Over decades much attention has been devoted to the relationship between foreign aid and economic growth, while few studies have focused on the effects of foreign aid on female empowerment. This despite the fact that empowerment of girls and women is a key driver of development, and often an explicit objective of foreign aid. Using geo-coded data on aid project placement and household-level survey responses, Perrotta Berlin, Bonnier and Olofsgård (2023), show that foreign aid has a modest but robust effect on several dimensions of female empowerment. This is the case for both aid in general and gender-targeted aid, highlighting the potential of foreign aid to reduce gender inequalities. It is also found, though, that the impact is contingent on the context, and that there can even be a backlash in male attitudes towards female empowerment in more traditional communities.
The donor community has long been invested in the empowerment of women and girls, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also includes gender equality as an explicit goal. Yet surprisingly little quantitative research has tried to make a broader assessment of the effect of foreign aid on gender equality measures.
This policy brief summarises a study by Perrotta Berlin, Bonnier and Olofsgård (2023) which addresses this question by matching the location of aid projects with geo-coded household surveys in Malawi between 2004 and 2010. Analysing the community-level impact on five different female empowerment indices, the study finds foreign aid to affect positively women’s empowerment across several dimensions. Furthermore, the authors find that gender-targeted aid has an additional impact on an index measuring women’s control over sexuality and fertility-related decisions and an index focusing on violence against women.
When considering areas with patrilineal land inheritance traditions, the results however partly shift, especially in relation to men’s attitudes. This implies that the success of foreign aid and gender-targeted aid in reducing gender inequalities may be conditional on the community context.
Gender Equality and Foreign Aid in Malawi
Malawi is highly dependent on foreign aid. Net official development assistance (ODA) has exceeded 10 percent of gross national income yearly since 1975, reaching as high as 23.5 percent in 2016 (World Bank, WDI database).
In recent years, reforms have been undertaken by the Malawian government to improve gender equality. The minimum legal age of marriage was raised from 15 to 18 through the 2015 Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill, and the 2013 Gender Equality Act strengthened the legislation concerning gender-based violence and included a universal condemnation of all types of gender-based discrimination. Yet, in 2020, Malawi was ranked 116 out of 153 in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report and 172 out of 189 in UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index. An area of concern regards the high rates of child marriage, with 9 percent of girls already married at age 15 and 42 percent by the age of 18. Alongside these numbers, 31 percent of women report to have given birth by the age 18.
Another aspect potentially influencing gender equality is the prevalence of matrilinear land tenure systems, particularly in the southern and central parts of the country (as depicted in Figure 1). While previous research has shown that land ownership empowers women and suggested that property rights affect decision power over key decisions, fertility preferences, age of marriage etc., less research has been devoted to analysing the effects on women’s empowerment outcomes in a matrilinear kinship setting. Some recent literature however suggests women in matrilinear societies have greater say in household decisions – including financial ones – and are less accepting of, as well as exposed to, domestic violence (Lowes, 2021; Djurfeldt et al., 2018).
Figure 1. Intensity of matrilineal tenure in Malawi.
Methodology and Data
For the analysis, the authors make use of geo-coded data on aid projects from the Government of Malawi’s Aid Management Platform (AMP) and match it to household-level data from the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). The country of Malawi and the period 2004-2010 were chosen in order to maximize data coverage on aid disbursement. Malawi’s AMP covers 80 percent of all aid entering the country during those years, which gives a much more complete picture compared to only focusing on one specific donor.
To identify causal impact, the authors apply a difference-in-differences specification on survey clusters in proximity to aid projects implemented between 2004 and 2010. Proximity was identified as within a 10-kilometer radius from an aid project. Among those, households interviewed in 2004, i.e., prior to the implementation date of any aid project, were considered the control group, and households interviewed in 2010 formed the treatment group. The underlying assumption of parallel pre-treatment trends was confirmed with the use of earlier DHS surveys. The model specification includes individual-level controls (age, ethnicity, household size, a Muslim dummy, years of education and literacy) and also a geographic fixed-effect based on a grid of coordinates.
The analysis distinguishes between the impact of aid in general, and the additional impact of gender-targeted aid. Gender-targeted projects are defined as projects that have any of the words woman, girl, bride, maternal, gender, genital or child, in the title, description or activity list. When estimating the effect of gender-targeted aid the authors control for overall aid intensity in the household’s vicinity. The estimated effect should therefore be interpreted as the additional effect from being exposed to a gender-targeted aid project while keeping the general number of aid projects in the area constant.
Figure 2. Map of aid projects and household clusters from 2004 and 2010 survey waves in Malawi.
To capture female empowerment, the authors make use of thousands of responses to DHS survey waves from 2004 and 2010. From these responses, the authors construct four different indices. Two of these are modelled on indices used in different contexts by Haushofer and Shapiro (2016) and Jayachandran et al. (2023). The former captures experiences of violence together with men’s and women’s attitudes towards violence, and some measures of decision making and control over household resources. The more recent index by Jayachandran et al. (2023) focuses on female agency and includes questions on women’s participation in decisions on large household purchases and daily expenditures, decisions on family visits, and decisions concerning their own healthcare.
To also capture questions related to sexual and fertility preferences, often regarded as measures of female empowerment, the authors construct two additional indices. The women’s attitudes index is based on responses to questions about whether the respondent is able to refuse sexual intercourse with her husband and ask him to use a condom, age at first marriage, and age at first childbirth, among others. The men’s attitudes index is based on questions about whether the respondent thinks it is justified to use violence to force intercourse, if a woman is justified to refuse intercourse, as well as fertility and child spacing preferences. In addition, all four indices are weighted and combined into an aggregated general index.
Considering all aid projects, the authors find that being exposed to an aid project in the 2004 to 2010 window has a significant positive impact on the agency index, the female attitude index and the combined general index (12, 11 and 31 percent of their respective means). When considering gender-targeted aid, the authors found the exposure to at least one such project to increase the women’s attitude index by 7 percent and the general index by 17 percent of their respective means. The impact is present for both a narrower and a wider exposure area, and quite persistent over time.
When breaking down the analysis for areas with matrilineal versus patrilineal land tenure systems the results diverge. In communities where the share of matrilineal ethnic groups exceeds the mean of 73 percent, the results are largely in line with those in the full sample. In patrilineal communities (< 73 percent matrilineal households), the results are however vastly different. Aid projects in general, and gender-targeted aid in particular, affect negatively the men’s attitudes index. In addition, gender-targeted aid seems to have no additional impact on the other indices.
In the paper underlying this brief, the authors study the effect of foreign aid on female empowerment, a frequent but understudied objective often set by donors. Looking at geo-coded aid projects in Malawi, the authors estimated such projects to positively impact girl’s and women’s empowerment across several indices. This is true for aid in general, and for some indices even more so when considering gender-targeted aid. Some of the positive results disappear or even change sign, though, in patrilineal communities, displaying the significance of pre-existing community norms for the effectiveness of development investments. Aid even generates a backlash when it comes to men’s attitudes towards women’s sexual and fertility preferences in these communities.
The takeaway from the study lies in foreign aid’s potential to empower women in targeted communities. This however hinges on pre-existing norms in recipient communities – something that aid donors should be aware of.
The authors emphasize the need for more research to better understand the role of pre-existing norms in the uptake of aid, to distinguish direct effects from aid from potential spillovers, and to understand what type of aid projects deliver the best outcomes in terms of female empowerment.
- Djurfeldt, A. A., E. Hillbom, W. O. Mulwafu, P. Mvula, and G. Djurfeldt. (2018). “The family farms together, the decisions, however are made by the man” -Matrilineal land tenure systems, welfare and decision making in rural Malawi. Land use policy 70, 601-610.
- Haushofer, J. and J. Shapiro. (2016). The short-term impact of unconditional cash transfers to the poor: experimental evidence from Kenya. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 131(4), 1973-2042.
- Jayachandran, S., M. Biradavolu, and J. Cooper. (2023). Using machine learning and qualitative interviews to design a five-question survey module for women’s agency. World Development 161, 106076.
- Lowes, S. (2021). Kinship structure, stress, and the gender gap in competition. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 192, 36-57.
- Perrotta Berlin, M., Bonnier, E., and A. Olofsgård. (2023). Foreign Aid and Female Empowerment. SITE Working Paper Series, No. 62.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
The 2023 FREE Network Retreat, an annual face-to-face event for members of the FREE Network, gathered its representatives to share and exchange research ideas and to discuss its institutes’ respective work and joint efforts within the Network. An academic session highlighted multiple overarching areas of interest and opportunities for research collaboration and included a plenary session on topics ranging from theoretical underpinning of Vladimir Putin’s regime to climate change beliefs and to consumer behaviour in credit markets. A session addressing the respective institute’s work during the last year also demonstrated the importance and relevance of the FREE Network’s joint initiatives on gender, democracy and media, and climate change and environment: FROGEE, FROMDEE and FREECE. This brief gives a short outline of the plenary session and an overview of some further topics covered during the conference.
The Academic Day
The Academic Day consisted partly of a plenary session and partly of an academic session. The academic session was outlined to demonstrate the wide spectrum of research interests within the network and to promote and highlight the opportunities for research collaboration. Designed as a series of poster sessions, each organized around a common research theme, it allowed for an exchange of ideas between presenting researchers and the audience while displaying the overlap of the various research interests across the institutes. At the same time, the poster session combined the broad range of topics within 10 overarching subjects (trade, gender, migration and education, public economics, energy, labor, political economy and development, macro, conflict, and theory and auctions).
The plenary session further illustrated the wide variety of topics the FREE Network researchers’ work on. During the plenary session, three distinguished presentations were held, summarized in what follows.
“Why Did Putin Invade Ukraine? – A Theory of Degenerate Autocracy”
Firstly, Konstantin Sonin, Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, gave a presentation of his working paper (with Georgy Egorov, Northwestern University) in which the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine is explained through a theoretical framework on dictators’ decision-making in degenerate autocracies.
Sonin outlined how the beliefs about Ukraine in Kremlin, prior to the invasion, were factually wrong. For example, Kremlin believed that Ukraine, despite plenty of facts pointing in the opposite direction, lacked a stable government and had an incapable army. Further, it was believed that the US and Europe wouldn’t care about Ukraine and that Russian troops would be welcomed as liberators – the latter exemplified by the fact that Russia sent police and not the army during the first phase of the invasion. He also stressed that the decision to invade Ukraine is likely to have disastrous consequences for Vladimir Putin, his regime, and for Russia as a whole. This is, however, not the first example of a disastrous decision made by a leader of an autocratic regime, leading up to the question: What explains such choices that should not rationally have been made? And how can leaders make them in highly institutionalized environments where they are surrounded by councils and advisors who are supposed to possess the best expertise?
The model presented by Sonin assumes a leader in such highly institutionalized environment that wishes to stay in power and whose decisions are based on input from subordinates. The subordinates differ in level of their expertise and the leader thus chooses the quality of advice that he receives through his choice of subordinates. In turn, while giving advice to the leader, the subordinate considers two factors: the vulnerability of the leader and their own prospects should the leader fall. In equilibrium there is a tradeoff as competent subordinates are also less loyal (since a more competent person might know when to switch alliances and have better prospects if the regime changes).
The leader also has access to repression as an instrument. Repression decreases his changes to be overthrown but raises the stakes for a potential future power struggle, as a leader with a history of repression is more likely to be repressed by his successor.
This interaction creates a feedback loop. If a dictator chooses repression, he feels more endangered, and he then chooses a more loyal subordinate who is less likely to deceive him for personal gain under a potential new regime. However, this leads to the appointment of less competent subordinates whereafter the information that flows to the leader becomes less and less reliable – as illustrated by Kremlin’s beliefs about Ukraine prior to the war.
There are three types of paths in equilibrium, Sonin explained; 1. “stable autocracy”, with leaders altering in power and choosing peaceful paths without repressions 2. “degenerate autocracy” – where the incumbent and opponent first replace each other peacefully and then slide into the repression-based change of power (until one of them dies and the story repeats), and 3. “consecutive degenerate autocracy” – where each power struggle is followed by repression.
Concluding his presentation, Sonin highlighted that in a degenerate autocracy such as Russia, individual decisions by the leader are rarely crucial due to the high level of institutionalization. However, as shown by the model, the leader is inevitably faced with a situation where he is surrounded by incompetent loyalists feeding him bad intel and setting him up to make disastrous decisions – most recently displayed in Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
“Facing the Hard Truth: Evidence from Climate Change Ignorance”
Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, gave the conference’s second presentation, which detailed her work (with Ferenc Szucz, Stockholm University) on climate change skepticism.
Campa opened her talk with the current paradox regarding climate change, where, in the scientific community there is a strong consensus about the existence of climate change, but in society at large, skepticism is largely prevalent. This can be exemplified by one quarter of the US population not believing in global warming in 2023, and Europeans not believing in the fact that humans are the main driver of climate change.
According to Campa, the key question to answer is therefore “Why does ignorance about climate change persist among the public – in spite of the overwhelming evidence?”. One possible explanation may be a deficit in comprehension; people simply don’t understand the complexity of climate change and thus follow biased media and/ or politicians more or less sponsored by lobbyists. However, research have shown scientifical literacy to be quite uncorrelated with climate change denial, contradicting the above explanation. The second hypothesis, and of focus in the study, instead revolve around the concept of information avoidance. To test the hypothesis that people actively avoid climate change information, the authors key in on coal mining communities in the US having been exposed to negative shocks in the form of layoffs. These communities are of interest given their strong sense of identity and the fact that they are directly affected by the green transition. Arguably, a layoff shock would negatively affect not only their economy, but also pose a threat to their perceived identity. Given the context, it can thus be assumed that these communities to a larger extent would avoid information on climate change and information post-shock to restore the threatened identity.
The authors consider US counties experiencing mass layoff (more than 30 percent of mining jobs lost between 2014 and 2017) as treated counties, finding that in these counties, learning about climate change is 30 to 40 percent lower than in counties having experienced no mass layoffs. To account for the fact that the layoff itself may cause changes in learning, the authors also consider an instrument variable analysis in which gas prices are exploited as instrument for the layoffs – once again displaying the fact that people in affected communities believe climate change to be caused by humans to a lesser extent, when compared to counties in which no mass layoffs had occurred.
Interestingly, when controlling with other industries with somewhat similar characteristics (such as metal mining), the drop in climate change learning disappears, feeding in the notion of “identity-based information avoidance”.
The lack of support for and consensus among the public of the ongoing climate change and its drivers might pose a threat for the green transition as well as reduce personal effort to reduce the carbon footprint, Campa concluded.
“Consumer Credit with Over-Optimistic Borrowers”
In the plenary session’s last presentation, Igor Livshits, Economic Advisor and Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, presented his working paper (with Florian Exler, University of Vienna, James MacGee, Bank of Canada and Michèle Tertilt, Mannheimer University) on consumer credit and borrower’s behaviour.
There has been much debate on whether and how to regulate consumer credit products to limit misuse of credit. In 2009/2010 several initiatives and regulations (such as the 2009 Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act) were introduced with the aim of protecting consumers and borrowers from arguments that sellers of credit products exploit lack of information and cognitive capacity of borrowers. There is however a lack of evaluation of such arguments and subsequent regulations, which Livshits explained to be the motivation behind the paper.
The paper differentiates between over-optimistic borrowers (behaviour borrowers) and rational borrowers (rationalists). While both types face the same risks, behaviour borrowers are more prone to shocks and are at the same time unaware of these worse risks (i.e., they believe they are rationalists). Focusing on these types of borrowers, the paper introduces a model in which the lenders endogenously price credit based on beliefs about the borrower type. Households decide whether to spend or save and if to file for bankruptcy in an environment in which they are faced with earning shocks and expense shocks.
In this structural model of unsecured lending and default, Livshits finds that behavioral borrowers’ “risky” behaviour negatively affects rationalists since both types are pooled together and, thus rationalists are overpaying to cover for the behaviour borrowers. A calibration of the model also suggests that behavioral borrowers borrow too much and file for bankruptcy too little and too late.
Livshits argued that the model does not provide evidence of the notion that borrowers need protection from lenders, but rather that borrowers need to be protected from themselves. In fact, had behaviour borrowers been made aware of the fact that they are overly optimistic about the actual state of their future incomes, they would borrow 15 percent less.
To address the increased risks behaviour borrowers take at the cost of rationalists, policies such as default made easier, taxation on borrowing, financial literacy efforts and score-dependent borrowing limits could all be considered. Such policies may lower debt and reduce bankruptcy filings but as they may also reduce welfare and exhibit scaling difficulties.
Updates from the Institutes
During the Retreat, the respective institutes shared the previous year’s work, and updates within the FREE Network’s three joint projects were also presented. These go under the acronyms of FROMDEE (Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe), FREECE (Forum for Research on Eastern Europe; Climate and the Environment) and FROGEE (Forum for Research on Gender Economics in Eastern Europe), and address areas of great relevance in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Researchers from all FREE Network institutes work on these topics, with the most recent policy paper written in coordination by SITE, KSE and CenEA (with expert Maja Bosnic, Niras International Consulting). The policy paper focuses on the gender dimension of the reconstruction of Ukraine – putting emphasis on the necessity of gender budgeting principles throughout the various parts of reconstruction. An upcoming joint research paper will consider the effects of gasoline price increase on household income across the Network’s countries, written under the FREECE umbrella.
The three themes of gender, media and democracy, and environment and climate are not only purely research topics within the institutes. They also reflect developments and challenges that the institutes to a various extent face in the respective contexts in which they operate. The work focusing on the reconstruction of Ukraine is an excellent example of an area that encompasses all three.
