The Constraints that Bind (or don’t): Integrating Gender into Economic Constraints Analyses

Around the world, the lives of women and girls have improved dramatically over the past 50 years. Life expectancy has increased, fertility rates have fallen, two-thirds of countries have reached gender parity in primary education, and women now make up over half of all university graduates (UNESCO 2019). Yet despite this progress, some elements of gender inequality remain incredibly sticky, resistant to change. Access to economic opportunities is one such domain. Women opt out of the labor force in many countries due to structural barriers, social norms, and childrearing responsibilities. When women do work, they often choose flexible, part-time jobs to accommodate their unpaid care burden. These positions are typically lower skilled and lower paid. When women work in formal, paid employment, they earn less than male counterparts, even controlling for age, education level, and sector. Female farmers and entrepreneurs tend to be less productive than males due to limited access to land, capital, knowledge, and technology. These gaps in economic opportunities persist across all countries and income levels. The idea for our paper originated in a series of discussions with the MCC gender and economic teams about how to integrate gender more effectively, and perhaps inclusion more broadly, into their constraints analysis. MCC has adopted the HRV model as the basis of its economic analysis, which it uses to determine country investment priorities. Once a country is selected for an MCC Threshold (a smaller grant for policy or institutional reforms) or Compact (larger, five-year grants), the MCC country team uses the HRV to identify two or three binding constraints to private investment, entrepreneurship, and growth. These findings drive the Compact and Threshold development processes and subsequent sectors for MCC investment. In parallel to the constraints analysis, the gender team at MCC conducts a social and gender analysis to identify how norms, policies, and institutions shape differential access to assets and economic opportunities. While these findings are included in the country team’s constraints analysis, the gender assessment is more likely to impact the downstream phases of the Compact/Threshold development process, beginning with the analysis of root causes of a growth constraint. Rarely does it impact the identification of binding constraints to growth.