International Women's Day: Evidence Points to Ways to Reduce Gender Inequalities

24 March 2023
Gender Blog CLEAR LAB
In honor of International Women's Day, this blog examines various interventions to reduce gender inequalities in education, health, social protection and sports.

Authors: Gabriel Weber Costa, researcher at CLEAR-LAB. Marina Lafer, researcher at CLEAR-LAB.  Hugo Carvalho, research assistant at CLEAR-LAB.

Editing support provided by Jamila Abulkadir, Digital Communications Specialist at GEI and Maria Fyodorova, Communications Consultant for GEI.


International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8 each year. The date commemorates women's struggle for better living and working conditions, as well as the right to vote and political participation. Made official by the United Nations (UN) in 1975, it aims to draw attention to issues of gender equality and women's rights around the world.   


The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 call for countries to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” defining nine goals and 14 indicators to monitor and achieve by 2030. Although some countries have made significant progress in this agenda, there is still much work to be done.   


For example, despite the comparatively low maternal mortality in Cape Verde (58/10,000 births, compared to the world average of 225/10,000), the near parity of labor market participation in Mozambique (77.7% female and 78.9% male, in people over 15 years of age) and the higher incidence of secondary education in Brazil (62.4% female and 59.1% male, in people over 25 years of age) 1 , women still face many barriers to achieving gender equality.   


The latest values ​​(from 2021) of the Gender Inequality Index (GII), calculated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) based on health, education, political participation and labor market indicators, confirm the need to advance this agenda in Brazil and Lusophone Africa.  


In this context, public policies that promote gender equality are increasingly important. The economic literature has investigated this problem and today it is possible to find studies that present evidence of possible ways to address the problem of inequality. However, the systematic review in “Promoting Gender Equality: A Systematic Review of Interventions ” suggests that most of the interventions that seek to reduce gender inequality fail to generate the intended changes at the macro level, achieving only partial benefits.   


Similarly, the study, “Strengthening Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality in Fragile Contexts Towards Peaceful and Inclusive Societies” provides a systematic review of 104 studies on interventions aimed at gender equality. In this case, the authors find that most interventions manage to generate changes in primary outcomes, such as income, use of financial services and participation in local political processes, but not in more complex behavioral outcomes, such as marital violence and community support for the human rights of the woman. Finally, the study authors conclude that programs with this objective should be carefully thought out and adapted to the specificities of relationships and social structures in each context. 


Next, we highlight some of the main thematic systematic reviews on the subject, addressing four areas: education, health, social protection, and sports. 



In a review of four studies on how characteristics of different educational systems affect gender inequality, the authors point out that increasing standardization, both through conducting national tests and reducing variation in approach between teachers, reduces the performance gap in math between boys and girls.  


Another systematic review indicates that interventions such as the provision of personal hygiene items and school uniforms have the potential to reduce absenteeism among girls, in addition to reducing school dropout and the occurrence of early marriages and early pregnancies in vulnerable contexts.  


Finally, a third study published last year summarizes the positive effects for women on different dimensions, arising from technical and professional education and training programs, such as increased access to credit, increased entrepreneurial capacity, reduction of forced marriages and early marriages, increased political representation and improved self-confidence.  



A systematic review analyzed 59 evaluations of programs that aimed to reduce gender inequalities and improve health and well-being. Among the studies considered, the authors found that 74% of them showed improvements in health and gender indicators, including, for example, knowledge about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and contraceptive methods, behavioral changes such as the practice of physical exercises, breastfeeding and reduction of drug use and increased use of health services. In addition to results on knowledge and behavior, reductions in the incidence of unplanned pregnancies, HIV infections and genital mutilation, among others, were also reported.  


Examples of interventions that have generated these effects include the implementation of sex education curricula in schools, teacher training, access to health services, media campaigns (dissemination of information through workshops, home visits, pamphlets and community activities) and outreach programs and training for community leaders.  


Evidence suggests that programs that aim to improve the sexual and reproductive health of school-aged youth and prevent sexually transmitted diseases, in addition to addressing social and cultural issues that affect sexual and reproductive health, can have a significant impact on gender inequality and health, especially among young people.  



Social Protection  


Through a review of 70 systematic reviews that summarized studies on the effects of interventions in the area of ​​social protection on outcomes related to the gender inequality agenda, such as female empowerment, health, education, mental health and security, a study published in 2022 concludes that social protection programs tend to have a greater impact on women compared to men.  


According to the review, programs in the area of ​​social assistance can generate changes in labor market outcomes and school outcomes, such as increased school attendance. They also increase the demand for health services and the use of contraceptive methods and reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies and symptoms of STIs. More broadly, social assistance programs generate increased use of sexual and reproductive health services, also leading to improved attitudes towards family planning and early initiation of breastfeeding. Finally, labor market programs increase female participation in the workforce, in addition to increasing women's earning capacity and savings, among other benefits. These also positively impact sexual and reproductive health outcomes.  


Results of income transfer programs, a type of social protection program, were also reviewed in a previously mentioned study, which confirms some of the positive impacts of this type of program mentioned earlier. In this case, the authors also report that income transfer interventions generate, for example, a reduction in tolerance for gender violence and an increase in women's political representation. However, the authors point out that they do not find effects of income transfers on more complex issues, such as women's control over their bodies, participation in decision-making processes and frequency of cases of violence.  


As highlighted in the study “ Impact of Social Protection on Gender Equality in Low- and Middle-Income Countries,” women's adherence to these programs often depends on the support they receive from family members. Gender norms regarding freedom, disapproval of women's choices, disbelief in their abilities, and limited decision-making capacity within the home are also important barriers to their adherence to social protection programs.  




Evidence shows that sports programs contribute to gender equality and the empowerment of women and youth. The results indicate that the practice of sports can bring a series of benefits to the participants, including greater self-confidence, self-esteem, self-determination and leadership skills. Furthermore, sport can help women and young people to question and challenge gender norms, increasing their critical awareness and promoting greater gender equality.   


A systematic review analyzed 15 studies and highlighted the importance of sport as a tool to empower women and young people, helping them to challenge prevailing gender social norms and overcome inequalities. Studies also emphasize the importance of creating a safe and inclusive environment to encourage adherence. 


Evidence to Fight Inequalities 


The celebration of International Women's Day is a relevant occasion to reflect on the achievements of women in their battles for rights and gender equality. Despite all the progress made on this agenda, much remains to be done. It is essential to implement public policies that encourage gender equality, however, these must be planned in order to overcome the peculiarities of each context. 


Carrying out systematic thematic reviews in areas such as education, health, social protection and sport provides evidence of possible solutions to the problem. Despite the fact that some interventions have been successful in achieving significant advances in selected indicators, it is crucial to consider the need for more complex and comprehensive changes in behavior. Finally, it is essential that we continue to fight for a fairer and more equal society for all women and girls. 


This blog first appeared in Portuguese on the CLEAR-LAB site.

In addition to holding a bachelor's degree in economics from the Federal University of Pelotas, Gabriel Weber has a master's degree and doctorate in economics from FGV EESP. Since 2017, he has worked as a researcher at CLEAR LAB, developing and implementing methods for monitoring and evaluating public policies, with an emphasis on the development and implementation of early childhood and education impact evaluations.


Hugo Carvalho is a Production Engineer. He graduated from Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and has a Masters in Economics from Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF). He is also a PhD candidate in Economics at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV EESP).


Marina Lafer holds a bachelor's degree in public administration from FGV EESP and a master's degree in public administration from Columbia University. At CLEAR LAB, she advises governments on capacity development in M&E.