Another example of the relevance of the three themes features prominently in one of the institutes’ most tangible contribution to their respective societies: their education programs. Nataliia Shapoval, Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), emphasized how KSE has – amid Russia’s war on Ukraine – managed to greatly expand. Over the past year, KSE has launched 8 new bachelor’s and master’s programs, some of which are directly targeted at ensuring postwar reconstruction competence. On a similar note, Lev Lvovskiy, Academic Director at the Belarusian Research and Outreach Center (BEROC) mentioned the likelihood of next year being able to offer students a bachelor’s program in economics and several business courses in Vilnius – BEROC’S new location. BEROC’s effort in providing quality education in economics to Belarus’ exile youth is considered a fundamental investment in the future of the country – providing a competent leading class capable of installing democracy and fair elections in Belarus once the current regime is gone. The emphasis on education was further highlighted by Salome Gelashvili, Practice Head, Agriculture & rural policy at the International School of Economics Policy Institute (ISET-PI) who not only mentioned the opening of a master’s program in Finance at ISET but also the fact that an increasing number of students who’ve recently graduated from PhD’s abroad are now returning to Georgia. Such investments into education are necessary to counter Russian propaganda in the region all three agreed, emphasizing the need to continually stem Russia’s negative influence in the region. This investment into education is also important to hinder countries from sliding away from democratic values – realized in Belarus and threatening in Georgia.
To further delve into the issues of democratic backsliding, a tendency that has been recently observed not only in the region but also more widely across the globe, FROMDEE will organize an academic conference in Stockholm on October 13th, 2023.
The 2023 FREE Network Retreat provided a great opportunity for the Networks’ participants to jointly take part of new research and to share experiences, opportunities, and knowledge amongst each other. The Retreat also served as reminder of the importance of continuously supporting economic and democratic development, through research, policy work, and networking, in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
List of Presenters
- Konstantin Sonin, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
- Pamela Campa, Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics
- Igor Livshits, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
The post-war reconstruction of Ukraine will have to comprehensively address a number of objectives to set the country on a path of stable, sustainable and inclusive growth. In this Policy Paper we argue that the principles of “building-back better” need to take the gender dimension under consideration. While the war has exposed women and men to different risks and challenges, various types of gender inequality were also pervading the Ukrainian society prior to it. Gender responsiveness in the preparation, design and execution of reconstruction programs is essential to ensure fair and effective allocation of the coming massive inflow of resources in the reconstruction effort. We argue that the principles and implementation mechanisms developed under the gender responsive budgeting (GRB) heading are suitable to apply in the process. We also document that the principles of GRB have in recent years become well established in Ukrainian public finance management and point out areas where the application of a GRB approach will be of particular importance.
In August 2022, in the midst of the full-scale Russian invasion, the Ukrainian government adopted the State Strategy for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men for the period until 2030 and approval of the operational plan for its implementation for 2022-2024 (Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, 2022), reaffirming its commitment to promote gender equality in Ukraine with a focus on empowering women and eliminating gender-based discrimination in all areas of life. The Strategy follows a number of earlier legislative initiatives that had placed gender equality at the center of Ukrainian public policy and included a comprehensive approach to the design of fiscal policy at the central and local government level, adopting the principles of gender responsive budgeting (GRB). Given substantial gender gaps in numerous areas of life in the Ukrainian society these principles will have to be considered in the future reconstruction process to address such disparities. Following the overall guidance presented by the authors of the CEPR Report published in late 2022, titled “Rebuilding Ukraine: Principles and policies” (Gorodnichenko et al., 2022), this Policy Paper examines some key dimensions of the future reconstruction of Ukraine from the perspective of gender equality with a focus on consistent and effective adoption of the principles of GRB.
Gorodnichenko et al. (2022) noted the critical importance of thinking already today about how Ukraine will rebuild after the war is over – “advanced planning and preparations now will save lives and increase chances of success (…) these steps will give hope to millions of Ukrainians that after the horrors of the war there is light at the end of the tunnel”. We argue, that if the reconstruction is to result in stable, sustainable development and bring tangible benefits to all Ukrainians, the principles of “building-back better” need to take the gender dimension under consideration. This is important for efficiency as well as equality reasons. Such an approach is fully consistent with the 2022 State Strategy which recognizes that gender equality is not only a human right but also a driver of economic growth and social development. The Strategy also provides a framework for mainstreaming gender into government policies and programs, including the budget, and recognizes the importance of gender budgeting as a tool for promoting gender equality and ensuring that public resources are allocated in a fair and equitable manner. Different forms of gender inequality permeated Ukrainian society before the war: while women were more educated than men, they were less likely to participate in the labor force, were severely under-represented in senior positions in business and politics as well as in fast-developing sectors such as information and communication technology, were earning lower wages, and were more likely to be victims of gender-based violence (see, e.g. World Economic Forum, 2021). The war has also exposed women and men to different risks and challenges (see, e.g., Berlin Perrotta and Campa, 2022). Gender responsiveness in the preparation, design and execution of the reconstruction programs is crucial to ensure fair and effective allocation of the vast amount of resources that will be mobilized through the reconstruction effort, providing a unique opportunity to address pre-war and war-related gender inequalities. We argue that the principles and implementation mechanisms developed under the heading of gender responsive budgeting are suitable tools to apply in the process. There are numerous examples from various post-disaster reconstruction experiences showing how sensitivity along the gender dimension can determine the success or failure of specific initiatives, and how thinking in advance along gender equality lines can help address the change from an ineffective and unfair status quo, to successfully “build-back better” (see Box 1).
The dimensions of post-war reconstruction of Ukraine covered in Gorodnichenko et al. (2022) range from necessary changes in governance, through reforms in the business and finance environment, energy and transportation infrastructure, as well as the labor market, the education and the healthcare system, to a discussion of the structure most efficient to deliver international aid. The Report offers an invaluable blueprint for peace-time reconstruction and development of Ukraine and constitutes a crucial reference point for the discussion about the efficient use of resources necessary to ensure rapid and sustainable development of the country. Below we build on its main principles, examine them through a gender lens and apply a gender responsive budgeting approach to highlight the areas where it can be used at different stages of the reconstruction process.
In what follows we draw on the growing literature in the fields, among others, of political economy, development, education and labor economics, that examines the importance of gender diversity and identifies implications of gender inequalities for socio-economic outcomes at the micro and the macro level. On the basis of this literature, we point out the dimensions of the reconstruction process where a gender responsive approach can be particularly beneficial, and specify the stages of the process where the principles of gender responsive budgeting can be effectively applied to ensure efficient and fair distribution of recovery resources. The paper begins with a brief introduction to gender budgeting (Section 2), followed by three sections focusing on key categories of the reconstruction. First, in Section 3, we discuss how a gender responsive approach can shape governance reforms in the post-war period. In Section 4 we examine how gender sensitivity combined with the principles of GRB can influence the allocation of recovery funds in the process of physical rebuilding after the war, as well as the design of the physical environment. Finally, Section 5 highlights the crucial role of human capital in post-war development and points out a number of areas where reconstruction policies might have to be carefully drafted, taking into consideration the specific needs and requirements of women and men. We stress throughout that the concept of gender budgeting and gender responsiveness has been exercised in Ukraine for some time and that it is well rooted in Ukrainian public policy making. These principles should thus come naturally to representatives of key institutions in the discussion of plans for the country’s reconstruction and their execution.
2. Applying Gender Responsive Budgeting Principles to the Process of Post-war Reconstruction
At the heart of gender responsive budgeting lies the recognition of the potential of financial and fiscal policies to influence gender disparities. Gender budgeting integrates “a clear gender perspective within the overall context of the budgetary process through special processes and analytical tools, with a view to promoting gender-responsive policies” (Downes et al. 2017). It is aimed at ensuring that fiscal policies and public financial management practices and tools are formulated and implemented with a view to promote and achieve gender equality objectives, and that adequate resources for achieving them are allocated (IMF, 2017). For GRB to be effective, gender considerations ought to be included in all the stages of the budget cycle, including:
- the setting of fiscal policy goals and targets
- the preparation of the annual budget and its approval by the legislature
- the control and execution of the approved budget
- the collection of revenues, the preparation of accounts, and financial reports
- the independent oversight and audit of the budget
At each stage of the process, different tools have been developed to ensure that discussion on the gender impact of a specific fiscal policy will constitute an integral part of budget decision-making, execution and reporting. These tools include documents ensuring that spending ministries and agencies are fully briefed on the legal and administrative procedures to be followed in implementing gender responsive budgeting as well as on the requirements to include gender-relevant indicators in budget requests, to provide data disaggregated by sex, or to request specific budgetary allocations for gender-related programs or projects (Budlender, 2015). Moreover, gender budget statements can be published with the budget document as strategic tools to implement gender-responsive policies by allocating adequate resources to reach strategic goals and measuring impact and results. Gender budgeting also includes requirements for gender-impact assessment of the potential direct and indirect effect of policy proposals on gender equality and more broadly on different groups in the society. The regulations may require such assessments to be made prior to implementation (ex-ante assessment) as well as after the roll out of the policies (ex-post evaluation).
The principles of GRB originated in the 1980s in the Australian government in the form of the so-called ‘Women’s Statement’. The principles were applied more broadly in transition and developing countries with support of UN Women and numerous NGOs and research institutions. In recent years, mainly as a result of recognition of the effectiveness of GRB from international financial institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD, the approach has been more firmly integrated with other existing budget tools. It has thus become much more common as a standard technical budget instrument in numerous developed and developing countries (For more details on the development of GRB theory and practice see for example: Budlender et al. 2002; O’Hagan and Klatzer 2018, and Kolovich 2018). Currently over ninety countries around the world apply some form of GRB. While in most of them its use has not been systematized and fully integrated in the overall budget process, countries such as Australia, Austria, Canada and the Spanish province of Andalusia apply GRB consistently across all levels of government and systematically monitor its execution. Ukraine is also among the countries that in recent years have made rapid progress towards comprehensive integration of GRB in its public policy (see Box 2).
The Ukrainian government firmly upheld the principles of GRB after the Russian invasion in February 2022, at a time when one might think that gender equality considerations would lose priority in the management of public finances. Throughout the war the Ministry of Finance has continued to ask line ministries to provide gender responsive budget requests, and fiscal policy has been monitored to ensure informed policies with regard to the distribution of the limited crisis-budget funds among different groups in society. These policies together with the State Strategy for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men for the period until 2030 and approval of the operational plan for its implementation for 2022-2024 (Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, 2022), adopted in August 2022, reaffirm the Ukrainian government’s commitment to gender responsive policy making and lay the foundations for the application of such an approach during the post-war recovery process. Effective implementation of GRB principles requires specific knowledge and expertise, and the lack of which has often been a key challenge in meaningful integration of gender analysis in financial processes and documents. Competence in finance among civil servants in line ministries and the Ministry of Finance needs to be combined with gender expertise in sector budget analysis. Development of the combination of these competencies in Ukraine in recent years bodes well for integrating the GRB principles in the process of recovery and reconstruction.
At different stages of the reconstruction process the needs of various social groups along the gender dimension as well as others such as age, disability or religion, ought to be taken into account. To ensure fair and effective use of recovery funds the process should consider the following principles:
- Participation: consultation with different population groups by gender, age, disability, profession, and other characteristics should enable assessment of the priority objectives for reconstruction in specific localities.
- Equity: there is always a risk of neglecting the needs of different categories of people (e.g. people with disabilities) while focusing on the needs of the majority of the population.
- Addressability: it is important to realize that a reconstruction program aimed at “everyone” risks significant misallocation of funds, reaching “no one”. A careful approach needs to consider different economic, cultural, recreational, educational and service needs of well-specified groups of individuals.
The planning and execution of the reconstruction process could follow the lines of intersectional gender budgeting analysis which focuses on the analysis of how different budget measures impact different groups of citizens – women and men – taking into account their disability status, age, place of residence and other variables. Taking as an example a foot bridge reconstruction, a gender responsive analysis would enable information on the citizens in the area, their needs, and their use of the infrastructure. The reconstructed bridge should benefit pedestrians, often women who might sell their products at the marketplace, or whose access to various services requires to cross the river. The analysis would also consider employment levels among women in the reconstruction of the bridge, etc. Considering the example of a school reconstruction, the process needs to consider if there are children in the area and/or whether they will return to that area with their families; whether there is/will be sufficient access to transportation and whether – in case the school is not reconstructed – the children can conduct their education in other schools in the area. Reconstructed educational institutions should consider gender-sensitive infrastructure and account for design of facilities, such as ramps, to address the needs of individuals with disabilities.
The Ukrainian government is strongly committed to supporting gender equality trough, among other means, gender mainstreaming processes with well-established legal frameworks for gender budgeting. Reconstruction efforts shall acknowledge and use the existing analytical tools in Ukraine to ensure that donor funds, projects and initiatives achieve their objective of sustainable and equitable development. Effective and fair distribution of the reconstruction funds will require that substantial care is paid to the analysis of the beneficiaries at the stages of planning and during reconstruction.
3. The Gender Perspective on Governance in Post-war Reconstruction
The institutional arrangements adopted both at the national level in Ukraine and at the international level for the administration and distribution of reconstruction funds will be of crucial importance to the success of recovery efforts and their translation into rapid and sustainable development of the country. In this Section we take the gender perspective on these two dimensions of governance. First, we argue that, at the national level, improvements could be made in the Ukrainian electoral system to extend women’s access to elected political positions in order to increase women’s influence in the overall process of policy-making. Drawing on international evidence we argue that this would not only further ensure support for the application of the gender budgeting approach, but it would also help selecting more competent and non-corruptible politicians. Second, we build on the proposal in Mylovanov and Roland (2022) to create an EU-affiliated agency that would manage the funds from multilateral donors (the “Ukraine Reconstruction and European Integration Agency” – UREIA) and examine how the GRB principles should be applied to efficiently integrate them with other dimensions of such an agency’s activities.
3.1 Increasing Women’s Representation in Ukrainian Political Institutions
In international comparisons, Ukraine lags behind in terms of women’s representation in politics, with gender gaps persisting in national as well as local institutions – in spite of some recent progress. It is likely that a large presence of women in political institutions would help addressing concerns regarding the effective implementation of the gender budgeting principles. Local and central politicians could promote ex-post evaluations of local and national projects to verify that the intended gender-breakdown of beneficiaries were reached, and they could consider and implement corrective measures when unintended balances were found. In this respect we note, once again, that key decision-makers in Ukraine have shown strong commitment to the principles of gender-budgeting, by supporting and prioritizing its implementation – even during the dramatic circumstances of the Russian invasion (see Box 2). However, the commitment to gender-budgeting among policy-makers in Ukraine would likely become even stronger with a larger presence of women among them. The gender composition of political institutions has been shown to affect the allocation of public funds. For example, Chattopadhyay and Duflo (2004) find that female village chiefs in India tend to spend more money in budgetary areas that appear to be especially important for female villagers. Similarly, an analysis of the bills proposed by French legislators shows that women tend to work more on so called “women’s issues” (Lippmann, 2022). We would therefore expect female politicians to be more likely to support an effective implementation of gender-budgeting principles. Moreover, we expect project proposals crafted by more gender equal groups to be more representative of both women and men’s needs and priorities, which in turns should make the reconstruction process more balanced across different areas and allow it to address numerous inefficiencies of the pre-war status quo (see Box 1).
It is also worth noting that some literature in economics and political science documents that, as more women are elected to political institutions, the average “quality” of elected politicians tends to increase (Besley et al., 2020; Baltrunaite et al., 2018). Moreover, female policy-makers are less likely to engage in corruption and patronage (Brollo and Troiano, 2018; Dollar et al., 2001; Swamy et al., 2001), a dimension which will certainly be closely monitored at an international level, and one which is key in ensuring international public support for the reconstruction. Policies that increase women’s representation in politics could thus also help improve the quality of democratic institutions, a development that is of utmost importance in the face of Ukraine’s ambition to join the EU. While the existing empirical evidence does not unanimously link women’s representation in politics to more women-friendly budgetary expenditures or better institutions, it is worth noting that there is also no evidence of any major drawback from policies that help women accessing political institutions. Increasing women’s representation in Ukrainian political institutions would also be in line with the argument that bringing a critical mass of new people in politics will help counteracting “oligarchizing” tendencies (Mylovanov and Roland, 2022) in the development of Ukrainian democracy. Numerous options are available in terms of changes in the political ‘rules of the game’ to help address the current underrepresentation of women in Ukrainian political institutions. In Box 3 we list a few of these options.
3.2 Gender Budgeting in the Work of UREIA
Gender-budgeting in the reconstruction process requires an ex-ante gender-analysis of the different projects being financed, which relies on the availability of sex-disaggregated data and specialized skills. Given that gender-budgeting has been part of Ukraine public finance system for a number of years, there is likely a good supply of trained personnel who can work together with international experts right from the beginning of the reconstruction. Conducting the ex-ante work of gender assessment within the reconstruction agency should speed up the process that we envision, as the tasks involved will be routinely sourced to the same teams of skilled individuals who will analyze different projects through the gender-budgeting lens. The agency should then also be in charge of a centralized evaluation of the various gender-analysis results. This work of overview will provide a comprehensive picture of who is reached by the entire pool of available reconstruction funds, thus allowing to distinguish project-specific gender differences – which can be justified by specific needs being targeted at project-level – from a systematic bias toward one of the genders in the overall reconstruction process. A clear picture of who are the beneficiaries of specific reconstruction initiatives, including statistics disaggregated by gender and potentially by other characteristics, may play a key role in reassuring the Ukrainian society that the recovery funds are used to benefit a broad spectrum of the population, as well as in legitimizing the use of these funds in the eyes of the international donor community.
