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Gender gap persists in eastern Europe, new EBRD survey shows

By Anthony Williams

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Gender gap persists in eastern Europe, new EBRD survey shows

An increase in gender equality in education across eastern Europe still masks a gap between men and women on the labour market, according to a comprehensive new survey from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The findings appear in the latest report of the Bank’s Life in Transition Survey (LiTS), a large-scale survey carried out over the past decade and designed to show how people’s lives have been shaped by upheavals since the fall of communism.

This third survey, after earlier iterations in 2006 and 2010, is the largest so far and questioned 51,000 households in 34 countries*, mainly from transition countries in central and eastern Europe as well as Turkey.  It also covered Cyprus and Greece for the first time. For the sake of comparison with more prosperous western neighbours, LiTS III was also carried out in Germany and Italy.

Read Life in Transition survey III in full online

The chapter on gender reveals roughly similar levels of education between men and women but with regional differences.

Some 10 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men have been in tertiary education in Azerbaijan and Serbia while the split is 26 per cent for women and 30 per cent for men in the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia and Poland.

Despite some narrowing of the education divide, the report shows that women are less engaged in the workforce than men. They are less likely to be in full-time employment and also bear a disproportionate share of the housework and care of children and relatives.

Furthermore, women’s education could be limited in cultures where marrying and starting a family at an early age is the social norm.

There are fewer businesswomen in the transition region compared with Germany and Italy and there has been no significant increase since 2010. While both men and women often cite insufficient funding as the main barrier to setting up a business, more women than men fail to get a business started due to changes in their personal situation, such as having a child.

The report makes an economic case for more women in the workforce, noting that obstacles to full participation of women in the labour market and decision-making at household, corporate and political levels mean “a great volume of economic potential remains untapped”.

The survey indicates that women’s views are not always sufficiently taken into account in decision-making processes at national, local or even at household levels. Female political participation is rather limited in the region as a whole. However, many women participate in politics at a local level, mostly as NGO workers and civil activists.

The report also notes that in Russia, eastern Europe and the Caucasus and in Central Asia most people believe that “it is better for everyone involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children”.

It adds: “Women in these countries are also supportive of this stance,” saying 80 per cent of women and 78 per cent of men in Russia and 95 per cent of men and women in Azerbaijan are in favour of more traditional gender roles.

In Russia, the survey reveals that more than 80 per cent of women report that they are in charge of daily household spending.

The report contains a number of recommendations, calling for reforms in family and education laws to encourage parents to invest in their daughters’ education and for more steps to bring women into higher education, particularly in science and technology, and improve their employment prospects.

In addition to the section on  gender gap, the report also focuses on levels of life satisfaction and corruption in the transition region. A chapter on Greece shows just how hard the Greek economic crisis hit the people in the country.

*The “transition region” in this report refers to the EBRD’s countries of operations that are covered in the third round of the Life in Transition Survey (LiTS): Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, FYR Macedonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, the Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

It also includes Cyprus and Greece, which became recipient member countries of the EBRD in May 2014 and March 2015, respectively. The Bank’s involvement in both countries is expected to be temporary, with no new investment after the end of 2020.  

The survey was also implemented in the Czech Republic. Please note that the EBRD ceased making new investments in the Czech Republic in 2007 but still manages a portfolio in the country.

Western Europe refers to the comparator countries – Germany and Italy – which allow us to benchmark the transition region against some advanced market economies, thereby giving a clearer perspective on the remaining challenges facing transition countries.

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