Gender Equality at Work: A Global Priority

April 14, 2014


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Female coffee growers receive training under the IFC – ECOM Agroindustrial Corporation program. 


In 2014, the World Bank launched Gender at Work in its commanding, top-floor boardroom—filled to overflow, with staff. Such turnout reflects the impact of the Bank’s gender-mainstreaming efforts which have gained significant traction over the past four years. As one senior gender economist put it: “Gender is really coming through. I am receiving requests from all Vice Presidential Units. I no longer have to go knocking on doors.” Gender equality in the world of work is at the forefront of the Bank’s efforts to address inequality as a whole. Successful initiatives from FY13 range from supporting reform of gender-discriminatory laws in Cote d’Ivoire, to a US$470 million loan extended via a commercial bank to women-owned SMEs, to micro-irrigation training.

CHALLENGE

The Bank’s goal is not to recreate the male labor market with women, but to guarantee women the same freedoms as men, choice of employment, and equitable treatment. While equitable employment goes well beyond salary, it is worth noting that women earn between 10% and 30% less than their male counterparts worldwide.

Despite significant advances over the last two decades in the number of girls receiving education and in poverty reduction around the globe, this has not translated into increased levels of female participation in the work force. In fact female employment figures remained stagnant at 57% between 1990 and 2005 and since then have declined to 55%. One notable exception is the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, where the number of women working has increased by 35% since 1990—with the highest uptake found amongst low-income women.

Gender gaps are pervasive across continents and sectors. Female farmers tend to have lower productivity, farm smaller plots, and grow less profitable crops. Female employees are more likely to work in temporary and part-time jobs, less likely to be promoted, and overrepresented in occupations and sectors with lower barriers to entry. Closing these gaps could yield enormous dividends needed to achieve the World Bank Group’s twin corporate goals of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity. It is estimated that extreme poverty in the LAC region would have been 30% higher[1] had it not been for increased female employment. One study estimates that raising female employment to male levels could increase GDP in Egypt by 34%, UAE by 12%, South Africa by 10%, and Japan by 9%. Another finds narrowing the gender gap in employment could push per capita income in emerging markets up to 14 percent higher by 2020.

These gaps are rooted in legal disparities, institutional and private sector biases, and entrenched social norms. The challenge of addressing them is further compounded by the fact that formal sector work tends to be limited in developing countries and working women are more likely to be engaged in the informal sector—a vast terrain that is that much harder to reach.

SOLUTION

Tackling gender inequality at work requires action across all networks of the World Bank Group from reproductive health to financial and private sector development.

Over the past year, the Bank has been leveraging its global network and convening power to engage at national, regional, and local levels. It has presented empirical evidence to the public and private sector as well as civil society and community-led organizations of the benefits of gender-informed policies to national GDP and corporate bottom lines.

The World Bank’s projects and advisory efforts are guided by ongoing work to gather and standardize data and evidence from its own networks and partners around the world. This knowledge is widely and readily accessible via its open Gender Data Portal.

Gender at Work, released in 2014, identifies the overlapping constraints that accumulate and compound over the female life cycle and pinpoints priority areas for action. It also saw the launch of two open databases: enGENDER IMPACT, a repository of impact evaluations with key findings, gathered from Bank and partner projects; and ADePT Gender, which houses a growing volume of gender data and produces quick and standardized analytical reports including cross-country labor force statistics. Whilst no country has reached gender equality, evidence for policy-making can be gleaned from those that have achieved greater parity.


RESULTS

This results brief focuses specifically on successful initiatives that have directly assisted women in the world of work. [For further World Bank results and progress in addressing Legal Constrains and Gender Based Violence, that critically interweave with women’s ability to lead fruitful, product lives go to: World Bank: Mainstreaming Initiatives to Tackle Gender-Based Violence and Women and the Law: Getting to Equal.]

The importance attached to gender by all networks is going to prove vital to tackling the many faces of gender inequality. Here are some results stories from World Bank networks in FY13:

Credit and Financial:

In Nicaragua, Hurricane Felix washed away the livelihoods of communities that rely on fishing. The Bank identified women as more numerous than men and as playing a key role in economic activities. Women were asked to identify their most urgent needs. A credit program was extended that included the provision of fishing equipment and training in management, marketing and, product maintenance. Initial results show that fisher folk who received credit and training have raised their incomes by more than 100%. A revolving fund has been established to continue providing small loans and training. A video of the lives of these women can be found at the end of this report. Project approved 2008 and ongoing in 2014.

Mid-term results from an IDA-funded land husbandry project in Rwanda, which incorporated increasing male and female farmers’ access to financing, show that the percentage of women using formal financial institutions has risen from a baseline of 18% to 85%. A total of six financial institutions have developed products targeted at this market. These include: financing for school fees, insurance, input farming and inventory financing. This combined with technical water harvesting and hillside irrigation has resulted in 70% of female farmers using improved agricultural methods, up from a 25% baseline. Project approved 2009 and ongoing in 2014.

