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WBG President Kim calls domestic violence an “outrage” and “blind spot” holding back women and girls

March 5, 2014

International Women’s Day speech highlights critical gender and development issues

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2014—World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim today called domestic violence “an outrage” that should no longer be considered a private matter, but a public issue and a major challenge for all who work in development.

“One of the devastating realities about our world is the violence against women during wars and conflict.  It’s an unacceptable and relatively well documented problem of epidemic proportions.  But the kind of violence we are not talking about enough is domestic violence,” said Kim. “If domestic violence continues to receive inadequate attention, it tells women they have less worth and less power than men. It undermines their ability to make choices and act on them independently, impacting not only them, but their families, communities, and economies.” 

Globally, the most common form of violence women suffer is at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends, or partners, said Kim, calling the fact that almost one-third of all women worldwide who have been in a relationship have experienced such violence “an outrage.”

Speaking at the CARE national conference ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, Kim also noted the shocking economic consequences of domestic violence: “Conservative estimates of lost productivity resulting from domestic violence are roughly equal to what most governments spend on primary education.”

Kim called for a renewed sense of urgency and a clearer understanding of the remaining obstacles to gender equality around the planet. He listed common “blind spots” when it comes to improving the lives of women and girls. “That’s not to say we don’t see the problem clearly, but sometimes we overlook something that’s right in front of us, especially if we are too close to it.  Our brains are wired to automatically fill in blind spots so that the picture is whole,” said Kim.

The first such blind spot is ensuring access to education reaches the poorest and most vulnerable girls.  The gender gap in education has shrunk, and two-thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary enrollment. In more than one-third, girls significantly outnumber boys in secondary education.

But the situation is much worse for poor girls,” Kim said. “While wealthier girls in countries like India and Pakistan may be enrolled in school right alongside boys their age, among the poorest 20 percent of children, girls have on average five years less education than do boys. In Niger, where only one in two girls attends primary school, just one in 10 goes to middle school, and stunningly only one in 50 goes to high school. That’s an outrage.”

The second blind spot Kim noted was that even when girls in some countries are receiving more education it does not translate into expanded opportunities in the workforce.

“Let’s look at the Middle East and North Africa. There, on average, only one in four women is in the workforce. The rate of increase has been glacial—less than 0.2 percent annually—over the last 30 years. At this rate, the region will take 150 years to catch up to the current world average. A study last year finds that women’s low economic participation creates income losses of 27 percent in the Middle East and North Africa. The same study estimates that raising female employment and entrepreneurship to male levels could improve average income by 19 percent in South Asia and 14 percent in Latin America.”

Kim said perhaps the biggest blind spot concerns violence against women, and “the failure to see that it doesn’t matter if we educate girls or try to create jobs for them if they aren’t safe in their own homes.”

”Part of the reason that domestic violence has been such a big blind spot is that many people view it as a private matter. I would argue that domestic violence is a public matter, and that we have to consider it as a major challenge for all of us who work in development.”

In 128 countries, legal differences in how men and women are treated constrain their economic opportunities, Kim noted. This includes laws that make it impossible for a woman to independently obtain an ID card, to own or use property, to access credit, and to get a job.  In 15 countries, husbands can even prevent their wives from working. “Cultural norms can become deeply entrenched but we know —based on enormous evidence from all around the world—that customs and attitudes can change, sometimes very quickly,” said Kim.

Social movements can help bring such change about, said Kim, noting the example of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot because of her public advocacy for girls’ education.

Concluding his speech, Kim asked, “What would it mean to confront gender-related oppression and cruelty with the same fearlessness that Malala showed in the face of the Taliban gunman? If we can even begin to move together with that kind of resolve—given the evidence we already have about the role of women—the world will be more peaceful, more prosperous, more just and worthy of the mothers who gave birth to us all.”

Background on how the World Bank is helping address gender-based violence

To address the global epidemic of gender-based violence, the World Bank Group has been analyzing the costs of violence and systematically reviewing what interventions work and don’t work and why—and bringing financing to operations on the ground: In the last year, 10 new projects focused on sexual or gender-based violence totaling almost US$19 million have been approved.

  • One new US$600 million loan to Colombia will include protection and support for survivors—with temporary housing, transport, and other assistance. We are also partnering with the private sector and civil society, and we are innovating with technology.
  • In Haiti, we joined forces with Kofaviv, a community of female survivors of extreme forms of gender based violence,  and more than 7,000 vulnerable women and children received health and safety kits including vital supplies such as solar flashlights, tarps, mobile phones, whistles, shoes, and hygiene supplies. Anecdotal evidence points to a decrease in the instances of transactional sex, especially for young and more vulnerable women.
  • In Brazil’s Pernambuco state, a US$500 million Development Policy Loan is supporting the Government make gender-based violence part of its broader strategy. With this loan, we are helping promote women’s economic empowerment through a new Women’s Secretariat with 12 regional coordinators, and trained 2,000 health workers and law enforcement officers in gender-related issues.