The conclusions of the international literature on the implications of women’s representation in political institutions for the scope of realized public initiatives mentioned in Section 3.1, pertain also to the functioning of the UREIA. The very design and composition of the agency’s staff ought to ensure gender diversity in its ranks at all levels of seniority to safeguard both the highest quality of the work being carried out by UREIA, as well as the appropriate scope of projects undertaken by the agency, most preferably supported by the principles of GRB. Recent empirical studies indicate that the personal traits of public procurement actors, such as their abilities or competencies, may play a key role in influencing procurement practices and outcomes (see, e.g., Best, Hjort and Szakonyi, 2022 or Decarolis et al., 2020), and gender-based variations in personal characteristics such as risk aversion, ethical values, and others have been demonstrated to be significant, including in the context of corruption (see a review in Chaudhuri, 2012).
4. Post-war Reconstruction: the Gender Perspective on Rebuilding the Physical Environment
The physical environment provides the background for the functioning of societies and at the same time, through its physical durability, imposes a long-lasting legacy that may determine the dynamics of social processes well beyond the time of construction. It shapes the organization of cities, the location and efficiency of public infrastructure, as well as the transport networks and it is also an influential precondition and determinant of behavior and outcomes. There is plenty of examples of how the physical environment affects economic outcomes, both at the individual and societal level. The presence of large infrastructures such as ports or highways determined the process of agglomeration (Ganapati, 2021; Faber, 2014), while paved roads and irrigation canals affect local development and structural transformation of rural areas (Aggarwal, 2018; Asher et al., 2022). Availability of urban green spaces has implications for health outcomes and violence (Kondo et al., 2018) and the safety of commuting routes affects girls’ college choices (Borker, 2021). Moreover, elements of the built environment may also affect social norms (Josa and Aguado, 2019; Baum and Benshaul-Tolonen, 2021).
The post-war reconstruction of the physical environment will shape the structure of Ukrainian cities and villages for decades to come, and hence the process ought to consider very broad aspects of influence of the built environment, with a clear focus on the identity of its users and beneficiaries. We firmly believe that the application of the principles of GRB will facilitate effective use of recovery resources and at the same time help address the inefficiencies of the pre-war status quo to create an environment which fairly takes into consideration the interests of both men and women. With respect to the physical environment in particular, obvious path dependencies limit swift changes to benefit women and other marginalized groups (Hensley, Mateo-Babiano, and Minnery 2014) and from this perspective the post-war recovery process can be thought of as a unique opportunity to address a number of imbalances.
4.1 Gender Mainstreaming in Urban Planning
It has been pointed out that gender mainstreaming in urban planning remains inadequate, which has been linked to the gender bias in the planning industry, both in terms of representation – who plans the cities affects how the cities are planned (Beall, 1996) – and the dominant culture (Sahama et al., 2012). It seems intuitive that a planning approach which takes into account how beneficiaries of the design are disaggregated by gender, and how the design affects the functioning of different groups, would result in an environment much more suited to the needs of these groups. The design should take into consideration different preferences with regard to employment, leisure, housing, open spaces, transportation, and the environment. Gender is relevant across all these issues in urban planning. Including more women in planning and decision-making might be the easiest way to ensure that such perspective is accounted for.
As we argue in Section 5, the effective use of Ukraine’s human capital will be essential for the success of its recovery process and further development. The built environment has important consequences in this realm and so, when rethinking cities, questions such as zoning, connectivity and mobility, as well as the quality of sidewalks and lighting need to be considered in relation to the necessity to juggle work, care for household members, and other daily duties (Grant-Smith, Osborne, and Johnson 2017). The rebuilt physical infrastructure will affect the lives of those who are particularly limited by safety concerns, and it will affect the quality of life of those who walk pushing a pram or supporting elderly relatives. These aspects have been shown to be particularly important for women, increasing their actual and perceived vulnerability when they travel around the city, cutting them off from after-dark activities (Ceccato et al., 2020), but also affecting life choices with a long-lasting impact (Borker, 2021). Utilizing Geographic Information Systems (GIS), satellite imagery and open data sources holds the promise of creating more effective methods for observing patterns of utilization of the city and incorporating a gender responsive approach along these lines in urban planning of reconstructed areas of Ukraine (Carpio-Pinedo et al., 2019).
4.2 Gender Sensitivity in the Design of Transport Infrastructure
Transport infrastructure is crucial to the development of society. When a large share of the infrastructure capital needs to be rebuilt or updated, as will be the case in Ukraine, this opportunity may be used to lay new foundations for both economic and social development. To make the most of such an opportunity, attention ought to be paid to a number of identified risks. Unequal resource distribution has been observed both in connection with new construction of infrastructure (MacDonald, 2005) and relocation of the same (Chandra, 2000; Unruh and Shalaby, 2012). The large stakes inherent in these projects can generate high incomes and rent-seeking leading to a deepening of inequalities and further marginalization of those already vulnerable from the conflict. As women have been particularly strongly affected by the war and the resulting internal displacement (Obrizan, 2022a), the reconstruction process ought to pay particular attention to the risks of exacerbating some unequal developments that emerged with the war. Women’s representation in budgeting, procurement, and decision-making might make these aspects more salient and facilitate their integration into the recovery process.
Mobility is connected with social inclusion, more general well-being and a higher quality of life (this literature is reviewed in Josa and Aguado, 2019). The transport infrastructure is particularly important from the point of view of gender equality as usage of transportation and transport mode preferences significantly vary across socio-economic groups, including by gender (Grieco and McQuaid, 2012; Ghani et al., 2016). In the reconstruction planning and rebuilding process the prioritization of public funding for roads, highways, and railways compared to slow modes, such as walking and cycling, should be put in relation to usage and preferences in different groups of the population. One way through which women are excluded, from mobility itself and from other economic outcomes that mobility would help to reach, such as education (Borker, 2021) and employment (Das and Kotikula, 2019), are safety concerns. In dozens of cities around the world, lack of safety and prevalence of sexual harassment in public transit has resulted in the creation of safe spaces to facilitate safer travel conditions for women (Kondylis et al., 2020). The reconstruction could put significant emphasis on the safety of public transportation which would benefit women in particular and facilitate their effective integration in the future aspects of socio-economic development.
4.3 The Gender Perspective in Increasing Energy Efficiency
One of the key focus points of post-war reconstruction will be rebuilding the energy infrastructure, which has, over the course of the war increasingly been a target of Russian bombing. This process will have to be accompanied by considerations of reorientation, in terms of the energy mix, with a focus on self-sufficiency and environmental sustainability, but also most likely of relocation. At the same time the country should pay significant attention to energy efficiency, which may significantly influence both the energy self-sufficiency of Ukraine and the environmental aspects of power and heating.
It is worth noting at this point that natural resources and their exploitation have significant implications for local communities with consequences from projects often spilling over to local attitudes, leading to gender inequalities through channels such as labor and marriage markets, environmental quality and health, fertility and violence (see a review in Baum and Benshaul-Tolonen, 2021). Both exploitation and new energy infrastructure projects – similar to other aspects of the build environment – will have to consider effective connection to the new urban and production mix, so that the energy infrastructure serves the new cities and the updated geographic distribution of various productive sectors, but also the impact that infrastructure positioning can have on surrounding communities. The presence of infrastructure may generate rents and inequality, and the same is true also for energy infrastructure.
The post-war reconstruction will also present a chance to substantially improve energy self-sufficiency through increased efficiency in energy consumption. Ukraine currently has an energy intensity in production that exceeds the EU average by a factor of 2.5. Although energy efficiency in industry and buildings represents the lion share of such gains, households’ consumption behavior has the potential to contribute substantially, both directly through the consumption of fuel and electricity, and indirectly through the consumption of goods and services (Bin and Dowlatabadi, 2005), as well as through the support for a green policy agenda (Douenne and Fabre, 2022). In this area women and gender-related attitudes might be particularly important. Recent literature claims that women tend to be more environmentally friendly than men, partly due to individual characteristics and attitudes considered more prevalent among women, such as risk aversion, altruism, and cooperativeness – important for environmental behaviors (Cárdenas et al., 2012 and 2014; Andreoni and Vesterlund, 2001). There is also empirical evidence that households where women have more decision power display higher energy-efficiency and energy savings (Li et al., 2019), while firms with more women in their board source significantly more energy from renewables (Atif et al., 2020). It might therefore prove instrumental that energy-efficiency policies directed to households (nudges, information/education, financial incentives) and firms respectively (including gender quotas in boards) take these aspects into account.
5. Post-war Reconstruction: the Gender Perspective on Rebuilding and Strengthening Ukraine’s Human Capital
The human cost of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the implications from the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories since 2014, is immeasurable. The loss of lives, as well as the consequences of disabilities, physical injuries and mental trauma will scar the Ukrainian future for decades to come. The invasion has resulted also in massive displacement and emigration, as well as in the loss of numerous aspects of individual capacities. From the point of view of Ukraine’s reconstruction and future development, all these losses, apart from demonstrating dramatic individual human tragedies, need to be perceived as loss of an essential building block of socio-economic growth – human capital.
Successful post-war reconstruction of Ukraine and its long-term sustainable development can only be ensured if sufficient care is taken of areas which are key to the development and effective utilization of human capital. These cover, in particular but not exclusively, the areas of healthcare, education, research and the labor market and all of them have been extensively covered and discussed in Gorodnichenko et al. (2022, see chapters: 10, 11, 12, 13). Drawing on their general conclusions, we particularly focus on some of the gender aspects of human capital development in the context of planning Ukraine’s reconstruction. Highlighting gender aspects is sometimes misunderstood as being focused on achieving gender equality in numbers across domains. This is not our focus here. The starting point is to look at a number of empirical facts about actual conditions and, based on this, point to the importance of taking the gender dimension into account to achieve efficiency in the reconstruction process. Gender sensitivity seems particularly important in the area of human capital development, and given the fundamental role of human capital for growth (e.g., Barro, 2001; Squicciarini and Voigtländer, 2015; Goldin, 2016) it is essential for an effective use of reconstruction resources as well as for ensuring a cost-efficient, sustainable and fair process of redevelopment.
The reconstruction interventions we address in this Section are those in which the gender aspect is particularly salient. We categorize these under three broad overlapping headings: 5.1; supporting internally displaced individuals, returning international migrants, war veterans and other victims of conflict, 5.2; providing effective education and training to younger generations, and 5.2; reducing institutional constraints on labor market participation.
5.1 Supporting Internally Displaced, Returning International Migrants, War Veterans and Other Victims of Conflict
Forced internal displacement and international migration – apart from the resulting direct consequences for physical and mental health – comes with separation from family and local social networks, from jobs and schools as well as loss of physical and financial assets. According to UNWomen 7,9 million Ukrainians have been forced to leave the country and 90 percent of them are women with their children. Of the more than 5 million internally displaced 68 percent are women (as of Jan 2023; UNWomen, 2023). Many of those forced to move will either not be able to return home or will return to their localities devastated by the war along a number of dimensions.
Effective rebuilding and reconstruction will strongly rely on the input from these hundreds of thousands of individuals. We ought to bear in mind that a great majority of international war migrants are women, and supporting them in returning to Ukraine and in reintegration – often in places other than those they had left – will be of vital importance to the process of reconstruction. Significant care will also have to be taken of returning war veterans – most of whom are men, as well as victims of war related sexual violence – mostly women. Ukraine already counts more than 300,000 veterans from different armed conflicts on Ukrainian territory since 1992 – including 18,000 women or about 6 percent (Ministry of Veterans Affairs of Ukraine, 2022). According to the head of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, about 1 million are currently mobilized, with roughly 5 percent being women (Boyko, 2022). The Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine (2022b) expects the number of veterans and their families to amount to 5 million. To support their involvement in the reconstruction process, short run interventions ought to address the following critical areas: housing and safety, physical and mental health, and active labor market policies. All these areas involve significant gender considerations.
a) Housing and safety
As many of the internally displaced and those returning to Ukraine from abroad will not be able to return to their homes, provision of safe and good quality housing will represent a major challenge in the reconstruction efforts. While ‘roof over your head’ is equally important for everyone, some aspects of the housing infrastructure, especially local safety and safe connectivity with other key locations, are of particular relevance to the wellbeing of women. Although already mentioned in in our discussion of reconstruction of the physical environment in Section 4, it is important to bear in mind that good quality housing and access to critical infrastructure and effective transportation networks have substantial implications for the effective ways of participation of different members of the society in its socio-economic activities. If the human capital of men and women is to be efficiently engaged in the reconstruction process and further developed, the physical context in which it will happen must be adjusted with the objectives of different groups in mind. Housing, neighborhood conditions, and safe transportation translate into access to jobs, training, education, and local services. The design of the physical reconstruction after the war ought to take these different perspectives into account along the lines of gender responsive budgeting to clearly delineate and correctly identify priorities for the allocation of recovery funds.
b) Physical and mental health support
It is clear that experiences from threat to one’s life and safety, the need to flee one’s home and search refuge, continued experience of insecurity, the direct exposure to terror and violence – including sexual violence – and war atrocities will leave a significant proportion of the Ukrainian population traumatized and in need of specialized mental health support. Additionally, numerous individuals will come out of the war with life-changing physical injuries, while to countless people the period of war will result in substantial neglect of common health problems which otherwise would have been taken care of. These dramatic consequences of war will have to be comprehensively addressed as part of the reconstruction effort to support the affected and vulnerable groups, with the aim to address both their physical and mental health deficiencies. The issues involved are too complex for a Policy Paper to deal with in detail – we can only highlight health as an area to be prioritized in the allocation of recovery funds. With that in mind it is important to stress that there are numerous examples in the public heath literature showing the significance of the gender perspective with regard to the efficient use of public resources and appropriate design of health interventions, taking into account the specific requirements of men and women both in physical and mental health (Abel & Newbigging, 2018; Chandra et al., 2019; Diaz-Granados et al., 2011; Judd et al., 2009; Oertelt-Prigione et al., 2017).
War veterans – primarily men – will be a group in need of particular concern and a comprehensive approach with regard to physical and mental health. Specific specialized support will have to be offered also to victims of conflict-related sexual violence – mostly women. The direct health support will often need to go along with education and training as well as assistance in such areas as housing and material conditions.
Already before the full-scale Russian invasion Ukraine had rolled out several programs in support of veterans from the ongoing 2014 conflict. These included establishing private or publicly co-funded therapy centers for treating posttraumatic stress disorder (Colborne, 2015) and creating organized groups of psychological and psychiatric specialists providing psychological assistance (Quirke et al., 2020). They also included conducting special trainings for general practitioners to provide mental health consultations to increase the overall capacity of Ukraine’s health care system to address mental health issues (Kuznetsova et al., 2019), and broadcasting national TV/social media awareness campaigns such as ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ (Quirke et al., 2021). Since 2017, as part of the broader healthcare reform program, a thorough reform of the mental health services provision has been underway. The key identified challenges targeted with the reform were: securing human rights protection in mental health legislation, improving regulation of the mental healthcare sector and expanding delivery of mental health services outside of the institutionalized settings (The Ministry of Health of Ukraine, 2018; Weissbecker et al., 2017).
c) Active labor market policies (ALMP)
In precarious conditions in particular, women tend to be those responsible for care of elderly and children, which additionally contributes to disconnecting them from the labor market. It seems that large scale ALMP programs for displaced individuals and returning migrants will be essential to improve the match between skills and the local post-war labor market conditions.
With greater war time labor market disconnect among women, many of whom will have spent months without employment or in various forms of war-time subsistence work, ALMPs will be critical for many in the process of post-war reconstruction. Overview studies show that effectiveness of labor market interventions is generally positive for men and women (e.g. Card et al., 2010). These are often similar in size even though in settings with high employment gaps – such as in the case of Ukraine – the programs tend to be more effective for women (Bergman and van den Berg, 2008). Appropriate identification of skill shortages and provision of training can be an effective way of supporting the post-war Ukrainian labor market and the integration of women in particular. The design of these programs ought to pay special attention in order to avoid labor market stereotyping, to provide broad and integrated routeways to deliver the greatest pool of talent, and to ensure that men and women are appropriately matched to jobs suitable to their skills and abilities. Significant training programs should also be directed towards war veterans.
The skills training aspect of ALMPs has other important gender dimensions – women represent a large majority of Ukrainian teachers, and their skills can be utilized not only in schools but also in adult education and retraining, taking particular advantage of the extensive network of vocational education institutions. Similarly, around 83 percent of the country’s healthcare workers are women, and skills upgrading in the healthcare sector – especially focused on increasing the competence and skills of nurses to take over greater responsibilities for primary care – will constitute an important reform element in the Ukrainian healthcare sector (see Gorodnichenko et al., 2022, chapter 12).
5.2 Providing Effective Education and Training to Younger Generations
Ukrainian youth have in recent years faced a double blow to their educational development. The first one in the form of numerous Covid-19 pandemic related restrictions, followed by the disruption in their education process due to the Russian invasion. The latter especially affected those who had to flee their homes and leave their local schools, as well as those whose schools have been destroyed and rendered dysfunctional. However, many Ukrainian schools opted for or were forced to limit the extent of provided classes and/or provided some of the instruction online. According to UNICEF, the war in Ukraine has disrupted education for more than 5 million children (UNICEF, 2023). 60 percent of children have experienced different traumatic events such as separation from family and friends, moving to another region, shelling and bombing, having witnessed the death of relatives or loved ones, etc. In early 2023, 42 percent of children aged 3-17 studied online, 29 percent both online and in school/kindergarten, 26 percent attended educational institutions while 3 percent studied at home (Sociological Group Rating, 2023). As mounting evidence from the Covid-19 pandemic shows, such disruptions accumulate in the form of significant human capital losses (e.g., Gajderowicz et al., 2022, Contini et al., 2021) and post-war recovery will have to address these to minimize the losses to the pool of skills of the future Ukrainian work force.