In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) women own 40% of registered businesses[1] but typically lack access to formal credit and financing. In June 2013, IFC partnered with Itau Bank in Brazil to implement its Itau Gender Program, the first of its kind in the LAC and the world's largest financing endeavor with $470 million in funds dedicated to on-lending to women-owned SMEs. IFC is providing financial and advisory services in order to ensure the success of the financing initiative for women entrepreneurs.

In January 2014, IFC established a similar partnership with Bank of Palestine. IFC will help develop new products and services that cater to the financial needs of smaller firms, with a focus on female entrepreneurs. The bank has 300,000 customers and accounts for 25% of the total Palestinian banking market.

In November 2013, IFC issued the first ever bond to support investments in women-owned businesses in emerging markets. The IFC "Banking on Women" bond raised close to $165 million in the Japanese retail market.

Vocational Education and Training:

IFC advisory services used gender mapping to remodel agricultural training schemes run in Indonesia and Vietnam by ECOM Agroindustrial Corporation Ltd.—the second largest coffee trader in the world.  IFC analysis found earlier approaches had failed because they were training men whereas women were doing 70%-80% work. In 2009 a new scheme was introduced with female training staff and hours designed to accommodate women’s domestic responsibilities. The proportion of women trained in North Sumatra and Vietnam went from 4% and 12% in 2009 to 27% and 25% in 2013, respectively. In total 3,900 women trained across both countries. Indonesia saw an 131% increase in productivity for trained groups that included both men and women and in Vietnam, women are harvesting crops of higher yields and quality that are fetching higher prices, with lower investment. 

The World Bank’s Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI),[2] helps young women transition from school to employment. In Liberia[3] the program provided six months training to more than 2,400 young women, 70% of whom were trained in business development skills (BDS) and 30% in job skills (JS). Participants received a further six months of job search and placement support. The impact evaluation shows a 47% increase in employment and an 80% increase in average weekly income, with the majority of results coming from the BDS track. Participants also had, on average a total of 2,500 LD (nearly $35 USD) more in savings than the control group. Project approved 2008 and ongoing in 2014. Full results story: Can skills training programs increase employment for young women? The case of Liberia

Initial AGI results from Lao PDR show that 59% of participants (more than half of whom are female) started or expanded a small business within 12 months of completing business skills training. Furthermore, 47% and 44% respectively, of the graduates who registered with the newly established Career Counseling Office at the university and technical college, found employment within 12 months. Project approved 2008 and closed 2013.

Local Infrastructure Development:

World Bank advice and assistance on Bolivia’s Second Participatory Rural Investment (PDCR), established a target that at least 30% of beneficiaries, of the services offered, be women. Gender specialists encouraged female engagement and women began to identify the initiatives of greatest importance to them. Women’s participation rates reached 70% and were particularly high in activities that are not traditional for women. For example, a striking 51% of participants who attended technical trainings on managing and maintaining micro-irrigation infrastructures were women. Women recognized that the new irrigation would significantly reduce the hours spent maintaining natural canals. The IDA-funded project was approved in 2007 and closed in 2013.

Water Supply and Management:

Allowing women a say in water management is necessary to increase their agricultural output and reduce burdens on their time. In Nicaragua and Peru, World Bank-supported agricultural projects established targets for women’s participation in rural water supply and sanitation organizations. In Nicaragua, the bank advised establishing a target of 30% female participation on community-led water and sanitation boards (CAPS). It also required that women occupy prime decision-making positions, such as president or treasurer. As of October 2013 the initiative had made good progress and 89% of CAPS had reached 30% female participation and 76% had women in decision-making positions. This IDA-funded project, approved in 2008, is still active.

A Gender Pilot Plan (GPP) in Peru designed and supported by the Bank highlighted the benefits of greater female participation in Water Users’ Organizations (WUOs). As a result, in 2011 authorities set targets for women’s engagement and the National Water Authority passed Reglamento 0266-2012 ANA-Resolucion Jefatural, which makes women’s participation in WUOs mandatory. This constitutes a landmark for women to claim their right to participate in the decision-making process and served to overthrow the election of an all-male board in Cajamarca in 2012. The participatory methodology used in the 2007-2009 GPP is now being scaled up in the World Bank-financed Peru Sierra Irrigation Subsector Project. 

Employment Creation:

2013 results from an IDA-funded public-private partnership project in Ghana that develops e-government infrastructure, has delivered over 8,093 new jobs in the Information and Communications Technology and Information Technology Enabled Solutions (ICT/ITES) sector. Of these, 54% are held by women, 29% of which in managerial positions. The total number of direct female beneficiaries who have either received training or employment has reached 10,441. The IDA-funded project received additional funding in 2010 and is still active. 

