Patterns of Global Gender Inequalities and Regional Gender Regimes

By Christine E. Bose

When demographers make cross-national comparisons about gender inequality, they often develop just one summary score for each nation. Such measures incorporate several types of inequalities—e.g., income, education, health, or political rights—into that score. For example, Iceland ranked 1st, the United States 23rd, and Pakistan last (135th) among the countries included in the Global Gender Gap Index (World Economic Forum 2013). On the plus side, feminist activists and policy-makers use low scores to prod their governments into improving women’s status and rights. On the negative side, this blending of many inequalities into one score helps create false impressions about other nations. The data above suggests that Iceland is terrific on all types of gender inequality and that Pakistan is terrible. But in reality different issues related to gender inequality occur in these two nations and women of varying race, ethnic, or class origins living there also diversely experience gender inequality.

Popular perception suggests that the most significant gender inequality differences occur between nations of the Global North and Global South. This is partly true: The two regions are statistically different in the degree to which their social institutions, political-economic structures, and inequality outcomes are gendered. But this dichotomy also is inaccurate: It treats Global South nations as if they all follow a single gender inequality regime—while in reality they are more varied due to the mixture of developing and industrial national economies included. Indeed, some Global South nations are similar to the North. For example, the women-to-men literacy ratio is 1.00 in North American and .99 in Latin America and the Caribbean; while the women-to-men labor force participation rate is .89 in North America and .85 in Sub-Saharan Africa. Continue reading “Patterns of Global Gender Inequalities and Regional Gender Regimes”