Home schooling and school routines disrupted in various ways might, in particular in communities characterized by traditional gender norms, impose additional limitations on the education of girls who may be tasked with greater home and care responsibilities. Thus, while emphasis on catching up on effective learning will be of utmost importance for all students, from the point of view of gender equality, it will be particularly important to closely monitor the school coverage and return to standard school attendance among girls. As post-pandemic evidence from developing countries suggests this may be of particular relevance with regard to teenage students (Kwauk et al., 2021). Post-war recovery initiatives aimed at financial support for households ought to ensure that households with older children in particular do not need to trade off material conditions and schooling opportunities. This might call for programs designed to incentivize school attendance in particular among children in displaced families and for returning international migrants (Aygün et al., 2021).
The post-war reconstruction initiatives in education might also be a chance for the education system to be more forthcoming in promoting high skilled occupations among female students. The 2018 PISA study demonstrated that while Ukrainian 15-year-old girls and boys do equally well in mathematics and science, their objectives with regard to occupation – in particular in STEM areas – differ significantly (OECD, 2019).
5.3 Reducing Institutional Constraints on Labor Market Participation
In order to make most of the potential of the Ukrainian labor force in the process of post-war reconstruction, the plans ought to target various institutional constraints to labor market participation. In this respect the gender equality literature has stressed in particular the provision of early and pre-school childcare to facilitate employment of parents, and in particular of mothers (Addati et al., 2018; Attanasio et al., 2008; Azcona et al., 2020; Gammarano, 2020). Although much has been done during the past decades to improve women integration in the labor market, attitudes in the home and in the family care realm remain traditional and unbalanced (Babych et al., 2021; Obrizan, 2022b). This translates into an unequal division of care and work at home as well as participation in the labor market.
While childcare facilities have been shown to play a key role in supporting female participation in numerous contexts, they are going to be of particular importance to displaced families and returning international migrants, who may lack family support and social networks to organize informal care. Before the full-scale invasion, a relatively high proportion of children aged 3-5 and 5-6 (88 and 97 percent, respectively) were covered by institutional childcare (Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, 2021). Returning to such high levels of coverage will be an important element of the reconstruction process. Additionally, authorities should extend the coverage of childcare available to younger children, which in 2019 was much lower (18 percent).
Similarly, welfare arrangements in a broader sense are important to facilitate employment of all working age individuals, men as well as women. It is well established that in situations where government support is cut in various ways, it is typically the women who withdraw from the labor market to manage not just childcare but elderly care and other welfare functions (Mateo Díaz and Rodriguez-Chamussy, 2016). While a high proportion (54 percent) of people in Ukraine before the 2022 invasion declared that care duties should be equally divided between spouses, as many as 41 percent thought that it is the woman’s responsibility (Babych et al., 2021). This implies that it is still likely that, when faced with institutional and informal care constraints, it will be women who will be more likely to drop out of the labor market.
To facilitate effective reconstruction, high participation rates among both men and women will be of utmost importance. To achieve this, substantial reconstruction funding ought to be committed to ensure adequate care support directed both to parents of young children as well as to those with care responsibilities of older family members. Such support will be particularly important in localities with high numbers of internally displaced and returning international migrants. These needs should be correctly accounted for when planning the reconstruction process and allocation of funds, and the GRB approach is likely to be an essential instrument to ensure that objectives of different groups of the Ukrainian society are appropriately addressed.
Over the last few years, the Ukrainian government has introduced substantial reforms in the management of public finances with the aim of developing gender responsive procedures to ensure greater gender equality in the delivered outcomes. The government’s commitment was confirmed in August 2022 with the adoption of the State Strategy for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men for the period until 2030 and approval of the operational plan for its implementation for 2022-2024 (Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, 2022). The implemented legislation and the experience from practicing gender responsive budgeting at different levels of government can prove to be an invaluable platform to be utilized in the post-war reconstruction process. Pre-war statistics from many areas of life in Ukraine demonstrated a high degree of inequality along the gender dimension. Gender gaps were high in employment, pay levels, the allocation of home and care responsibilities, and it could also be seen in senior positions in politics, company management, and academia. One of the many tragic consequences of the full-scale Russian invasion and the ongoing war is that these gaps are likely to grow.
If the post-war reconstruction process is to take the principles of “building-back-better” seriously, then, apart from many other dimensions which need to be considered (see Gorodnichenko et al., 2022), recovery planning and execution will also have to address various social inequalities, especially that along the gender dimension. As argued in this Policy Paper, to ensure fair and effective use of recovery funds, the reconstruction process should pay close attention to the identity of its beneficiaries, as well as the way decisions are being made. The authorities, including the central agency responsible for the reconstruction (e.g., UREIA, see Gorodnichenko et al., 2022), should take full advantage of existing tools and instruments of the gender responsive budgeting approach, as well as of an equitable representation within their ranks, and build on the basis of existing Ukrainian legislation and practice of gender budgeting (see Box 2). The reconstruction process will offer a unique chance to set Ukraine on the path of inclusive, stable and sustainable development. We have pointed out a number of areas in which the gender dimension will be particularly important – these include both the reconstruction and rebuilding of the physical environment as well as support and recovery of the full potential of Ukrainian citizens – old and young, men and women. The reconstruction of Ukraine will be a hugely challenging task, and it will have to involve massive resources. International support for channeling those funds to Ukraine and their effective use will depend on how effectively and how fairly they will be used. The application of gender responsive budgeting can help both in ensuring efficiency of allocation of the funds, and in strengthening the legitimacy for the provision of support by the international community.
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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
If the reconstruction of Ukraine is to result in sustainable development and bring tangible benefits to all Ukrainians, the principles of “building-back better” need to take into account the specificities of gender in the reconstruction process.
Researchers from the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and the Forum for Research on Gender Economics (FROGEE) together with other gender economics experts are releasing the policy paper “Rebuilding Ukraine: the Gender Dimension of Reconstruction” on International women’s day 2023 to highlight the importance of a gender perspective in some of the focus areas of the CEPR Report on rebuilding Ukraine.
The authors argue, that if the reconstruction is to result in stable, sustainable development and bring tangible benefits to all Ukrainians, the principles of “building-back better” need to take into account the specificities of gender. Arguments build on the growing literature developed initially in the area of public sector budgeting, which highlights the crucial role of the gender focus to achieve economically efficient as well as a socially just allocation of public resources.
The Gender Dimension in Budgetary Planning
The principles developed in the gender budgeting approach have in the past decades been applied to central and local budget expenditure planning as well as in other extraordinary contexts involving public funding, such as conditions of post-disaster and post-conflict reconstruction. Before the Russian aggression in February 2022, Ukraine was one of the countries which took a number of initiatives to include the gender dimension in budgetary planning. The concept of gender budgeting is well rooted in Ukrainian public policy making and its principles should thus come naturally to key policy making institutions in the discussion of plans for the country’s reconstruction.
The Paper Highlights the Following:
- Outlining the key principles of gender budgeting drawing on the existing literature and examples of successful implementation of gender budgeting at central and local government level.
- Examples of how gender budgeting has been applied in the case of allocation of public funds in extraordinary conditions of post-conflict and post-disaster reconstruction.
- The record of the Ukrainian government concerning the implementation of gender budgeting during peace times, prior to the Russian invasion. This is followed by a detailed discussion of how the principles of gender budgeting can in the future be applied in the realisation of the reconstruction and recovery plan for Ukraine, going through the physical environment, human capital, and governance.
Contact for Interviews
For more info, please contact the following researchers:
In 2019 the FREE Network initiated the Forum for Research on Gender Economics (FROGEE). The aim of FROGEE is to contribute to the discussion on gender inequality, with a specific focus on the region of Central and Eastern Europe. By highlighting different dimensions of gender inequality and its consequences for socio-economic development, FROGEE aims at bringing the issue of gender equality to the focus of both the general public and policy makers. These objectives are addressed through publication of reviews and policy briefs, organization of conferences, seminars, and workshops, as well as further development of research collaboration on gender economics with other institutions.
In economic literature the effect of minimum wage on the labour market and its relevance as an anti-poverty, equality-enhancing policy tool, is a matter of vigorous debate. The focus of this policy brief is a hypothetical effect on poverty rates, particularly among women, following an increase in the minimum wage in Georgia. A simulation exercise (Babych et al., 2022) by the ISET-PI research team shows that, in Georgia, a potential increase in the minimum wage is likely to result in an overall positive albeit small reduction in poverty rates in general. At the same time, women are likely to gain more from such minimum wage policy than men. The findings are consistent with the literature claiming that a minimum wage increase alone may not result in meaningful poverty reduction. Any minimum wage increase should thus be enhanced by other policies such as training programs increasing labor force participation among women.
Many countries around the world have enacted minimum wage laws. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) “Minimum wages can be one element of a policy to overcome poverty and reduce inequality, including those between men and women” (ILO, 2023). In economic literature, the minimum wage debate has been particularly acute, with pros and cons of the minimum wage increases, their effect on the labor market, and their relevance as an anti-poverty and equality-enhancing policy tool fiercely contested in empirical studies and simulation studies. In this policy brief, we focus on the effect of a minimum wage increase in Georgia on poverty rates, and in particular poverty rates among women.
Minimum Wage Effects
According to the European Commission (2020) a number of benefits is associated with the introduction of minimum wage. These benefits include a reduction in in-work poverty, wage inequality and the gender pay gap, among others.
International evidence, however, cautions against considering an increase in minimum wage as the silver bullet to end poverty. A 2019 report by the International Labour Organization (ILO, 2019) shows that the incidence of poverty among the working poor is comparable to the incidence of poverty among individuals outside of the labor market. Therefore, even if an increase in minimum wages would lift all working poor out of poverty, a substantial number of poor would remain.
Moreover, minimum wage can have a potential adverse effect on employment of the most vulnerable by deterring firms from hiring low-wage, low-skilled labor (Neumark, 2018). The adverse employment effect will be stronger if current wages correspond more closely to the real productivity of labor. In such scenario companies would lose by retaining low-productivity workers and, likely respond to the increase in minimum wage by laying off workers, resulting in the loss of wages, rather than in their increase. On the other hand, if salaries are lower than the real productivity of the less productive workers, companies might still be able to profit from employing them and will not be forced to lay them off, resulting in a wage increase for low-wage workers.
Whether – and to what extent – the introduction of a minimum wage reduces poverty and/or assists low-income households then depends on how many individuals are going to lose their jobs, how many workers will maintain their jobs and receive a higher wage, and where these winners and losers are positioned along the distribution of family incomes.
With regard to employment effects, the results are not perfectly homogeneous. On the one hand, a large body of evidence suggests that minimum wages do lower the number of jobs accessible to low-skill employees (Sabia, Burkhauser and Hansen, 2012; Sotomayor, 2021; Neumark, 2018) On the other hand, some scholars argue that once the study design is changed to take into account the non-random distribution of minimum wage policies in different parts of the country in question, the “disemployment effect” of minimum wage policies (considering the example of United States) largely disappear (Allegretto et al., 2013; Dube et al., 2010).
With regards to poverty, a number of studies look at minimum wage as an anti-poverty policy tool for developing countries and consider its effectiveness in reducing poverty and/or inequality. For example, a study by Sotomayor (2021) suggests that poverty and income inequality in Brazil decreased by 2.8 and 2.4 percent respectively within three months of a minimum wage increase. Effects diminished with time, particularly for bottom-sensitive distribution measures, a process that is consistent with resulting job losses being more frequent among poorer households. The fact that the subsequent yearly increase in the minimum wage in Brazil resulted in a renewed drop in poverty and inequality shows that possible unemployment costs might be outweighed by benefits in the form of higher pay among working persons and – potentially – by positive spillover effects such as increased overall consumption.
Minimum Wage and Female Poverty
As in the case of poverty in general, there is some discrepancy in the literature on whether a minimum wage increase would help reduce poverty among women. Single mothers have been the focus of research in this regard since they are typically the most vulnerable low-wage workers, likely to be hurt by the loss of employment following an increase/ introduction of a minimum wage. Burkhauser and Sabia (2007) argue that the minimum wage increases in the U.S. (1988-2003) did not have any effect on the overall poverty rates, on the poverty rates among the working poor, or on poverty among single mothers. They argue that an increase in Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which provides a wage subsidy to workers depending on income level, tax filing status, and the number of children, would have a higher impact on poverty, in particular among single mothers.
In the meantime, Neumark and Wascher (2011) find that EITC and minimum wage reinforce each other’s positive effect for single women with children (boosting both employment and earnings), but negatively affects childless single women and minority men. Another study on the U.S. (Sabia, 2008) looked at the effect of minimum wage increases on the welfare of single mothers, finding that most of them were unaffected as they earned above-minimum wage. Single mothers with low-education levels did not see an increase in net incomes due to the negative effect on employment and hours worked: for low-skilled individuals, a 10 percent increase in minimum wage resulted in an 8.8 percent decline in employment and an 11.8 percent reduction in hours worked.
Yet another study (DeFina, 2008) focus on child poverty rates and show that minimum wage increases have a positive (reducing) impact on child poverty in female-headed families. The effect is small but significant (a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage decreases child poverty rates by 1.8 percentage points), controlling for other factors.
Ultimately, the effect of minimum wage on poverty among women or female-headed households is somewhat ambiguous. It depends on the poverty threshold used, other policy instruments (such as the EITC), existing incentives to enter employment and how, in the specific country of interest, labor laws may affect the employer’s cost of hiring (e.g. for France, see Laroque and Salanie, 2002).
The discussion is however relevant for countries like Georgia, where the wage gap between men and women is quite large, and where more women than men tend to work in low-wage and vulnerable jobs. While the overall poverty gap between men and women in Georgia is insignificant (mainly because poverty is measured at the household level), the gap becomes apparent when comparing female-headed households to male-headed ones. The poverty rates in the former case are nearly 2 percentage points higher in Georgia (20 percent vs. 18.3 percent in 2021). The poverty rates are the highest among households with only adult women (39.3 percent for all-female households vs. 20.1 percent overall in 2018).
A Simulation of a Minimum Wage Raise in Georgia
The Georgian minimum wage legislation dates back to 1999. The presidential decree N 351 from June 4, 1999 states that the minimum (monthly) wage that is to be set in Georgia is equal to 20 GEL (with some specific exceptions in the public sector). This is a non-binding threshold. Therefore, one has to think carefully what consequences might arise from raising the minimum wage to a much higher level. In addition to previously discussed aspects, one issue to keep in mind is the different average wages across different regions in Georgia. For example, a national minimum wage increase might have more of an impact in poorer regions, where both wages and incomes are lower, while it may still be non-binding in Tbilisi.
The ISET-PI research team (Babych et al., 2022) use Georgian micro data from the Labor Force Survey (LFS) and the Household Integrated Expenditure Survey (HIES), to simulate the effect of instituting a nation-wide minimum wage on both employment and poverty rates in different regions of Georgia. One focus area of the study was to analyze the effects of a minimum wage increase on female poverty. As with any exercise using a simulation approach, this study is subject to limitations imposed by the assumptions used, e.g. how much labor demand would respond to changes in the minimum wage, etc. The study considered two hypothetical thresholds of the minimum wage; 250 and 350 GEL respectively.
Figure 1. Share of private sector employees earning below certain thresholds, by gender, 2021.
The expected household income after the minimum wage increase was calculated and then compared to the poverty threshold (for each household in a standard way, using the “adult equivalence” scale). According to this methodology, any person who lives in a household which falls below the poverty threshold is considered to be poor. A “working poor” household is defined as a household below the poverty threshold where at least one adult is working.
Figure 1 shows that there is a substantial share of both men and women whose monthly wage income falls below the hypothetical minimum wage thresholds. In addition, women are more than two times as likely to be earning below these thresholds. However, the possible impact from an increased minimum wage on female vs. male poverty is not clear-cut. Since many women are part of larger households which include adult males, their possible income losses/gains may be counterbalanced by income gains/losses of male family members, leaving the overall effect on household income ambiguous.
In addition, poverty rates are not likely to be much affected by a minimum wage increase if most poor households are “non-working poor” (where adult family members are either unemployed or outside of the labor force), a consideration particularly relevant for Georgia. The share of poor individuals who live in “working poor” households (with at least one household member employed) is just 41 percent nationally (and 35 percent in rural areas), meaning that close to 60 percent of poor individuals nationwide (and 65 percent in rural areas) are not likely to be directly affected by minimum wage increases.
Female vs. Male Poverty: Scenarios Following a Minimum Wage Increase
As one can see in Figure 2, increased minimum wages tend to reduce poverty, but the impact is not larger than one percentage point. Not surprisingly, females benefit more than males (0.3 and 0.8 percentage points vs. 0.2 and 0.9 percentage points poverty reduction for men and women respectively, under different threshold scenarios). The maximum positive impact on poverty reduction is observed under a higher minimum wage threshold.
Figure 2. Estimated impact on poverty rates, based on the national subsistence minimum.
The impact of an increased minimum wage on the expected median consumption of households doesn’t exceed a few percentage points either, as illustrated in Figure 3.
The impact is greatest in urban areas other than Tbilisi (between a 2.5 percent and a 4.2 percent increase in median consumption relative to the status quo). The lower impact in Tbilisi is most likely driven by relatively higher wages, while the low impact in rural areas is likely driven by lower participation in wage employment.
In the hypothetical case of Georgia, an impact of a minimum wage increase on poverty rates is expected to be limited, in line with the literature. In our study this finding is mostly driven by the fact that only a relatively small share of poor individuals live in “working poor” households (about 40 percent, nationally). The remaining 60 percent of poor individuals will be unaffected by the reform.
The quantitative impact on female and male poverty is estimated to be low, although the female poverty rate reduction is somewhat larger than among males.
It is important to note that the analysis doesn’t consider possible differential impacts on different groups of vulnerable families, such as families with small children and single mothers with small children. Some reasons to why groups of households may or may not be affected by the hypothetical minimum wage increase, based on their employment status and other factors, have been discussed above.
