Capital accumulation requires cheapening labour. Women suffer this pressure disproportionately, as ideologies of patriarchy and sexism are leveraged to deny them full rights. The result is large and persistent gender inequalities in income, education and political power, in every region of the world.
Women’s share of global labour income today stands at around 30%, having barely increased since 1990. Women receive less pay for equal work, and are relegated to forms of labour that are lower-paid or (in the case of most care work) not paid at all. With existing trends, it will take more than 500 years for women to reach parity with men at a global level. The struggle for gender equality remains an urgent priority.
Some regions perform better than others on gender parity. The former socialist bloc has historically had the highest gender parity, significantly higher than in the West. But their progress has slowed and, in the case of China, reversed since the transition to capitalism in 1990. Latin America and Western Europe have made the fastest progress, but still perform worse than Russia and Central Asia. The MENA region lags far behind.
Progress toward gender equality is extremely slow. According to the Global Gender Gap Index, which incorporates inequalites in health, education, economic participation and political empowerment, it will take 125 years to close the gender gap if existing trends continue.
This graph shows the Gender Gap index by region. While all regions have made progress since 2006, it is extremely slow, and in several cases performance has stagnated or even declined over the past decade.
Regional differences in gender inequality reveal that while capitalism cheapens and disenfranchises women everywhere disproportionately to men, this pressure is exerted most forcefully on women in the global South.
Notes and references
1. For essential reading on capitalism and gender inequality, see: Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the Witch. Autonomedia; Mies, M. (1986). Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour. Zed Books; Dunaway, W.A. (ed.,) (2014). Gendered Commodity Chains: Seeing women’s work and households in global production. Stanford University Press.