a Business and Open a Bank Account

Women and men in the developed world nowadays have the same legal rights to own property, to sign contracts, to open bank accounts, etc. However, this is not the case in the developing world. There is a positive correlation between women’s rights and development, measured by the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) and GDP per capita. This is a measure of women’s rights and their economic outcomes, but factors such as access to land, equal custody of children and contraceptive prevalence are also correlated with economic development.

One way to give women property rights and access to some banking services is microfinance, which empowers them and gives them more bargaining power in the household. However, an experiment in the Philippines suggests this is not always necessarily beneficial. More evidence is needed from other countries and other settings, given that our knowledge about microfinance is still limited.

One of the roots of the asset gender-gap is the difference in inheritance rights, which is still prevalent in some countries. Evidence in India is that, after reform to inheritance rights, length of schooling increases, but there is not necessarily a change in inheritance patterns. On the other hand, a study in Peru showed that there was a 22% decrease in fertility for households that received a property title.

We cannot directly evaluate most of the policies which give women equal rights because they are country-specific. Costs cannot be estimated because we do not have the counterfactual, and the benefits are wide-ranging but difficult to monetize. Having the right to own and inherit property and businesses, and having the right to sign contracts and open bank accounts should be regarded as a pre-condition to achieve women’s empowerment, get women out of poverty and allow them to pursue income generating activities.

Eliminate Discrimination Against Women in Political, Economic and Public Life

This is a wide-ranging goal which cannot realistically be set at zero. However, it can be redefined and focussed on a number of sub-goals, such as those below.

Increase Women’s Political Representation

In 2013, women occupied about 23% of parliamentary seats across the world, which is low but a considerable improvement on the 13% found in 1990. This increase has largely been due to the introduction of quotas, but the percentage remains below 30% in all regions. It is impossible to work out the costs and benefits of increased political representation, but male and female politicians tend to make different policy decisions once in power, which can change spending priorities.

Although we cannot estimate the cost-effectiveness, this could be a very cheap and effective way to represent the needs of women and improve their lives, especially in developing countries. Most of the evidence we have on changes is from India. In West Bengal and Rajasthan, for example, investment in water and other infrastructure increased in line with the complaints of women. Female politicians may also act as role models and increase the aspiration of girls.

However, there is also evidence that it is primarily ‘non-elite’ female politicians, holding seats reserved for lower castes, who invest more in health, early education and other ‘women-friendly’ laws. On the other hand, the effectiveness of women politicians may come less from expenditure on infrastructure but from information campaigns. One standard deviation increase in female political representation results in a 1.5 percentage point decrease in neonatal mortality, while in Mexico there was a 30% lower chance of observing a corruption episode in villages with women mayors.

Despite the problems associated with affirmative action, given the difficulties of encouraging female political participation and the huge potential benefits of female political participation, quotas should be definitively considered, and the issue of female political participation should definitely be included as a Post-2015 Goal.

Improve Economic Opportunities for Women

Even if female labor force participation contributes to the household income growth, it is estimated that half of the women in the labor force are in vulnerable employment, and most of them receive less pay than their male counterparts for the same work. Improving access to a regular income is an important part of female empowerment and poverty reduction. The experiment in rural India referred to above increased employment in well-paid jobs and also shifted aspirations and increased the human capital investment for girls. However, the study was not designed for cost-benefit analysis.

The randomized study in Uganda already discussed gives a benefit-cost ratio of only 0.67-0.69 assuming reduction in early marriage to be the only benefit, but there are other benefits whose value we can assess. There is a 6.1 percentage point reduction in the incidence of unwanted sex; at a cost of $1,580 per rape victim (scaled from the US figure), this gives a benefit of $96.38. The reduction in early fertility would also give annual benefits of $843 in terms of foregone earnings alone. Taken together, this gives a BCR or 3.1-3.2 for the overall program, and this could be larger still if parents are more willing to invest in human capital for their daughters. Because 86% of young women are currently out of the Ugandan labor force, the BCR is likely to be lower in other countries, but probably still larger than 1. However, over the longer term, the benefits increase. Even allowing for a drop off of 20% annually for benefits and assuming a 5% discount rate, the BCR is 5.9 after four years.

The “Jóvenes en Acción” program in Colombia offered both classroom and on-the-job training to young people. Women who were offered training earned 19.6% more and had a 0.068 higher probability to be in paid employment. The gain per woman was $211 per year, with a cost of $812. The benefit-cost ratio is greater than one if the women work for four years and, assuming constant earnings over a 40-year working life, it rises to 4.7-6.2 (5% and 3% discount rate).

These studies suggest that improved economic opportunities should definitely be part of the post-2015 agenda.

Equal Access to Education

Education has large benefits for girls and women and a minimum level of education is a pre-condition to achieve equality in the labor force and political participation, to eliminate early marriage and violence against women, and to ensure that women are able fully to take advantage of their assets and property rights. Studies discussed above have encouraging benefit-cost ratios and educational programs to retain girls in school should be part of the agenda.

Sexual and Reproductive Health

According to the UN only half of women in the developing world receive the amount of needed healthcare. The maternal mortality rate has decreased, but it remains unnecessarily high in many areas in the world. Kohler and Behrman, in their Copenhagen Consensus paper on population demonstrate very high benefit-cost ratios for achieving universal access to reproductive health services and reducing maternal mortality rates by 20%. It is important to note that empowerment to control their own fertility is an important pre-condition to achieve all the other targets in this paper.

Policy Recommendations and Conclusion

There are three important issues in which governments and development agencies should invest in and from which wider benefits will flow:

  1. Providing education to girls and women, particularly at the primary level
  2. Providing equal access to healthcare, and in particular to reproductive services
  3. Ensuring the equal right of women to own and inherit property, sign a contract, register a business and open a bank account

The table summarises the benefits and costs of various options.