Another important point is that our exercise should not be seen as an argument against an increase of the minimum wage in Georgia. Instead, it suggests that such a reform would not have much of an impact if done in isolation. Indeed, the existing literature on minimum wage seems to be in consensus on the fact that minimum wage policies would be more impactful if supplemented by the following measures:
- Maintain and expand targeted social assistance to groups that do not benefit or that are losing jobs/incomes as a result of the minimum wage changes
- Have job re-training programs in place to help laid-off workers
- Have human capital investment programs in place to increase workers’ productivity, in particular for low-productivity sectors
- Consider other support instruments targeted toward the most affected groups of the population such as single working mothers etc.
These recommendations should be incorporated in the policy making regarding minimum wages in Georgia.
We are grateful to Expertise France for financially supporting the original report (Babych et al., 2022), which features some of the results and points raised in this policy brief.
- Allegretto, S., Dube, A., Reich, M., & Zipperer, B. (2017). Credible Research Designs for Minimum Wage Studies: A Response to Neumark, Salas, and Wascher. ILR Review, 70(3), 559–592. https://doi.org/10.1177/0019793917692788
- Babych, Y., Pignatti, N., Chapichadze, A., Lobzhanidze, G. and Shubitidze, E. (2022). Report on Minimum Wage in Georgia. ISET Policy Institute. Unpublished manuscript.
- Belman, D. and Wolfson, Paul J. (2014). What Does the Minimum Wage Do? Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. https://doi.org/10.17848/9780880994583
- Burkhauser, R. V. and Sabia, J. J. (2007). The effectiveness of minimum‐wage increases in reducing poverty: Past, present, and future. Contemporary Economic Policy, 25(2), 262-281. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1465-7287.2006.00045.x
- DeFina, R. H. (2008). The impact of state minimum wages on child poverty in female-headed families. Journal of Poverty, 12(2), 155-174. https://doi.org/10.1080/10875540801973542
- Dube, A., T.W. Lester, and M. Reich. 2010. Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimates Using Contiguous Counties. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 92(4), 945–964. https://doi.org/10.1162/REST_a_00039
- European Commission. (2020). Proposal for a directive of the European parliament and of the council on adequate minimum wages in the European Union. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52020PC0682GEOSTAT
- International Labour Organization (ILO). (2023). https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/wages/minimum-wages/definition/lang–en/index.htm
- International Labour Organization (ILO). (2019). The working poor or how a job is no guarantee of decent living conditions chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—stat/documents/publication/wcms_696387.pdf
- Geostat. (2021). https://www.geostat.ge/en
- Laroque, G. & Salanié, B. (2002). Labour market institutions and employment in France. Journal of Applied Econometrics, 17(1), 25-48. https://doi.org/10.1002/jae.656
- Neumark, D. & Wascher, W. (2011). Does a higher minimum wage enhance the effectiveness of the Earned Income Tax Credit? ILR Review, 64(4), 712-746. https://doi.org/10.1177/001979391106400405
- Neumark, D. (2018). Employment effects of minimum wages. IZA World of Labor 2018: 6. https://wol.iza.org/articles/employment-effects-of-minimum-wages/long
- Sabia, J. J., Burkhauser, R. V. & Hansen, B. (2012). Are The Effects Of Minimum Wage Increases Always Small? New Evidence From A Case Study Of New York State. Sage Publications, 350-376. https://doi.org/10.1177/001979391206500207
- Sabia, J. J. (2008). Minimum wages and the economic wellbeing of single mothers. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 27(4), 848-866. https://doi.org/10.1002/pam.20379
- Sotomayor, O. J. (2021). Can the minimum wage reduce poverty and inequality in the developing world? Evidence from Brazil. World Development 138. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105182.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed during events and conferences are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
The eruption of war exposes women to increased gender-based violence, in the immediate conflict area as well as in the countries where they seek refuge. Acknowledging the specific conflict-related risks that women face is important, in order to target interventions, especially considering that the actors that sit at peace negotiation tables are predominantly or exclusively men. In this policy brief, we discuss the implications of conflict for gender-based violence, with a special focus on the ongoing war in Ukraine. We also outline some policy interventions that might help mitigate the risks that women face, holding those responsible to account, and building a more gender-equal society from the reconstruction efforts. Our discussion draws from existing academic literature and inputs from the special panel session on conflict during the FROGEE conference “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence”.
Gender-Based Violence During Conflicts
During war, as in peacetime, women are exposed to different forms of violence, and to a different extent, as compared to men. In other words, there are gender-specific aspects of conflict-related violence, both in immediate conflict areas and in the places where affected populations might seek refuge.
One form of violence against women in conflict areas is sexual violence and rapes perpetrated by combatants. Scholars and policy analysts tend to portray this violence as a weapon of war (Eriksson and Stern, 2013), meaning that it is a way of humiliating and demoralizing the enemy as individuals and as communities. Differently put, the narrative that portrays sexual violence as, for instance, the consequence of unmet sexual needs among soldiers is increasingly less accepted. Sexual violence against women perpetrated by armed forces in conflict areas is tragically prevalent. While proper quantification of the phenomenon is hard for obvious reasons, it is estimated for example that at least 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide, and 50,000 during the war in Bosnia (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022).
Another form of gender-based violence in conflict is that women who are uprooted by war tend to confront a high risk of sexual violence during their journey away from home and in the places where they seek refuge. Vu et al. (2014) estimate, through meta-analysis, that approximately one in five refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings experienced sexual violence. The study also highlights the need for more data to shed light on the characteristics of perpetrators. The presence of aid workers among them appears to persist through several humanitarian crises (Reis, 2021).
Further, women and children fleeing war areas are vulnerable to the risk of trafficking and exploitation for sexual or other work (as highlighted in the FROGEE conference panel). Traffickers and criminal organizations tend to exploit the combination of a mass movement of people in precarious economic situations and the decreased scrutiny generated by the humanitarian emergency.
Finally, war heightens the risk of intimate partner violence (IPV) in conflict areas as well as among refugees and displaced individuals, by causing stress, trauma, economic hardship and increased substance abuse, all of which lead to deterioration in mental health and the quality of relationships (Conference panel). An actual or perceived sense of impunity can also undermine victims’ propensity to report IPV at such a time. A systematic review of the published literature on gender-based violence in conflict finds that estimated rates of IPV across most studies are much higher than the rates of rape and sexual violence perpetrated outside the home (Stark and Ager, 2011).
The consequences of conflict on IPV can be long-lasting. Evidence from post-genocide Rwanda shows that women who married after the conflict were more likely to be victims of spousal abuse; skewed sex ratios that reduced women’s bargaining power in the marriage market appear to be the relevant channel (La Mattina 2017). Another important factor is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans: a study of US military personnel shows that assignment to combat in the Global War on Terrorism is associated with higher incidence of domestic violence and lower relationship quality (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). The increased availability of small weapons can also lead to more frequent or more violent instances of domestic abuse (Conference panel).
The War in Ukraine
Reports from the US State Department and Amnesty international document episodes of sexual violence from armed conflict actors in Donetsk and Luhansk since the start of the conflict in 2014 (Amnesty International, 2020). Both Russian and Ukrainian military were involved, speaking to the tragedy that the population close to the “contact area” have witnessed since 2014.
At present, growing evidence is emerging that Ukrainians, especially but not exclusively women and girls, are victims of rape, gang-rape and forced nudity perpetrated by Russian military troops invading the country (United Nations). It is notoriously difficult to collect and verify data and facts on sexual violence during wartime, but these early accounts, and the experience from previous conflicts, call for a high level of scrutiny and readiness to help. Research also suggests some potential factors that aggravate the prevalence of sexual violence in conflict. Guarnieri and Tur-Prats (2020) show that armed actors who hold more gender-unequal norms are more likely to be perpetrators of sexual violence, and that the incidence of sexual violence is highest when the parts in conflict hold gender norms that differ substantially (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022). Survey data show that the share of people who appear to hold gender-unequal norms in Russia remained high over the years, based on questions on the effectiveness of women and men as political or business leaders (Figures 1 and 2), or the desirability of women earning more than their husbands (not shown).
Figure 1. Men make better political leaders than women do, % agreement
Figure 2. Men make better business executives than women do, % agreement
Evidence on the evolution of norms in Ukraine is more mixed (see Figures 1 and 2). All in all, surveys of gender-role attitudes suggest that gender stereotypes persist in Russian society, but it is not obvious that the prevailing gender norms are starkly different between Russia and Ukraine. On the other hand, attitudes toward IPV in the two countries might be evolving differently, at least among the respective elites, based on the fact that legislation on domestic violence recently changed in opposite direction in the two countries. Specifically, Russia decriminalized minor forms of domestic violence in early 2017. Conversely, Ukraine strengthened the legal response to domestic violence in early 2019, in particular making minor but systematic domestic violence criminally punishable, and extending criminal punishment beyond physical violence to include emotional and economic violence.
As a consequence of the war, almost 13 million Ukrainians have left their homes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022, according to the United Nations. Almost all of them are women and children, since men and boys aged 18 to 60 are required to stay in Ukraine to defend the country. Women traveling alone with their children, especially when fleeing to foreign countries where they often have no connections, are clearly at risk of assault and exploitation. Such risk is heightened by the exceptional speed of the refugee influx, whereby an impromptu response from the host countries is by necessity reliant on individual independent participation. Private hosts have spontaneously been opening their homes to accommodate for days or even weeks Ukrainians fleeing the war. Proper vetting of these offers is made difficult by the sheer number of people who are being welcomed in bordering countries, for instance Poland, as well as by the exceptional response from private individuals. Within a little more than a month from the start of this crisis there had already been a few episodes of sexual violence against Ukrainian refugees in their host countries (specifically in Poland and Germany).
While the current death toll in the war in Ukraine is unlikely to lead to dramatically skewed sex-ratios, this aspect might become more relevant as events evolve, in light also of the fact that nearly the universe of those who fled the country so far consists of women and children.
Finally, in the post-conflict period, the presence of small weapons, which have been made available to civilians to defend the country, is an additional risk factor for IPV (Conference panel).
What Can Be Done?
Academics, international organizations, activists and female politicians from Ukraine have made specific requests to improve the system of protection and accountability in the face of sexual violence against women living in or fleeing from conflict zones. These suggestions include ensuring that the system of transitional justice that will govern the post-conflict period establishes proper investigation and punishment of every form of sexual violence performed by armed actors during the war. To this end, some steps have already been taken. The UN Resolution in favor of the creation of an International Commission of Inquiry refers explicitly to the need to recognize the gender dimension of violations and abuses.
Beyond the horizon of the war, the safety of Ukrainian women in their homes relies on the protection offered by State legislation against domestic violence. In this respect, the Ukrainian government has recently taken a few measures in what the international community deems to be the “right direction”. A very important reform taken in the summer of 2021 allows for the military to be prosecuted for domestic violence on a general basis rather than on the basis of the disciplinary statute as it was before. This is especially important in light of the findings of increased risk of domestic violence in families of veterans (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). However, some critical aspects remain. In the current context, a crucial factor might be the limit of 6 months to prosecute the crime from the occurrence of the violence. An extension of such a period at a time when the normal functioning of many institutions is suspended or subject to delays can attenuate the perception of impunity that the exceptionality of the circumstances creates.
When it comes to refugees, there is as mentioned a need for better vetting of private hosts, although the urgency of action that the current circumstances require makes this a particularly challenging task. State effort in this direction has been complemented by civil society initiatives. For example, in Sweden, Facebook groups that lined up to coordinate the offer of housing are now organizing themselves to create a system for verifying housing and hosts.
Ukrainian politicians have also asked Western countries to be prepared to offer expertise on how to support survivors of rape and other sexual violence in conflict.
Other experts recommend reliance on cultural and linguistic mediators to help refugee women access services for victims of IPV that are already offered by local actors in their temporary host country (Conference panel).
In the longer term, guaranteeing economic safety for refugees is also an effective measure to reduce their vulnerability to exploitation from sex-traffickers and criminal organizations.
Finally, yet importantly, the involvement of women in peace negotiation processes should be sought after. Echoing the discussion on women’s scarcity in leadership positions in peacetime, the gender-unequal composition of peace delegations poses an issue of equality, representativeness, and efficiency (Bertrand 2018). Interestingly, it has been noted that a more truthful narrative of war, which recognizes women’s role not only as victims but also as perpetrators (and the converse for men, although proportions are clearly unbalanced in both cases), might help pave the way for higher female representation at negotiation tables (Conference panel). Relatedly, the European Institute for Gender Equality proposes gender mainstreaming of all policies and programs involved in conflict resolution processes (EIGE). The international community should also consider gender mainstreaming of reconstruction programs, to help build a more gender-equal post-conflict Ukraine.
- Amnesty International. (2020). Not a Private Matter. Domestic and Sexual Violence against Women in Eastern Ukraine.
- Baaz, M. E., and Stern, M. (2013). Sexual violence as a weapon of war?: Perceptions, prescriptions, problems in the Congo and beyond. Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Bertrand, M. (2018). Coase lecture–the glass ceiling. Economica, 85(338), 205-231.
- Cesur, R., and Sabia, J. J. (2016). When war comes home: The effect of combat service on domestic violence. Review of Economics and Statistics, 98(2), 209-225.
- Guarnieri, E., and Tur-Prats, A. (2022). Cultural distance and conflict-related sexual violence. Mimeo
- Reis, C. (2021). Sexual abuse during humanitarian operations still happens. What must be done to end it. The Conversation, October 5 2021. https://theconversation.com/sexual-abuse-during-humanitarian-operations-still-happens-what-must-be-done-to-end-it-169223
- Stark, L. and Ager, A. (2011). A systematic review of prevalence studies of gender-based violence in complex emergencies. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 12(3), pp.127-134.
- Vu, A., Adam, A., Wirtz, A., Pham, K., Rubenstein, L., Glass, N., Beyrer, C. and Singh, S. (2014). The prevalence of sexual violence among female refugees in complex humanitarian emergencies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS currents, 6.
This brief presents preliminary findings from a cross-country survey on perceptions and prevalence of domestic and gender-based violence conducted in September 2021 in eight countries: Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. We discuss the design and content of the study and present initial information on selected topics that were covered in the survey. The collected data has been used in three studies presented at the FROGEE Conference on “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence” and offers a unique resource to study gender-based violence in the region.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the academic and policy interest in the causes and consequences of domestic violence, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has tragically reminded us about the gender dimension of war. There is no doubt that a gender lens is a necessary perspective to understand and appreciate the full consequences of these two ongoing crises.
The tragic reason behind the increased attention given to domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdowns is the substantial evidence that gender-based violence has intensified to such an extent that the United Nations raised the alarm about a “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and girls (UN Women on-line link). Already before the pandemic, one in three women worldwide had experienced physical or sexual violence, usually at the hands of an intimate partner, and this number has only been increasing. The tragic reports from the military invasion of Ukraine concerning violence against women and children, as well as information on the heightened risks faced by war refugees from Ukraine, most of whom are women, should only intensify our efforts to better understand the background behind these processes and study the potential policy solutions to limit them to a minimum in the current and future crises.
The most direct consequences of gender-based and domestic violence – to the physical and mental health of the victims – are clearly of the highest concern and are the leading arguments in favour of interventions aimed at limiting the scale of violence. One should remember though, that the consequences and the related social costs of gender-based and domestic violence are far broader, and need not be caused by direct acts of physical violence. Gender-based and domestic violence can take the form of psychological pressure, limits on individual freedoms, or access to financial resources within households. As research in recent decades demonstrates, such forms of abuse also have significant consequences for the psychological well-being, social status, and professional development of its victims. All these outcomes are associated with not only high individual costs, but also with substantial social and economic costs to our societies.
This policy brief presents an outline of a survey conducted in eight countries aimed at better understanding the socio-economic context of gender-based violence. The survey, developed by the FREE Network of independent research institutes, has a regional focus on Central and Eastern Europe, with Sweden being an interesting benchmark country. The data was collected in September 2021 in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. The socio-economic situation of all these countries irrevocably changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the ongoing war, and its dramatic consequences. The world’s attention focused on the unspeakable violence committed by the Russian forces in Ukraine, the persecution in Belarus and Russia of their own citizens who were protesting against the invasion, and the challenges other neighbouring countries have faced as a result of an unprecedented wave of Ukrainian refugees. This change, on the one hand, calls for a certain distance with which we should judge the survey data and the derived results. On the other hand, the data may serve as a unique resource to support the analysis of the pre-war conditions in these countries with the aim to understand the background driving forces behind this dramatic crisis. In as much as the gender lens is necessary to comprehend the full scale of the consequences of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, it will be equally indispensable in the process of post-war development and reconciliation once peace is again restored.
Survey Design, Countries, and Samples
The survey was conducted in eight countries in September 2021 through as a telephone (CATI) survey using the list assisted random digit dialling (LA-RDD) method covering both cell phones and land-lines, and the sampling was carried out in such a way as to make the final sample representative of the respective populations by gender and three age group (18-39; 40-54; 55+). The collected samples varied from 925 to 1000 individuals. The same questionnaire initially prepared as a generic English version was fielded in all eight countries (in the respective national languages). The only deviations from the generic version were related to the education categories and to a set of final questions implemented in Latvia, Russia and Ukraine with a focus on the evaluation of national IPV legislation.
Table 1 presents some basic sample statistics, while Figure 1 shows the unweighted age and gender compositions in each country. The proportion of women in the sample varies between 49.4% in Sweden and 55.0% in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The average sample age is between 43 (Armenia) and 51 (Sweden), while the proportion of individuals with higher education is between 29.3% in Belarus and 55.4% in Georgia. The highest proportion of respondents living in rural areas could be found in Armenia at 62.9%, while the lowest was in Georgia at 24.1%. Figure 1 illustrates good coverage across age groups for both men and women.
