The Women in Public Service Project is pursuing the goal of 50x50: 50% representation of women in policy and political leadership by 2050. This ambitious vision is only achievable through data-driven solutions and partnerships to understand the reality of women’s leadership in government and to advocate for meaningful change. Explore the numbers at

Data Source: International Labour Organization (ILO) via World Bank Data Portal


Gender equality is smart economics, as investing in women and girls has positive effect on productivity, efficiency and economic growth. Workforce participation is an important pathway for women to access key decision-making positions. Understanding labor force participation for women is crucial to design policies that advance women’s empowerment, to strengthen public-private partnerships for women’s leadership and to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.5 on ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leaderships at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.

To date, the country with the highest ratio of female to male labor force participation is Mozambique, with 1.09 women per 1 man, and the country with the lowest value is Syria with only 0.17. Countries in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have the least proportion of women in the workforce participation. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have topped on the list, surpassing countries in North America and East Asia. Overall most countries have gradually attained greater gender parity in labor force participation except for South Asian countries.

labor force participation by country income level

Gender gaps in labor force participation become evident when countries are disaggregated by income levels. Low income countries have the highest participation ratio in the world. Yet, the lower-middle income countries have the lowest female-to-male participation ratio. Factors such as the necessity of employment to cover daily needs in low income setting could contribute to the higher ratio, as the total labor force participation rate (female and male) is 76% for low income countries. Meanwhile, there is little difference in labor force ratio between high income and upper-middle income countries after 2008.

Studies show that enabling more women to gain access to labor markets is an important pathway for success in gender equality. Governments are encouraged to enhance adequate social protection mechanisms for women in the workforce. Practices such as law mandating nondiscrimination on gender hiring, paid parental leave and childcare support are crucial ways to advance equal participation in the labor force. Policy makers shall look beyond formal labor force segments and examine the impact of unpaid care work, primary and secondary work that affect employment. Lastly, the thoughtful disaggregation in data collection is highly encouraged that ensures women rise to leadership and decision-making positions.