Invisible Women: How Data Misses Economic Participation of Women

Brought to you by: Emilija Jovanova Stoilkova Sabin Selimi Yelyzaveta Aleksiiuk Zenebe Uraguchi
Inclusiveness & equality

Data is fundamental to the world we live in in the 21st century. From economic development to education and public health, we rely on numbers for decision making and allocating resources. However, so much data fails to take into consideration women, because it treats men as the default into our systems. Women pay a huge cost for this bias. But it’s also more than data.


At the regional inclusive and green economic development program, RECONOMY, one of our main target groups is women. We aim to enable women to increase their incomes and take up decent jobs.


Let us first walk you through the problems women in Eastern Europe are facing in terms of their invisible economic participation, then dive into what will we at RECONOMY do to ensure the inclusion of women in economic development and make them visible.


The data problem


According to Ukrstat, women’s employment rate in Ukraine is lower than the men’s, 52% and 62% respectively. In terms of self-employment, men are more likely than women to work as employers or individual entrepreneurs: women account for 42% of all self-employed persons and 33% of employers. Although, the highest share of women managers is in small enterprises, as noted earlier.


Nevertheless, according to OpenDataBot, the number of female and male PE differs within 10%.



Another important aspect of women in business is the difference between women's employment and men's employment. Women's employment is influenced by cultural factors (the image of Berehynia mentioned later in the example of Ukraine), the presence and number of children, public policy, economic structure, education and the difference in wages.


In addition, periodic surveys of gender stereotypes are conducted, which show a slight increase in the number of those who believe that inequality between men and women is widespread.


These data show a controversial situation regarding women's employment: as women are increasingly involved in business (but not yet in politics) occupying more “feminine” occupations, their employment is affected by the presence of children and families, government policies and the salary gap.


Unfortunately, few studies have examined the factors of women's involvement in the labor force in Ukraine. Studies indicate that in Ukraine there is a problem of low employment among women and the employment gap between men and women. The reasons for this are generally similar to the rest of the region: lack of adequate childcare facilities, lack of flexible working conditions, gender pay gap, legal restrictions on the work of women, especially pregnant women, and women with children, and so on.


In addition, a recent McKinsey study shows that COVID-19 has regressively affected gender equality and women's employment. This, in particular, is due to the disproportionate increase in the time a woman devotes to family responsibilities. In turn, this can eventually lead to the strengthening of gender stereotypes and the social role of women. Another factor is that the pandemic has hurt the most sectors of the economy in which women are most involved.


That is why new challenges are much more difficult to deal with in the absence of sufficient data. The local context should be important in this situation. Despite the availability of national surveys and statistics, women still remain invisible at home. In order for the political cycle to function properly, it is necessary to study the local context of Ukraine with an emphasis on women's employment. It will help both to see these women and to understand how to address the political and economic aspects at both the national and global level.


But it's more than data


Women are excluded from economic development in Eastern Europe. Many of them lack the resources, opportunities, voice, knowledge, and skills to find decent jobs and better income generation sources. For instance, women from rural areas in Moldova, have limited opportunities for employment and self-employment. They are poorly aware of available services to better fulfil and exercise their social and economic rights. The longer they face barriers to entry into the job market and remain unemployed, the harder it becomes to succeed.


Women’s unemployment is a serious economic, social and political challenge. Add on top of that COVID-19, which is a crisis within a crisis for women, both in rural and urban areas. The pandemic doesn’t only threaten biologically but also worsens inequalities among those who are already disadvantaged and vulnerable.


Stereotypes about men’s economic dominance and women’s dependence as well as household care and childcare bias are some of the key factors of economic inequality. In Ukraine, where the political, economic, and public spheres are characterized by an unprecedented curtailing of gender equality even in comparison with the Soviet burden, gender analysis bears a narrow interpretation.


Gender stands for female, while female stands for familial or emotional. Thus, Ukrainian nationalist state-building discourse substituted the Soviet ideal of a woman-worker with the neo-traditionalist mythological figure of Berehynia – a “representation of a nurturing woman, guardian of nonsymbolic domestic hearth and embodiment of moral principles”. Such a discourse is widespread in all post-Soviet countries. For instance, the female-owned firms grow in size, however, women tend to lose ownership of their firms to males.


So, what?


The focus of RECONOMY is on identifying constraining factors on the systemic level.


Through our pilot interventions, RECONOMY strives to provide conducive environment for women in terms of taking up decent jobs and increasing their incomes. For instance, a pilot intervention in North Macedonia enables women to pursue work in online outsourcing platforms and increase their income and job opportunities.


In Moldova, for instance, through public-private dialogue, the program aims at mitigating barriers in business environment, offering women greater access to markets.


In Armenia, we aim to strengthen the public and private non-formal skills providers to develop and offer improved and relevant non-formal training in the tourism/hospitality and agriculture/agribusiness sectors, enabling women to strengthen their skills and improve their employability.


Measuring and monitoring what matters is crucial to addressing the data problem. Better data is about sorting it by age and sex, and taking women as active participants instead of using them as a source of information. In a blog post by Zenebe Uraguchi and Kai Schrader, they mention that it requires context-specific factors and indicators as well as necessary conditions to set up and manage a tailor-made monitoring and results measuring systems. However, it’s encouraging to see international organizations like UN Women are working to addressing the data problem.


We’re aware that inclusive and green economic development is a noble cause but hard to deliver in practice. Our aim, therefore, doesn't simply ensure equal numbers of women and men in all interventions or treat all in the same way, but it ensures inclusion of the opinions, experiences, knowledge and interests of women, as well as men, within policymaking, planning and decision-making processes.


RECONOMY’s vision and strategy to addressing gender is driven by the Market Systems Development approach. We are committed to integrating and monitoring gender in our policies, procedures, strategies, interventions, and tools. We put our target groups at the center of the design and implementation of RECONOMY.

Emilija Jovanova Stoilkova

Emilija Jovanova Stoilkova is the Knowledge Management and Learning Manager in the RECONOMY Regional Programme of Sida, implemented by Helvetas in 12 countries in Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and the Western Balkans. Her previous experience includes work in skills development, lifelong learning, inclusive market development, labour market insertion and workforce development. Emilija is passionate about knowledge management and continuous learning and education, ensuring that the right knowledge is available for the right people at the right time.

Sabin Selimi

Sabin Selimi works for Helvetas as Communication Manager in RECONOMY. Before, he worked in communication advisory roles in the public sector and internationally-funded projects, with experience in the Balkans. As a Chevening scholar, he obtained an MSc in International Public Policy from University College London. As a recipient of Presidential Scholarship, he received a bachelor’s degree in Economics and International Studies from American University in Washington, DC.

Yelyzaveta Aleksiiuk

Yelyzaveta is a project manager at the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in the regional program, RECONOMY. Before, she worked as a project manager in the implementing partner organization of USAID-funded "Media program in Ukraine", implemented by Internews Network. Yelyzaveta obtained a law degree at the National University of “Kyiv Mohyla Academy”. She is currently a Master candidate in public policy and government at the Kyiv School of Economics.

Zenebe Uraguchi

Zenebe Uraguchi is a development economist with multi-country experience (Asia, North America, Eastern Europe and Africa). He holds MA degrees in International Relations and Political Economy, as well as a PhD in Development Economics. His experience originates from working for a multinational private company, an international development bank and a research institute. Zenebe is the Programme Manager for a regional initiative in inclusive economic development, covering 12 countries in Eastern Europe (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine), South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia), and Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, N. Macedonia, Serbia). His areas of expertise are in the design, management and evaluation of private, public and non-profit development initiatives focusing on employment and income.