Table 1. FROGEE Survey: samples and basic demographics
Figure 1. FROGEE Survey: gender and age distributions
Socio-economic Conditions and Other Background Characteristics
To be able to examine the relationship between different aspects of domestic and gender-based violence to the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents, an extensive set of questions concerning the demographic composition of their household and their material conditions were asked at the beginning of the interview. These questions included information about partnership history and family structure, the size of the household and living conditions, education and labour market status (of the respondent and his/her partner) and general questions concerning material wellbeing. In Figure 2 we show a summary of two of the latter set of questions – the proportion of men and women who find it difficult or very difficult to make ends meet (Figure 2A) and the proportion who declared that the financial situation of their household deteriorated in the last two years, i.e. since September 2019, which can be used as an indicator of the material consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can see that the difficulties in making ends meet are by far lowest in Sweden, and slightly lower in the other EU countries (Latvia and Poland). The differences are less pronounced with regard to the implication of the pandemic, but also in this case respondents in Sweden seem to have been least affected.
Figure 2. Making ends meet and the consequences of COVID-19
a. Difficulties in making ends meet
b. Material conditions deteriorated since 2019
Perceptions and Incidence of Domestic and Gender-Based Violence and Abuse
Frequency of differential treatment and abuse
The set of questions concerning domestic and gender-based violence started with an initial module related to the different treatment of men and women, with respondents asked to identify how often they witnessed certain behaviours aimed toward women. The questions covered aspects such as women being treated “with less courtesy than men”, being “called names or insulted for being a woman” and women being “the target of jokes of sexual nature” or receiving “unwanted sexual advances from a man she doesn’t know”, and the respondents were to evaluate if in the last year they have witnessed such behaviours on a scale from never, through rarely, sometimes, often, to very often. We present the proportion of respondents answering “often” or “very often” to two of these questions in Figure 3A (“People have acted as if they think women are not smart”) and 3B (“A woman has been the target of jokes of a sexual nature”). We find significant variation across these two dimensions of differential treatment, and we generally find that women are more sensitive to perceiving such treatment. It is interesting to note that the proportion of women who declared witnessing differential treatment in Sweden is very high in comparison to for example Latvia or Belarus, which, as we shall see below, does not correspond to the proportion of women (and men) witnessing more violent types of behaviour against women.
Figure 3. Frequency of differential treatment (often or very often)
a. People have acted as if they think women are not smart
b. A woman has been the target of jokes of a sexual nature
Questions on the frequency of witnessing physical abuse were also asked in relation to the scale of witnessed behaviour. Here respondents were once again asked to say how often “in their day-to-day life” they have witnessed specific behaviours. These included such types of abuse as: a woman being “threatened by a man”, “slapped, hit or punched by a man”, or “sexually abused or assaulted by a man”. The proportion of respondents who say that they have witnessed such behaviour with respect to two of the questions from this section are presented in Figure 4. In Figure 4A we show the proportion of men and women who have witnessed a woman being “slapped, hit or punched” (sometimes, often or very often), while in Figure 4B being “touched inappropriately without her consent”. Relative to the perceptions of differential treatment the incidence of a woman being hit or punched (4A) declared by the respondents seems more intuitive when considered against the overall international statistics of gender equality. The proportions are lowest in Sweden and Poland, and highest in Armenia and Ukraine. However, the perception of inappropriate touching by men with respect to women (Figure 4B) shows a similar extent of such actions across all analysed countries.
Figure 4. Frequency of abuse (sometimes, often or very often)
a. A woman has been slapped, hit or punched by a man
b. A woman has been touched inappropriately, without her consent, by a man
Perceptions of abuse
The questions concerning the scale of witnessed behaviours were complemented by a module related to the evaluation of certain behaviours from the perspective of their classification as abuse and the degree to which certain types of gender-specific behaviours are acceptable. Thus, for example respondents were asked if they consider “beating (one’s partner) causing severe physical harm” to be an example of abuse within a couple (Figure 5A) or if “prohibition to dress as one likes” represents abuse (Figure 5B). This module included an extensive list of behaviours, such as “forced abortion”, “constant humiliation, criticism”, “restriction of access to financial resources”, etc. As we can see in Figure 6, with respect to the clearest types of abuse – such as physical violence – respondents in all countries were pretty much unanimous in declaring such behaviour to represent abuse. With respect to other behaviours the variation in their evaluation across countries is much greater – for example, while nearly all men and women in Sweden consider prohibiting a partner to dress as he/she likes to be abusive (Figure 5B), only about 57% of women and 36% of men in Armenia share this view.
The questionnaire also included questions specifically focused on the perception of intimate partner violence. These asked respondents if they knew about women who in the last three months were “beaten, slapped or threatened physically by their intimate partner”, and the evaluation of how often intimate partners act physically violent towards their wives.
Figure 5. Perceptions of abuse: are these examples of abuse within a couple?
a. Beating causing severe physical harm
b. Prohibition to dress as one likes
A further evaluation of attitudes towards violent behaviour was done with respect to the relationship between a husband and wife and his right to hit or beat the wife in reaction to certain behaviours. In Figure 6 we show the distribution of responses regarding the justification for beating one’s wife in reaction to her neglect of the children (6A) or burning food (6B). The questions also covered such behaviour as arguing with her husband, going out without telling him, or refusing to have sex. As we can see in Figure 6, once again we find substantial country variation in the proportion of the samples – both men and women – who justify such violent behaviour within couples. This was particularly the case when respondents were asked about justification of violent behaviour in the case of a woman neglecting the children. In Armenia as many as 30% of men and 22% of women agree that physical beating is justified in those cases. These proportions are manyfold greater than what can be observed in countries such as Latvia, where 3% of men and women agreed that abuse was justifiable under these circumstances, or Sweden, where only 1% of men and women agreed.
Figure 6. Perceptions of abuse: is a husband justified in hitting or beating his wife
a. If she neglects the children
b. If she burns the food
Seeking help and the legal framework
The final part of the questionnaire focused on the evaluation of different reactions to incidents of domestic and gender-based violence. Respondents were first asked if a woman should seek help from various people and institutions if she is beaten by her partner – respondents were asked if she should seek help from the police, relatives or friends, a psychologist, a legal service or if, in such situations, she does not need help. In Figure 7 we show the proportion of people who agreed with the last statement, i.e. claimed that it is only the couple’s business. The proportions of respondents who declare such an attitude is higher among men than women within each country, and is highest among men in Armenia (48%) and Georgia (25%). Again, these proportions are in stark contrast to men in Sweden, or even Poland, where only 4% and 8% of men agreed, respectively. Nevertheless, looking at the total survey sample, a vast majority believe that a woman who is a victim of domestic violence should seek help outside of her home, indicating that at least some forms of institutionalised support for women are popular measures with most people.
Figure 7. Proportions agreeing that domestic violence is only the couple’s business
The interview also included questions on the need for specific legislation aimed at punishing intimate partner violence and on the existence of such legislation in the respondents’ countries. The latter questions were extended in three countries – Latvia, Russia and Ukraine – to evaluate the specific sets of regulations implemented recently in these countries and to facilitate an analysis of the role IPV legislation can play in reducing violence within households. Legislation on domestic violence is relatively recent. During the last four decades, though, changes accelerated in this respect around the world. Legislative measures have been introduced in many countries, covering different aspects of preventing, protecting against and prosecuting various forms of violence and abuse that might happen within the marriage or the family. Research strives to offer evaluations on what legal provisions are most effective, in a setting in which statistics and information are still far from perfect, and as a consequence of the dearth of strong evidence the public debate on the matter is often lively. For legislation to have an effect on behaviour through shaping the cost of committing a crime, on the one hand, and the benefit of reporting it or seeking help, on the other, or more indirectly through changing norms in society, information and awareness are key. For how can deterrence be achieved if people do not know what the sanctions are? And how can reporting be encouraged if victims do not know their rights? The evidence on legislation awareness is unfortunately quite scarce. A survey of the criminology field (Nagin, 2013) concludes that this is a major knowledge gap.
Figure 8 shows the proportions of answers to questions concerning the need for and existence of legislation specifically targeted towards intimate partner violence. We can see that while support for such legislation is quite high (Figure 8A), it is generally lower among men (in particular in Armenia, Russia and Belarus). Awareness of existence of such laws, on the other hand, is much lower, and it is particularly low among women. It should be pointed out that all countries have in fact implemented provisions against domestic violence in their criminal code, but only around half of the population, sometimes much fewer, are aware of that.
Figure 8. Need for and awareness of IPV legislation
a. State should have specific legislation aimed at punishing IPV
b. Country has specific legislation aimed at punishing intimate partner violence
Recent reforms of DV legislation that were implemented in Russia in 2017, in Ukraine in 2019 and in Latvia just a few months ago (at the time of the survey, the changes were at the stage of a proposal) were the subject of the final survey questions in these countries. We find that awareness of these recent reforms is very low in all three countries, and knowledge about the reform content (gauged with the help of a multiple-choice question with three alternative statements) is even lower. Our analysis suggests that gender and family situation are the two factors that most robustly predict support for legislation, while education and age are associated with awareness and knowledge of the reforms. Minority Russian speakers are less aware of the reforms in both Ukraine and Latvia, in Ukraine are also less likely to answer correctly about the content of the reform, and in Latvia are less supportive of DV legislation in general.
Analyses of this type are useful for policy design, to better understand which groups lack relevant knowledge and should be targeted by, for example, information campaigns to combat DV, such as those many governments around the world implemented during the covid-19 pandemic.
Future Work Based on the Survey
The above is just a small sample of the rich source of information that has resulted from conducting the survey. Already from this simple overview we can see some interesting results. There are, for example, clear differences between men and women in perceptions of how common certain types of abusive behaviour are. However, for many questions differences between countries are larger than those between men and women within a country. Interestingly such differences are also different depending on the severity of the abuse or violence. In Sweden the perception of women being victims of less violent abuse is higher than in some other countries where instead some more violent types of abuse are reported as being more common. This could, of course, be due to actual differences in actual events but it is also possible that there are differences in what types of behaviour are considered to represent harassment and abuse in different societies. More careful data work is needed to try to answer questions like this and many others. Currently there are a number of ongoing research projects based on the survey results, three of which will be presented at the FREE-network conference on “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence” in Stockholm on May 11, 2022. Our hope is that this work will help in taking actions to prevent gender-based abuse and domestic violence based on a better understanding of underlying cross-country differences in social norms and attitudes and their relation to socio-economic factors.
About FROGEE Policy Briefs
FROGEE Policy Briefs is a special series aimed at providing overviews and the popularization of economic research related to gender equality issues. Debates around policies related to gender equality are often highly politicized. We believe that using arguments derived from the most up to date research-based knowledge would help us build a more fruitful discussion of policy proposals and in the end achieve better outcomes.
The aim of the briefs is to improve the understanding of research-based arguments and their implications, by covering the key theories and the most important findings in areas of special interest to the current debate. The briefs start with short general overviews of a given theme, which are followed by a presentation of country-specific contexts, specific policy challenges, implemented reforms and a discussion of other policy options.
In January 2022, Poland experienced the highest rate of SARS-CoV-2 transmission since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering the widespread consensus among experts about the efficacy of vaccines in preventing hospitalisation and death resulting from the virus, low vaccination rates and widespread anti-vaccine sentiments in Poland are of great concern. We use data from the DIAGNOZA+ Survey to demonstrate the relationship between various demographic characteristics, opinions around certain gender norms, the propensity for conspiratorial thinking, concern about the pandemic, and vaccine scepticism. While controlling for exogenous demographic characteristics, we measure the strength of the relationship between various beliefs that people hold and how they feel about the COVID-19 vaccine. Our analysis indicates that while respondents who hold more traditional views on gender roles are 6 percentage points less likely to get vaccinated, those who agree with a variety of conspiratorial statements are 43 percentage points less likely to vaccinate against COVID-19.
As of January 2022, Europe finds itself well into the 4th wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some countries, including Poland, experiencing the highest rates of transmission since the virus was first detected. There are a few tools available to policymakers and healthcare professionals for combating the spread of the virus, ranging from preventative measures to strict social lockdowns aimed at reducing interpersonal interaction. A comprehensive literature review of 72 academic studies conducted by the BMJ found that the implementation of preventative measures such as hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing decreased the risk of transmission by 53% (Talic et al., 2021). But even though such measures reduce transmission, the shortcomings in adherence and enforcement make high vaccination rates much more effective in diminishing the risk of hospitalization and death (Moline et al., 2021). With a consensus among experts reaffirming the effectiveness of vaccines in minimising the more severe cases of COVID-19 illness, the widespread availability of the vaccine has become the most effective and cost-efficient tool in limiting morbidity while avoiding future instances of economically unsustainable lockdowns. The drawbacks of the alternative scenario have already been made evident in 2020, before the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Over the course of the year, hospital capacities were overwhelmed in many countries around the world, leading to significant spikes in excess deaths. Poland saw an increase of over 18% in all-cause mortality in 2020 (OECD, 2021), the fourth-highest in the OECD and second-highest in the European Union (Eurostat, 2021).
Considering the central role that prevalent vaccination plays in combating the impact of COVID-19, it is important to understand the underlying factors and demographic characteristics of individuals who are driving the low vaccination rates in countries such as Poland. With this in mind, we use an online survey: DIAGNOZA+ (DIAGNOZA Plus, 2020-2021), conducted on a representative sample of adults in Poland throughout the pandemic, allowing for the identification of characteristics that are most strongly correlated with vaccine scepticism. This kind of analysis can provide useful indicators for the targeting of certain policies and information campaigns that encourage vaccinations, and thereby suppress future outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2, as well as any other future pandemics. Below, we first outline the key features of the DIAGNOZA+ data, describe the methodology adopted in this study, and present results on the relationship between key demographic characteristics, social norms, views of respondents, and attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccination. We show a strong correlation between traditional family values, conspiratorial views, and reservations relating to the vaccination programme. Having traditional family values (expressed by about 40% of the sample) is associated with an over 10 percentage point (p.p.) lower probability to declare a willingness to get vaccinated. This drops to about 6 p.p. when we extend the model to account for conspiratorial thinking, which strongly dominates the relationship. Individuals who express strong conspiratorial and anti-establishment views (about a quarter of the sample), conditional on other demographic characteristics, were more than 40 p.p. less likely to declare a willingness to get vaccinated.
The following analysis is based on data from DIAGNOZA+, an online survey collected in seven waves over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic (DIAGNOZA Plus, 2020-2021). The panel survey was conducted with the purpose of assessing changes in the labour market situation of adults in Poland between April 2020 and July 2021. The survey consistently included standard questions on individual and household characteristics such as age, gender and education, as well as questions on as well as questions about the respondent’s labor market status, hours worked, and financial situation. Waves 3 and 4 included additional modules where respondents were asked to express their opinions on a variety of statements surrounding gender norms such as “In general, fathers are as well suited to look after their children as mothers”, “A pre-school child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works” and “When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women”. The questions were answered on a scale of 1 (strongly agree) to 4 (strongly disagree). For the analysis, these categorical variables are dichotomised, with a value of 1 assigned to responses 1 and 2 (strongly agree or agree) and a value of 0 assigned to responses 3 and 4 (disagree or strongly disagree). Thus, for each question, we develop a binary variable that categorises respondents as either having a progressive or traditional reaction to each particular gender norms statement.
In consecutive waves, the same respondents were asked questions surrounding their willingness to vaccinate against the virus (in wave 5) and their trust in experts and the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic (in wave 6). For this analysis, we select questions that may influence an individual’s likelihood to vaccinate, starting with their level of concern about the pandemic or their fear of the virus itself. Furthermore, we identify individuals with a high predisposition for conspiratorial beliefs based on information from wave 6. Each variable included in this module is converted into a binary measure of agreement or disagreement, as outlined above for the social norms questions. We consider seven statements from the survey related to conspiratorial views, including “Secret organisations influence political decisions” or “I trust my intuition more than the so-called experts” (see the full list of statements in Figure 2). For each of them, the variable is converted into a binary measure of agreement or disagreement, similarly to the social norms questions above. Those who agreed or strongly agreed with all seven statements are classified as having conspiratorial views.
Due to sample attrition and after dropping respondents who did not answer one (or more) of the questions needed for our analysis, the sample reduces to 726 individuals (see table A1 in the Annex). Although each wave of the DIAGNOZA+ survey is carefully weighted to ensure population representativeness of the survey, these cross-sectional weights are only relevant to each independent wave of the survey. Therefore, for our sample, we develop frequency weights by sex and age using population data from Statistics Poland (Statistics Poland, 2021), which are utilised throughout the analysis. Given the low number of participants in the oldest age groups (those above 60 years old), we limit the sample to individuals aged between 21 and 60. Unfortunately, calibrating the weights according to additional characteristics such as education and municipal population is not feasible with a sample of this size. Clearly, the requirement of consistent consecutive participation in at least three waves of the survey has implications for its representativeness. For example, after the sample of respondents that participated in wave 6 is cut to include only those who also participated in waves 3, 4 and 5, we observe a bias in favour of conspiratorial views among the remaining observations, indicating that individuals who hold these views were more likely to continue their participation in the survey. For example, while 18.1% of the total cross-sectional sample of individuals in wave 6 hold conspiratorial views, the proportion is 23.4% in the sample we analyse (falling slightly to 23.2% when weights are applied). From this perspective, while indicative of existing correlations, the results ought to be treated with some caution.
