Study: Geographical location and contact networks affect employment of women in developing countries

A recent study indicates that geographical location can play a major role in whether or not young women are employed. Education and contact networks support women in different ways in urban and rural areas.

Photo from panel discussion
Eva-Maria Egger presented her team’s research at the LDC Future Forum conference in Helsinki on Wednesday. The panel on communication technology also included researcher Kathrin Durizzo (bottom left) and Ambassador for Innovation Jyrki Pulkkinen (right) of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Photo: Alexander Zach

How can young women in developing countries get more jobs outside of the agricultural sector?

This question was considered by Eva-Maria Egger, a researcher at UNU-WIDER, the United Nations Institute for Development Economics, and by Aslihan Arslan and Emanuele Zucchini, researchers at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in a recent study of 15-24 year old women in twelve low and middle-income countries. Egger also took part in the LDC Future Forum charting the future of the least developed countries, arranged in Helsinki on 6-7 October.

The study confirms the previous view that several cultural and social norms, such as roles in marriage or childcare, impede the employment of women in non-agricultural sectors.

It paid particular attention to the employment impacts of place of residence and networking, for example by asking whether obstacles to employment were stronger in rural areas than in cities, or querying the significance of “connections”, such as peer networks or easy market access.

Networks are an asset in Africa and Latin America

The findings indicate that marriage is often an obstacle to the careers of young women, regardless of whether they live in rural or urban areas. Childcare obligations, on the other hand, mainly limit work in rural areas.

While secondary education improves the participation of women in the labour market, this usually occurs only in cities and outside of rural areas in general.

The study focused on Cambodia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Peru, Tanzania and Uganda. The employment gap between the sexes is generally greater in Latin America and Asia than in sub-Saharan Africa.

While connections and networks bring minimal benefit to women in Asia, they are very helpful for non-agricultural employment especially in rural Africa and in Latin American cities.

Employment of women boosts development

The researchers stress the importance of reducing social and cultural obstacles and strengthening networks, as employing women and improving their productivity substantially accelerates economic development.

Women working outside of agriculture marry at a more advanced age than is customary and have fewer children than average, giving them and their children improved opportunities for a healthy and financially secure life. A lower birth rate also benefits society as a whole, as the economic burdens of rapid population growth decrease.

The study finds that many women are “absent” from the labour market. Compared to the respective employment rates of men in the twelve countries reviewed, up to 41 per cent fewer women work in the non-agricultural labour market.

Communication technology supports networks

One of the main messages of the study by Egger, Arslan, and Zucchini is that establishing various connections and networks is important for employment.

“Above all, this means using the Internet and communication technology,” explains Jyrki Pulkkinen, Ambassador for Innovation at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

For example Pulkkinen also notes that further refining of agricultural products occurs in value chains, and the ways in which these chains are created and people join them are crucially significant from the point of view of jobs.

“Various networks that are managed online come to the fore in question of employment, making communication technology extremely important in a network-based economic system.”

But can we rely on communication technology in countries where access to the Internet cannot be taken for granted?

“While the pace of change can be slow in rural areas of the poorest countries, the Internet and communication technology are already connecting people in developing countries,” Pulkkinen observes.

Rural areas are still in a class of their own where the employment of women is concerned. Pulkkinen notes that the strict cultural norms of small communities may obstruct women’s access to work. Cities, on the other hand, may well offer more jobs and greater freedom to participate in the world of work.

“Women usually enjoy high rates of employment when they are allowed to go to work,” Pulkkinen explains.

Experts keen to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic

The LDC Future Forum in Helsinki enabled researchers, politicians and development co-operation specialists to consider not only issues of gender equality and communication technology, but also poverty reduction, ensuring quality education and health care, and responding to climate change.

The COVID-19 pandemic also gained particular prominence as a topic of discussion. Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari and Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto also noted in their addresses that the pandemic is reversing development achievements.

The results of the conference will be applied in January 2022 at the Fifth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5) in Doha, Qatar.


Further details of the conference are available on the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs: UN Conference in Helsinki seeks new solutions to the problems of the least developed countries

Further details of the study are available on the UNU-WIDER website: Does connectivity reduce gender gaps in off-farm employment?(Link to another website.) (Opens New Window)