IDA:

In Nicaragua, Hurricane Felix washed away the livelihoods of communities that rely on fishing. The Bank identified women as more numerous than men and as playing a key role in economic activities. Women, including the “Pikineras”—an association of 1,500 women who buy and process lobster—were asked to identify their most urgent needs. A credit program was extended that included the provision of fishing equipment and training in management, marketing and, product maintenance. Initial results show that fisher folk who received credit and training have raised their incomes by more than 100%. A revolving fund has been established to continue providing small loans and training. Project approved 2008 and ongoing in 2014.

Mid-term results from an IDA-funded land husbandry project in Rwanda, which incorporated increasing male and female farmers’ access to financing, show that the percentage of women using formal financial institutions has risen from a baseline of 18% to 85%. A total of six financial institutions have developed products targeted at this market. These include: financing for school fees, insurance, input farming and inventory financing. This combined with technical water harvesting and hillside irrigation has resulted in 70% of female farmers using improved agricultural methods, up from a 25% baseline. Project approved 2009 and ongoing.

2013 results from an IDA-funded public-private partnership project in Ghana that develops e-government infrastructure, has delivered over 8,093 new jobs in the Information and Communications Technology and Information Technology Enabled Solutions (ICT/ITES) sector. Of these, 54% are held by women, 29% of which in managerial positions. The total number of direct female beneficiaries who have either received training or employment has reached 10,441.The IDA-funded project received additional funding in 2010 and is still active. 

BANK GROUP CONTRIBUTION 

The World Bank Group promotes gender equality through knowledge, financing, and partnerships. IDA, the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest, has made gender a special theme. The share of World Bank projects that integrate gender into their underlying analysis, program content, and results frameworks is now almost 60%—up from less than 20% just three years ago. The total amount of gender-informed lending in FY13 was nearly US$31 billion. The total share of gender-informed lending in IDA countries was some US$16 billion. These operations and funds have directly and indirectly supported progress in achieving gender equality at work.

PARTNERS

The World Bank Group has worked with private enterprises such as ECOM Agroindustrial Corporation Ltd. (Switzerland), Itau Bank (Brazil), and Nike Foundation among others.  In the public sector it has partnered with The Nicaragua Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (PRASNICA) and its implementing agency FISE and in Bolivia with the Ministry of Autonomies and the National Fund for Productive Social Investment (FPS).

MOVING FORWARD

The World Bank is uniquely positioned to support gender equality outcomes through its convening power and ability to provide complementary support across all sectors over sustained periods.  Progress on key gender indicators—such as women’s labor force participation—depend on investments in productive assets, infrastructure, private sector development, agriculture, and financial service delivery. All are essential to expanding women’s economic opportunities.

The World Bank report Gender at Work as well as increasing volumes of statistical data and impact evaluations housed in the ADePT Gender and EnGENDER IMPACT databases are serving to identify the following specific courses of action to advance gender equality at work:

  • To maintain gender-mainstreaming momentum, the World Bank Group needs to establish goals and greater accountability so as to increase the number of projects that are gender-informed in all three dimensions: design, implementation, and evaluation.
  • As part of this effort it must also heighten awareness of the genuine risk that when projects are not gender-informed, they can actually turn back the development clock, leaving women worse off than before. An example of this is in large infrastructure projects that lead to an influx of male labor with increases in sexual violence and HIV. There are many other examples of non-gender-informed projects whose implementation has resulted in unequal or unanticipated adverse outcomes. One emerging finding is that constraints on women’s time must be factored into the design of projects in order to allow female participation.
  • Using the female timeline as a trajectory, the Bank must continue to gather evidence of the key components that make up successful programs to assist women at critical moments of their lives, such as the transition from school to employment and in the step up from microfinance to SME loans.
  • The Bank’s growing efforts to address Gender-Based Violence need to be ramped up, and momentum maintained in tackling legal differentiation.

BENEFICIARIES

Mrs. Susanti, a coffee grower in North Sumatra who trained for three years in the IFC-ECOM Agroindustrial Corporation program, says: “The training has not only taught me about good farming practices, but also about financial management.” Her new financial skills have enabled her to give her children a promising start in life.  “I have three grown children and they all go to college. It's all because of coffee farming.

Amran Sinaga, head of the Agriculture Office of North Sumatra’s Simalungun district, says: “This initiative makes us realize that providing women with the right agricultural practices can help us improve crop yield and the quality of the beans.

[1] Gender at Work serves as the companion to the World Development Report 2013 on jobs.

[2] Measured by Gini coefficient

[3] World Bank-IFC Enterprise Survey.

[4] The Bank’s partners in the AGI  are the Nike Foundation and the governments of Afghanistan, Australia, Denmark, Jordan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Liberia, Nepal, Norway, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Total financing is US$20 million.

[5] Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (EPAG)

[6] “Documentary filmed on the Miskito Coast between Nicaragua and Honduras. Its intention is to demonstrate the mind-blowing life of the Pikineras. These women travel to the Miskito Keys to gather lobster which, they later commercialize. In these 56 minutes we will experience the breathtaking stories that these women face in their daily labor.”