Limiting the sample to respondents who answered all sets of questions across several rounds of the survey allows us to study vaccine scepticism and respondents’ susceptibility to conspiracy theories in relation to a number of personal characteristics. Furthermore, we consider the relationship between a respondent’s attitudes towards certain social norms (asked in waves 3 and 4), their individual response to COVID-19 (asked in wave 5), and their trust in the government’s response to the pandemic (asked in wave 6). We begin the analysis by assessing the relationship between respondents’ demographic characteristics and their opinions on gender roles, their propensity to hold conspiratorial beliefs, and their concern about the pandemic. This is followed by two models measuring respondents’ willingness to vaccinate. In the first of these models, demographic characteristics and traditional family values are used as explanatory variables, while in the second model conspiratorial views are included as well. Finally, we conclude with a summary of results and policy considerations.
Traditional Family Values in Poland
The respondents of the DIAGNOZA+ survey vary, on average, in the ‘traditionality’ of their attitudes towards gender and family depending on the selected indicator. The shares of answers to the three questions about gender norms are presented in Figure 1. The results demonstrate that progressive views on gender norms in Poland were more common in relation to the workplace than the home and family. For example, the statement to which most respondents were opposed was “When jobs are scarce, men have more right to a job than women”, with 37.2% of respondents disagreeing and 50.3% of respondents strongly disagreeing. On the other hand, slightly fewer respondents disagreed (50.5%) or strongly disagreed (34.8%) with “In general, fathers are not as well suited to look after their children as mothers”. Finally, respondents were most ‘traditional’ in their views in reaction to the statement “A pre-school child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works”, with 28% agreeing and 10% strongly agreeing. There is a natural correlation between these different views, and in our analysis, we examine the significance of different combinations of the three indicators. Given the relatively small sample, only the last indicator proved to be significantly related to our main outcome of interest and we use this one to represent the view on the ‘progressive-traditional’ spectrum
Figure 1. Gender norms in the survey sample
In wave 6 of the DIAGNOZA+ survey respondents were asked seven different questions relating to trust in government, politicians, media, and the recommendations of experts. As shown in Figure 2, for five out of the seven statements, a majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the government or media are dishonest, intentionally share misinformation, or have ulterior motives. Nearly three quarters of respondents agreed that “politicians and the media deliberately hide certain information”. This result supports data published by the OECD in 2020 showing that, out of the 38 member countries, Poland had the second-lowest trust in government, with only 27.3% of the population expressing confidence (OECD, 2022). However, the DIAGNOZA+ survey goes further to find that nearly half of respondents in our sample reported that they trust their own intuitions more than the experts during the pandemic, while the least widespread belief out of the seven was that “secret organisations influence political decisions”. Still, even this statement, which suggests deep-seeded nefarious behaviour behind the scenes of government, found 39.8% of respondents to be in agreement. Note that we aim to identify individuals who have a general propensity for conspiratorial thinking, rather than those who simply find some of the statements particularly compelling. To this end, we only categorise those respondents who agreed with all seven statements as having a high propensity for conspiratorial thinking, which was the case for 23.2% of our sample after reweighting.
Figure 2. Conspiratorial beliefs and trust in authority
Table 1 presents regression results on the relationship between specific beliefs reported in the different waves of the survey and a number of individual characteristics. We show these results for three dependent variables: traditional family values, as defined by the opinion that a pre-school child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works; propensity for conspiratorial views, which identifies the respondents that agreed with all seven statements presented in Figure 2; and concern about the pandemic, a binary variable that identifies individuals who expressed great worry or fear about the pandemic. The results indicate that parents who live with their children are 10.1 p.p. more likely to hold traditional family values. After controlling for age, gender and education, living in a small town or village is associated with a 10.9 p.p higher probability of ascribing to more traditional gender norms, while individuals holding a tertiary degree are 18 p.p. less likely to agree that “a pre-school child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works” compared to those with primary education. Interestingly, neither age nor gender significantly correlates with family values, suggesting that the DIAGNOZA+ survey did not capture an intergenerational or gender-driven divide on these issues. This might relate to the online nature of the survey and the implied sample selection, in particular among older individuals.
Table 1. Regression results on views and attitudes
The results presented in Table 1 also demonstrate a relationship between some demographic characteristics and the likelihood to hold conspiratorial views (as defined by expressing agreement to the seven related statements in wave 6). A number of characteristics strongly correlate with conspiratorial thinking: being a parent living with their children aged 0-17, and living in small cities, towns and villages. Each of these characteristics is associated with a higher probability of believing in secret organisations and mistrusting experts. A number of characteristics strongly correlate with conspiratorial thinking: holding such views are 9.3 p.p. more likely among parents living with their underaged children and 10 p.p. more likely among individuals living in smaller towns or villages compared to those living in cities of over 500 thousand inhabitants. Higher education is strongly negatively correlated with the likelihood of holding conspiratorial views – those with tertiary education are 14.5 p.p. less likely to have these views compared to individuals with primary education.
One simple explanation for the increased vaccination rates among certain demographic groups in Poland could be that some segments of the population are more worried about the virus, and thus choose to take greater precautions. The analysis presented in Table 1 demonstrates that people were increasingly likely to be concerned about the pandemic in higher age groups. When asked “To what extent are you concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic?”, the probability of expressing serious concern increases progressively with age. This is an intuitive result considering the strong relationship between age and the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and the associated risk of mortality (CDC, 2021). Respondents aged between 31 and 40 were 10 p.p. more likely to report being very concerned or frightened than respondents between the age of 21 and 30, while in the age groups 41-50 (12.6 p.p.) and 51-60 (21.4 p.p.) the probability was even higher. There is also a weak but positive correlation (7.7 and 8.6 p.p.) between living in a city with a population of 10,000 to 500,000 inhabitants and expressing fear about the pandemic, as compared to respondents who lived in cities with a population of more than 500,000 people. The relationships between the remaining demographic characteristics and the probability of being seriously concerned about the pandemic are not statistically significant. Below, we use this data to examine the link between people’s beliefs and the likelihood of getting vaccinated.
Vaccine Scepticism, Demographic Characteristics and Conspiratorial Views
In light of the widespread scientific consensus on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, low vaccination rates in Poland are difficult to explain. In this section, we analyse to which extent they may be driven by the underlying beliefs, on top of the socio-demographic characteristics. Overall, 54% of respondents in the selected sample from the DIAGNOZA+ survey planned to be or had already been vaccinated. Thus, the survey sample closely reflects the actual proportion of the population that was fully vaccinated in Poland as of January 2022. (ECDC, 2022). In Model A of Table 2, we present the relationship between the response to the question “Do you plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or are you already vaccinated?” and traditional family values, alongside the usual demographic characteristics. We find that those in the 51-60 age group were 14.5 p.p. more likely to plan to vaccinate than those aged between 21 and 30. This also reflects the higher level of concern about the virus expressed by those over the age of 50, as presented in Table 1, and the risk of serious illness associated with increasing age. However, the relationship between age and the probability of vaccination was much weaker than the relationship between age and the probability of expressing general concern about the pandemic, implying that concern does not translate directly into a willingness to vaccinate. We also find that tertiary education has a particularly strong effect, and respondents who have a university degree were much more likely (17.7 p.p.) to get vaccinated than those with less than secondary education.
Through this analysis we also discover several less intuitive relationships between individual characteristics and the propensity to vaccinate. We find that women are 11.5 p.p. less likely to plan to vaccinate against COVID-19 than men. Moreover, individuals living in a city with less than 500,000 inhabitants were much less likely to vaccinate, with the strongest correlation (-23.5 p.p.) observed for respondents living in medium-sized cities of 100,000 to 500,000 people. However, a strong relationship can also be seen for smaller cities of 10,000 to 100,000 inhabitants (-19.3 p.p.) and small towns and villages (-17.2 p.p.). Respondents’ expressions of traditional family values are also a strong predictor of their propensity to vaccinate. After controlling for gender, age, education and municipality size, those categorised as holding traditional views are 10.6 p.p. less likely to plan to vaccinate against COVID-19. Our findings demonstrate that while population density, education, age and gender, are all strong indicators of vaccine scepticism in Poland, so is the degree of traditionalism in people’s beliefs.
Table 2. Regression results on vaccination: probability of being vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated
A commonly cited explanatory factor for vaccine scepticism is the susceptibility to conspiratorial beliefs, as well as scepticism towards information disseminated by figures of authority (Hornsey et al., 2018). Thus, in Model B, we seek to identify a relationship between conspiratorial beliefs and scepticism towards the COVID-19 vaccine in Poland. When adding to our model a binary indicator for agreement with all seven of the conspiratorial statements included in the survey, we find that those who agreed across the board were 43.3 p.p. less likely to get vaccinated. Therefore, it seems that the propensity for conspiratorial thinking is a very strong correlate of willingness to vaccinate, and the characteristic most strongly associated with vaccine scepticism. The impact of the demographic factors goes in the same direction for both models, although the scale diminishes in Model B after controlling for conspiratorial views, reflecting the higher propensity of older individuals to hold such views. Furthermore, the effect of traditional family values is much weaker in Model B, suggesting a positive correlation between traditional family values and conspiratorial beliefs (Figure A1 in the Annex shows how values and views in the analysis views overlap with each other). This is in line with past research that ties traditional moral values and conservatism with conspiratorial beliefs, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic (Pennycook et al., 2020; Romer and Jamieson, 2021).
One explanation for the strong relationship between conspiratorial beliefs and vaccine scepticism could be that respondents who do not trust the media and figures of authority believe that the dangers of the pandemic have been exaggerated and would thus not be concerned about its consequences. We account for this possibility in Model C by including the indicator for fear of the pandemic. We find that those who are very concerned or frightened are 21.1 p.p. more likely to vaccinate than those who are not. However, including this variable in the model has little effect on the estimates of the relationship between traditional gender views or conspiratorial thinking and the likelihood to vaccinate. Further research is needed to understand what is driving these relationships in this particular context. These findings demonstrate that while individuals that believe in conspiracies are the most susceptible to vaccine scepticism, other elements such as fear of the pandemic, education attainment, and where people live play an important role as well.
By January 2022 most European countries have reached a plateau in their vaccination rates, with free vaccines readily available since the summer months of 2021 to all those who are willing to take them. Not only have the high rates of hospital admissions among the non-vaccinated population proven the epidemiological models about the efficacy of vaccines in reducing hospitalisation and death to be true (a study in the United States showed a more than tenfold reduction in the risk of each measure; Scobie et al., 2021), but disparities between countries in the proportion of the population that is vaccinated have created a natural experiment that further substantiates this hypothesis. Poland, a country with a vaccination rate that is 15 p.p. lower than neighbouring Germany, had virtually the same number of cases per 100,000 people in the first two weeks of December, but almost threefold the number of deaths from COVID-19 (ECDC, 2021). Due to the burden COVID-19 related hospitalisations place on healthcare systems, the issues arising from the significant scale of vaccine scepticism are not only related to physical well-being, but also directly impact economic and fiscal stability.
Despite a fairly small sample size available for our analysis from the DIAGNOZA+ survey, a number of important correlations are identified in this study. We find that people living in cities and towns smaller than 500,000 people are less likely to vaccinate than those living in big cities. We show that women, those with less than secondary education, and young people are less likely to be vaccinated. Moreover, those believing that pre-school-aged children suffer when their mothers work are less likely to vaccinate compared to those with more progressive gender views. The most significant predictor of vaccine scepticism, however, is whether a respondent expressed low trust in authority and belief in the conspiracy theories presented in the survey, which was the case for 23.2% of the sample. These individuals are more than 40 p.p. less likely to express willingness to get vaccinated than the rest of the population. This suggests that the low rate of vaccination in Poland can, in part, be attributed to widespread distrust of government, the media, and scientific experts. Poland has already suffered the consequences of the high magnitude of anti-vaccine sentiments in the population, with the severity of the fourth wave of COVID-19 being one of the harshest in Europe (ECDC, 2021). If the government intends to prevent future outbreaks and protect the healthcare system and the economy, it must present a consistent, clear, and transparent message about the safety and efficiency of vaccines to minimise the misinformation that is driving vaccine scepticism among certain demographic groups.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2021). Hospitalization and Death by Age.
- DIAGNOZA Plus, (2021). https://diagnoza.plus/
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, (2021). Data on 14-day notification rate of new COVID-19 cases and deaths
- Eurostat, (2021). Excess mortality by month.
- Hornsey, M., Harris, E., &. Fielding, K., (2018). “The psychological roots of anti-vaccination attitudes:
A 24-nation investigation”, American Psychological Association.
- Moline H. et al., (2021). “Effectiveness of COVID-19 Vaccines in Preventing Hospitalization Among Adults Aged ≥65 Years – COVID-NET, 13 States, February-April 2021”, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, (2021). “The impact of COVID-19 on health and health systems”.
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, (2022). “Trust in Government, OECD data”.
- Pennycook, G., Cheyne J.A., Koehler, D., & Fugelsang, J.(2020). “On the belief that beliefs should change according to evidence: Implications for conspiratorial, moral, paranormal, political, religious, and science beliefs”, Judgement and Decision Making
- Romer D. & Jamieson K. H., (2021). “Conspiratorial thinking, selective exposure to conservative media, and response to COVID-19 in the US”, Social Science & Medicine
- Scobie H. et al., (2021). “Monitoring Incidence of COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths, by Vaccination Status — 13 U.S. Jurisdictions, April 4–July 17, 2021”, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
- Statistics Poland, (2021). “Demographic Yearbook of Poland 2021”.
- Talic S. et al., (2021). “Effectiveness of public health measures in reducing the incidence of covid-19, SARS-CoV-2 transmission, and covid-19 mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis”, The BMJ.
Annex is available in the PDF version.
This Policy Paper was prepared under the FROGEE project, with financial support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). FROGEE papers contribute to the discussion of inequalities in Central and Eastern Europe. For more information, please visit www.freepolicybriefs.com. The views presented in the Policy Paper reflect the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily overlap with the position of the FREE Network or Sida.
Gender inequality has been a persistent (albeit steadily improving) problem for years. The COVID-induced crisis put women in a disproportionately disadvantaged position, jeopardizing decades of progress achieved towards equality between men and women. However, these effects of the pandemic were not universal across countries. This policy brief aims to evaluate the gender-specific effects of the COVID-19 crisis in Georgia, looking at labor market outcomes and entrepreneurial activities. As expected, the impact of the pandemic was not gender-neutral in this regard, being especially harmful for women. As the Georgian economy rebounds after the crisis, we show that the widened gender gaps are partially offset only in certain aspects. In order to countervail the disproportionate effects of the pandemic, targeted policy measures are needed to stimulate women’s economic activity.
Past economic recessions, including the COVID-induced crisis, have never been gender-neutral (e.g., Liu et al., 2021; Ahmed et al., 2020). While economic crises are usually associated with disproportionate negative impacts on labor market outcomes of men compared to women, the impact of the crisis is, debatably, more severe for women-led businesses as compared to their male-led counterparts (e.g., Torres, 2021; Nordman and Vaillant, 2014; Grimm et al.,2012).
The disproportionate labor market outcomes of economic crises are claimed to be due to the fact that men are predominantly employed in cyclical sectors such as construction or manufacturing; therefore, women have to increase their employment during economic downturns as a means of within-family insurance (Alon et al., 2021). The recent COVID-induced crisis, due to its unique nature, turns out to be an exception in this regard. The pandemic and the subsequently-adopted measures primarily adversely affected contact-intensive sectors (where the worker is required to perform tasks in close physical proximity to other people) that predominantly employ women (Mongey, Pilossoph, and Weinberg 2020; Albanesi and Kim 2021). Moreover, large-scale lockdowns increased the burden of unpaid care, which is generally shouldered by women disproportionately (Babych, 2021), leaving less available time for them to work. It should be noted that gender gaps in the labor market were a persistent (albeit steadily improving) problem even before the pandemic (Eurofound, 2016). Therefore, COVID-19 poses a threat jeopardizing the progress achieved in this direction and worsening gender inequality.
COVID-19 brought unprecedented adverse consequences for not only employed workers but entrepreneurs as well. Increased unpaid care and housework pose additional burdens on female top managers, making women-led businesses more vulnerable to the crisis.
The unequal gender implications of the COVID-19 crisis have been widely debated. Growing evidence (Albanesi and Kim 2021; Torres et al., 2021; Alon et al., 2020; Caselli et al., 2020, Fabrizio et al., 2021) attests that, on average, the effects of the pandemic put women in a disproportionately disadvantaged economic position. However, the extent of this effect varies across countries and is absent in some cases (Campa et al., 2021; Torres et al., 2021).
This policy brief aims to examine the gender-specific nature of the COVID-19 crisis in Georgia. With this aim, we study the differential effects of the pandemic on the economic activity of women in terms of labor market outcomes and entrepreneurship. First, we contrast labor market outcomes for Georgian men and women during the COVID-19 crisis. Secondly, we try to assess the magnitude of the disproportionate impact on women-led businesses compared to men-led ones. We calculate gender gaps across different measures of firm-level performance, such as sales revenue, liquidity and owners’ expectations of falling into arrears. Finally, we examine whether there are any signs of recovery yet in 2021 and draw policymakers’ attention to emerging issues.
Labor market highlights
The adverse effects of the pandemic on female employment were conditioned by both supply and demand-side factors. The latter include decreased economic activity, mainly in service-related sectors (hospitality, personal care, etc.) that are dominated by women (Eurofound, 2021). In Georgia, as of 2019, women constituted the majority of workers in sectors such as hospitality (56%), education (83%) and activities of households as employers of domestic personnel (99%) that experienced some of the sharpest declines in employment during 2020. Moreover, women are more likely to be employed in part-time and temporary jobs (14% of women, as opposed to 11% of men, were employed part-time as of 2019, Geostat Labor Force Survey 2019), leaving them more vulnerable during times of crisis. Supply-side factors were triggered by the unequal burden of unpaid work generally undertaken by women in Georgia, mainly due to cultural reasons as well as the higher opportunity cost of time for men (women in Georgia on average earned 64% of men’s salaries in 2019, Geostat). School and daycare closures and decreased childcare involvement of grandparents increased household responsibilities for women. A UN Women survey-based study showed that in the midst of the pandemic in Georgia, around 42% of women reported spending more time on at least one extra domestic task as opposed to 35% of men (UN Women, 2020). This would naturally lead to more women than men leaving the labor force. Indeed, looking at the data, we see that in one year after the COVID-19 outbreak, women contributed to 98% (48,000 individuals) of the decrease in the Georgian labor force in 2020 (Geostat). Moreover, a close look at the percentage point difference between the labor force participation rates of Georgian men and women reveals a notable growth in the gender gap starting from 2020. The same can be said about employment rates (Figure 2).
Figure 1. Difference between male and female labor force participation and employment rates
To further elaborate on the tendencies in employment, Bluedorn et al. (2021) look at the differences between employment rate changes among male and female workers in 38 advanced and emerging economies. Replicating the exercise with the Georgian data, we can observe results similar to those obtained in Bluedorn et al. (2021). In Figure 2, we see differences between female and male employment rate changes. For each gender group, the latter is computed as an absolute difference between the quarterly employment rate and its annual average level from the previous year. Once the difference takes a negative value, implying that the drop in employment was sharper for women, one could say that we observe a “She-cession” phenomenon as termed by Bluedorn et al. (2021). As we can see, in 2020, the employment rate of women fell more than that of men. This widened gender gap was partially offset in 2021.
Figure 2. Employment rate changes by gender (deviation from the previous year average)
Remote work: a burden or a blessing for women?
One important aspect of the COVID-19 crisis was a wide-scale switch to remote work. This development had some gender-specific implications as well. The evidence shows that the prevalence of the switch to remote work was higher among women compared to men (41% vs. 37%) in the EU (Sostero et al., 2020). This tendency also holds in Georgia, where 11% of women as opposed to only 3% of men reported usually working from home in the last three quarters of 2020 (Julakidze and Kardava, 2021). It is not clear whether this tendency can be explained by gender-related occupational differences of male and female jobs (Dingel and Neiman, 2020; Boeri and Paccagnella, 2020; Sostero et al., 2020) or, rather, different personal choices of men and women working in the same occupations. Interestingly, across different countries, we observe a positive correlation between gender inequality (as measured by the Gender Inequality Index) and gender differences in the switch to remote work (measured by the ratio of the share of remote workers among female and male workers). To account for this observation, we can stipulate that gender differences in switching to remote work might be explained by differing gender roles in households, and in society at large, across countries (as proxied by the gender inequality index).
Figure 3. Relative prevalence of remote work among female and male workers
Regardless of the reason, remote work is likely to have some important implications on gender roles. However, the directionality of these implications is not straightforward. On the one hand, remote work offers flexibility for women to juggle household and work responsibilities. On the other hand, since women compared to men have been shown to be more likely to use the time saved from commuting to engage in housework, the switch to remote work might increase their “total responsibility burden” (Ransome, 2007) and lead to time poverty (Peters et al., 2004; Hilbrecht, Shaw, Johnson and Andrey, 2008). Indeed, according to CARE International South Caucasus (2020), around 48% of female survey participants in Georgia placed additional effort into housework and childcare in the midst of the pandemic. Moreover, as women are more likely and expected to use remote working as a means of balancing work-life responsibilities (Moran and Koslowski, 2019) their bargaining power at work decreases relative to their male counterparts. This could have some adverse career implications for female workers. Recent enforced lockdowns might pose an opportunity in this regard, as once-remote work becomes something close to a “new normal” employers will likely decrease the penalty for remote workers.
Spotlight on women-led business performance during the COVID-19 crisis
Calamities brought by the pandemic worsened financial outcomes for enterprises, affecting their ability to operate and have stable financial income. Similar to other crises, the pandemic has not been gender-neutral (Liu et al., 2021; Ahmed et al., 2020) in terms of the effect on business performance.
Gaps in the performance of women- and men-led businesses have been prevalent beyond any economic crisis as well, and have been documented in a number of studies (e.g., Amin, 2011; Bardasi et al., 2011), registering gender differences in sales and productivity in favor of men-owned enterprises. As suggested by Campos et al. (2019), these performance gaps may be due to lower levels of capital owned by women as opposed to men, a smaller number of employees hired by women-owned firms, as well as different practices in using advanced business tools and innovation. In addition, the existence of these gender gaps has also been explained as stemming from the prevailing social norms that assign certain obligations to women. Nordman and Vaillant (2014) and Grimm et al. (2012) suggest that unpaid housework and family-care led to a constrained number of hours women could afford to spend on the work and management of firms, negatively affecting their productivity.
According to the Women Entrepreneurship Report (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), 2021), the pandemic imposed an additional burden in terms of increasing family-care duties on women. The GEM survey (2021) conducted in 43 countries worldwide shows that the likelihood of enterprise closure is 20% higher for women-led compared to men-led businesses. The higher likelihood of closure reflects the adverse factors that may have hindered the operating capacity of firms. For example, a survey conducted by UNIDO (2020) suggests that, as a result of the Coronavirus crisis, African and Middle Eastern women-led firms experienced diminished revenues. In addition, 41% of women-led firms were short of cash flow and unable to fulfill financial obligations, while only 32% of male entrepreneurs were exposed to the same problem.
More rigorous analysis on this matter has been conducted by Torres et al. (2021) and Liu et al. (2021). They try to examine the asymmetric effects of the COVID-19 crisis on women-led firms in several dimensions utilizing new datasets from the World Bank: COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey and the World Bank Business Pulse Survey. The findings of Liu et al. (2021) for 24 countries from Central Europe & Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa confirm that during the pandemic women-led businesses are subject to a higher likelihood of closure than men-led businesses and that female top managers are more pessimistic about the future than their male counterparts. Finance and labor factors were mentioned to be the major contributors to these disadvantages; for example, women-led businesses were found to be less likely to receive bank loans compared to men-led businesses. Lastly, the disadvantages experienced by women-led firms were claimed to widen in highly gender-unequal economies and developing countries. Torres et al. (2021) study the impact of the early phase of the COVID-crisis on gender gaps in firm performance for 49 mostly low- and middle-income countries. The results demonstrate that women-led businesses experienced a greater reduction in sales and lower liquidity compared to their male counterparts, which has been reflected in a higher likelihood for women-led companies in several sectors to fall into arrears. On the other hand, as a response to changing circumstances, women-led firms were found to be more likely to increase the utilization of online platforms and make product innovations. Nevertheless, they struggled to obtain any form of public support.
The impact of the pandemic on firms was not gender-neutral in Georgia
The pandemic-induced fragile environment had an adverse impact on entrepreneurs in Georgia– the effects of the shock were significantly more severe for female entrepreneurs than for their male counterparts. In order to assess the gender differences in the impact of the pandemic on firms, we utilize firm-level data on Georgian enterprises from the second round of the World Bank COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey, conducted in October – November 2020.
Following the methodology as presented in Torres et al. (2021), we assess whether there are differences in the magnitude of reduction in sales revenue (self-reported percentage change in sales revenue one month before the interview as compared to the same period of 2019) and available liquidity for women- and men-led businesses, and whether falling into arrears in any outstanding liabilities is more expected by female top managers (in the next six months from the interview).
Depending on the type of dependent variable, continuous or binary, either Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) or Probit models are estimated, respectively. Along with the gender of the top manager of firms, we also control for sector and firm size. The Georgian database contains a total of 701 enterprises (581 SMEs and 120 micro-businesses).
Table 1. Magnitude of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women-led businesses in Georgia, October-November 2020
Table 1 presents the results of the regression analysis of gender differences among Georgian enterprises in terms of the impact of the pandemic. As observed, women-led businesses reported larger declines in sales, revenues, and liquidity. The predicted drop in sales was 18 percentage points (pp) higher for enterprises with a female top manager than for men-led firms. The larger drop in sales should have been reflected in the reduced cash flow availability and in hardship to cover operating costs. Indeed, as the results demonstrate, women-led enterprises are on average 12.9 pp more likely to have reduced availability of liquidity. This may explain women’s negative future expectations. Moreover, the average predicted probability of expecting to fall into arrears is 11.3 pp higher for women-led firms in Georgia as compared to men-led businesses.
The unequal effect of the COVID-19 crisis on women-led businesses might have been fueled by the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and housework shouldered by women in Georgia, leaving less time available for work and managing enterprises. On the other hand, as Torres et al. (2021) claim, female business owners tend to employ more female workers (the social group more exposed to the unequal burden of the pandemic) than male owners. This, in turn, could further hamper the productivity of women-led businesses and increase their vulnerability to economic shocks.
On the road to recovery
2021 has been characterized by a rather rapid recovery for the Georgian economy, as evidenced by the 10.6% (preliminary estimate) annual growth rate of real GDP. Signs of recovery can also be observed in the labor market – the labor force increased by 4% (YoY) in the 3rd quarter of 2021, while employment was also characterized by a growing trend (1%, YoY).
Along the lines of economic recovery, the gender gap in the labor market also seems to be narrowing. For instance, the steadily growing gap between male and female labor force participation rates seems to stagnate over 2021 (Figure 1). Moreover, as is illustrated in Figure 2 above, the difference between women’s and men’s employment rate changes is positive in 2021, meaning that the employment rate was increasing more (or decreasing less) for women. If this tendency persists, we might stipulate that the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 crisis on female employment are on the way to recovery.
To examine whether Georgian firms have experienced concurrent movement in their performance along with the economic recovery, we utilize third-round data (from September 2021) of the World Bank COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey and scrutinize whether the gender differences have narrowed since the previous round of the survey (Table 2).
Table 2. Magnitude of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women-led businesses in Georgia, September 2021.
Although the third-round survey data suggests that the predicted percentage drop in sales sharply declined for both men- and women-led businesses, the findings are not statistically significant and therefore cannot claim any signs of recovery in the gender gap in this respect. No signs of recovery are observed in terms of average predicted probability of reduced liquidity of firms and expectations of falling into arrears, either. Gender gaps in these two indicators still persist and are as strong in magnitude as in the second-round survey estimates (from October-November 2020). It seems that despite the economic rebound, not all traces of the pandemic crisis for firms have been eradicated from a gender perspective.
The pandemic came with high economic costs. It hit women disproportionately harder, adversely affecting their employment and entrepreneurial prospects. The unequal burden of the COVID-crisis shouldered by women in Georgia could be one of the reasons for the massive labor force dropouts among female workers and poor performance of women-led businesses. Georgian enterprises with female owners experienced a significantly larger decline in sales compared to their male-owned counterparts, consequently suffering from a shortage of cash flow and fears of falling into arrears.
Despite the great rebound in growth after the initial COVID-19 shock, the pandemic-associated increase in the gender gap seems to have been only partially offset in Georgia. In particular, there is a larger positive upsurge in women’s employment rate, as well as a diminishing difference between male and female labor force participation and employment rates. Following the ongoing recovery in sales revenue of Georgian enterprises (though the predicted gender difference was statistically insignificant), the gender gap in sales is shrinking too. But, in spite of the economic rebound, differences in available liquidity and expectations of falling into arrears have not yet been eradicated, indicating that the adverse influence of the pandemic on women still persists. It leaves female entrepreneurs a still more vulnerable group, which could be of special interest to policymakers to ease their liquidity problems.
Policies should also be directed towards encouraging women to become more economically active. In this regard, remote work seems to pose an opportunity if coupled with affordable childcare support policies.
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Nowadays, it is evident that equal participation of both men and women in entrepreneurial activity can boost the world economy, create more diverse teams, and decrease social inequality. While the subject of women-led enterprises is widely discussed and explored, the portraits of women who stand behind these companies are still not complete. This brief focuses on the social aspects a businesswoman faces in a transition economy such as Belarus: Who is she? What are her social roles? And how do entrepreneurial families differ from average families in Belarus?
Female entrepreneurship is widely discussed as one of the potential engines of sustainable economic growth (World Bank, 2018; IFC, 2017). This brief utilizes a recent wave of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey to shed light on the key aspects of female entrepreneurship in Belarus – a transition economy with a relatively short history of private entrepreneurship. It looks at the social status and social norms surrounding female businesses to better understand the current situation and future trends in this part of Belarusian society.
The data for the analysis is provided by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) surveys conducted in the summer of 2019:
- Survey of the adult population of Belarus (GEM APS): 2002 respondents aged 18 to 64.
- Survey of entrepreneurs based on GEM APS: 208 business owners (107 men and 101 women).
Women Are More Willing to Study Hard
Following a long-standing tradition, women in Belarus are likely to obtain higher education. Based on the GEM surveys of the adult population, 35% of respondents have completed a bachelor’s degree (42% of women versus 27% of men) and 1.5% have completed a master’s degree. Among entrepreneurs, 60% of respondents have the first stage of higher education and 15% have the second stage. While most of the interviewed entrepreneurs have higher education (bachelor’s degree), women are more inclined to continue their studies: 19% of female and 11% of male entrepreneurs choose to enroll in master’s programs.
Access to business education is not a problem in Belarus: almost half of the respondents claim that their education is related to the business they run. A similar fraction also report participating in business training programs (with no significant gender differences). A third of respondents report having had a mentor who helped them start a business (42% and 58% of men and women, respectively). Entrepreneurs in Belarus are not inclined to be members of business associations or (in)formal self-support groups for entrepreneurs.
Are Female Entrepreneur Families More Equal?
Most often, an entrepreneur is married and has 1-2 children under 18 years old (this pattern being the same across genders). The majority of Belarusian families are of the so-called “Soviet” type, in which the most important woman’s role is to be a mother and “keep home”. At the same time, it is perfectly normal for women to have a paid job. In the case of preparing food, cleaning the house, and washing clothes, a comparable share of male entrepreneurs and men in the general population answer that most of these responsibilities are usually carried by women (65-68%). In contrast, half of the female entrepreneurs report having an equal distribution of these household duties [Figure 1]. We observe similar patterns in the caretaking of children: 68% of women entrepreneurs claim to have an equal distribution versus 44% of non-business women. This greater intra-family equality of women-entrepreneurs can be partially explained by the fact that businesswomen earn more than Belarusian women do on average.
Figure 1. How do you and your spouse/partner divide the task of cleaning the house and washing clothes?
According to data on the daily time use of the population collected by the National Statistics Committee for 2014-2015, women spend twice as much time as men on housekeeping and childcare. But, surprisingly, only 40-45% of women note that the traditional distribution of social roles in the family imposes an unfair constraint on women’s work and career possibilities. Therefore, we document a trend towards equal relations between spouses in households where the wife is an entrepreneur. At the same time, even a typical businesswoman bears a large burden of unpaid work.
A Successful Woman is a Happy Mother and a Wife
The respondents were asked a rather controversial question of what defines a “successful woman” [Figure 2]. Both entrepreneurs and the general population of Belarus were in solidarity in understanding a successful woman primarily as a happy wife and mother (75% of respondents). In second place, in terms of importance, respondents answered that a woman should be an educated and highly qualified professional (about 50% men and 60% women). Only 23% of male and 42% of female entrepreneurs agreed with the statement that a successful woman is, first of all, a successful entrepreneur. Remarkably, 46% of men in the general population survey completely or to a greater extent disagree with this statement, at the same time, 67% of those with children would like their daughter to run a business.
Figure 2. A successful woman is first of all a/an..
Parental Entrepreneurship or Are There Any Predispositions to Become an Entrepreneur?
According to the research on parental entrepreneurship, the probability that children in entrepreneurial families will also have a career in business is 30-200% above that of children from non-entrepreneurial families (Lindquist et al., 2015). In the case of Belarus, half of the surveyed entrepreneurs indicated that their fathers were employees, while 5-10% and 17-25% reported having fathers in business and leadership positions. By comparison, out of the 2000 respondents in the general population survey, 4-8% and 14-15% reported having fathers in business and leadership positions, respectively. As the difference is not very significant, parental entrepreneurship cannot play a decisive role in becoming an entrepreneur. This fact can be explained by the relative juvenility of Belarussian businesses, the absence of entrepreneurship in the USSR, and the attitude of society towards entrepreneurship in the 90s.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian business environment is changing as well as the social attitude. Among the 2000 respondents in the general population survey, about 68% would like their daughter to own a business, and 82% want such a future for their son. Among entrepreneurs, aspirations about their children’s future are rather predictable: a third of respondents do not make plans for their children and the majority of the remaining want their children to run their own business. Moreover, among those having preferences for their children’s future, both male and female entrepreneurs reached almost 100% consensus regarding their sons. When it comes to their daughters, 95% of women and 80% of men prefer a future in business while 15% of men would like to see their daughter become a homemaker.
Several key findings can be noted when comparing women entrepreneurs in Belarus with those who are not in business. Entrepreneurs are more likely to obtain higher education, both first and second stage; household chores more equally shared in families with women entrepreneurs. Female entrepreneurs more often want a future in business for their children, especially their daughters. Based on the above, it can be expected that a greater involvement of women in business can positively affect the state of gender equality in Belarus and the quality of human capital.
Nowadays, the promotion of entrepreneurship (let alone female entrepreneurship) is not a priority of the current Belarusian government, and independent development actors, who used to support it in the past, are out of the country. For the future, however, I will outline some general recommendations for developing female entrepreneurship (based on Akulava et al., 2020). With regard to education, the popularization of STEM programs among women can positively affect female involvement in entrepreneurial activity. Additionally, promoting examples of successful women-led enterprises will help combat stereotypes and inspire women to venture into entrepreneurship. Last but not least, an equal division of domestic responsibilities will allow women to spend more time on their careers.
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