Taking Aim at Poverty by Advancing Gender Equality

The World Bank Group takes as its starting point that no country, community, or economy can achieve its potential or meet the challenges of the 21st century without the full and equal participation of women and men, girls and boys. Failure to fully unleash women’s productive potential meanwhile represents a major missed opportunity with significant consequences for individuals, families, and economies. The World Bank Group works with public- and private-sector clients to close gaps between males and females globally for lasting impact in tackling poverty and driving sustainable economic growth that benefits all.

While many more girls are going to school and living longer, healthier lives than even a decade ago, these improvements haven’t yet translated into broader gains—and women remain vastly more economically excluded than men. Trends suggest women’s labor force participation has stagnated over the last two decades, declining from 57 percent to 55 percent globally and hovering around 25 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, with direct impact on growth.

Gender gaps persist among entrepreneurs, farmers, and employees alike. Women typically farm smaller, less productive plots, own smaller businesses that create fewer jobs, work in less profitable sectors, and face discriminatory laws and norms that constrain their time and choices—including their ability to own or inherit property, open a bank account, or access the technology, credit, or fertilizer they need to grow larger, more profitable businesses or manage more productive farms. ILO analysis in 83 countries has found that women in paid work earn on average 10-30 percent less than men.

The World Bank Group’s Global Findex report has meanwhile found that despite progress toward financial inclusion, the gender gap in bank account ownership is not narrowing: In 2011, 47 percent of women and 54 percent of men had an account; in 2014, 58 percent of women had an account, compared with 65 percent of men. This has large implications: Having a bank account and safe place to save outside the home gives men and women greater control over finances and household incomes—while access to formal savings and credit allows them to participate more fully in the economy, including setting aside funds for emergencies, school fees, or business expenses. This is an important stepping stone out of poverty and vulnerability.

In 2014, Gender was designated one of five Cross-Cutting Solution Areas (CCSAs) under the new World Bank Group structure. The Gender CCSA’s work focuses on three main areas, as outlined in the flagship World Development Report 2012: closing gaps in endowments such as education and health; closing gaps in economic opportunity, such as access to good jobs and physical and financial assets; and enhancing women’s ability to make themselves heard and play a decisive role in determining the course of their own lives. These focus areas include advancing equality under the law and tackling the global epidemic of gender-based violence.

IFC coordinates its gender equality efforts through the Gender CCSA to advance the Bank Group’s goals of ending poverty and increasing shared prosperity by investing in and advising the private sector—which creates the overwhelming majority of jobs globally. In fiscal 2015, women made up 28 percent of all IFC board nominees, up from 24 percent a year earlier. Out of IFC’s 640 active advisory service projects, 233 had a dedicated gender component by June 2015, or 36 percent of the overall advisory services project portfolio.

On the investment side, by June 2015, US$813 million had been invested in 20 commercial banks as part of IFC’s Banking on Women program, launched in 2010 to play a catalyzing role in addressing the financing and capacity gap faced by women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In partnership with the Goldman Sachs Foundation and its 10,000 Women program, IFC in 2014 launched the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility, the first global facility dedicated to promoting access to finance for women-owned SMEs through financial institutions. The Facility represents a major step towards addressing the financing gap faced by women-owned SMEs in emerging markets—estimated US$260 billion and US$320 billion per year. IFC’s Global SME Finance Facility also comprises a number of active investment and advisory projects focused on gender equality by addressing financing challenges faced by SME borrowers in low-income states.

To advance its work, the World Bank Group is expanding and leveraging partnerships with UN agencies, the Data2X initiative, and others to fill vast data gaps related to women and girls. Scant data globally reveal too little about women’s workplace roles, economic empowerment, labor, time use, and access to physical and financial assets. Gathering these data will significantly advance efforts to set goals and benchmark progress.

A renewed gender equality strategy, to be launched in late 2015, will reflect fundamental changes in the world and the World Bank Group and respond to accumulating evidence regarding what works to close gender gaps. Previous work emphasized gender equality as an issue of development effectiveness and laid the basis for integrating gender into the Bank’s policy dialogue, analytic work, and operations. The new strategy will address how to support client countries and companies to close gaps and achieve optimal development outcomes.

Last Updated: Sep 08, 2015

The World Bank Group works with partners and clients to advance gender equality globally, highlighting inequality and discrimination where we find them and leveraging our lending, expertise, and convening power to level the playing field. We have made robust corporate commitments—most importantly during the 16th and 17th replenishments of IDA, our fund for the poorest countries, and through our Corporate Scorecard. These commitments are consistent with findings of the 2012 World Development Report on gender equality and development and subsequent strategic recommendations to operationalize them.

We are committed to incorporating considerations of gender equality in the analysis, content, and monitoring of all programs and Country Assistance Strategies; all regions are implementing gender equality action plans. We are also committed to developing a renewed gender strategy for the World Bank Group over the coming year—with more ambitious targets, new ways of measuring progress, and an agenda for pushing ahead in new frontiers with the potential for transformational impact.

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, provides investment and advisory services to promote business opportunities for women in the private sector, which accounts for an overwhelming majority of jobs in developing and emerging economies. IFC aims to increase women's access to finance and markets, help clients improve work opportunities and conditions for female employees, support training for women entrepreneurs, and improve corporate governance—including the appointment of women to clients' boards.



Last Updated: Sep 08, 2015

The World Bank Group’s key corporate targets are on track, while our new goals heighten attention to gender and put greater emphasis on impact and results. The majority of our operations and strategies now take gender equality into account in analysis, content, and monitoring and evaluation of our work.

Some Examples:

Safe, Smart Transport in Brazil

A US$500 million loan from the World Bank Group has helped upgrade urban transport in the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area through a cutting-edge, gender-smart approach that takes a broad range of needs and concerns into consideration. The project, updating and connecting Rio’s sprawling transport network, not only increases workers’ mobility and access to good jobs—a vital step on the path out of poverty; its design also took into account gender-based violence and women's need for easily accessible legal, social, health, and childcare services. All stations now have women’s restrooms and improved lighting for safety. Several major stations also house women’s police stations, family courts, childcare centers, and legal, medical, and counseling services for those affected by gender-based violence, as well as more than 100 electronic information kiosks with information about gender-based violence and how to address it. The project, in one of Brazil’s most urbanized and densely populated states, aims to benefit more than 11 million people. 

Supporting Survivors of Violence in the Great Lakes Region

In 2014, WBG Executive Directors approved US$107 million in financial grants to Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to provide integrated health and counseling services, legal aid, and economic opportunities to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The project also aims to strengthen health services for poor and vulnerable women in Africa’s Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Emergency SGBV and Women's Health Project is the first World Bank project in Africa with a major focus on offering  integrated services to SGBV survivors. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, an intergovernmental organization with 12 member states, is receiving support to further adopt a regional policy response to SGBV. The project is also expanding access to much-needed maternal and reproductive health services in the DRC and Burundi. Project grants, financed by the International Development Association (IDA), the WBG fund for the poorest countries, is expected to benefit more than 641,000 women and girls, of whom half a million live in the DRC.

Last Updated: Sep 08, 2015


World Bank Group Gender Equality Highlights

Progress in World Bank Group corporate commitments, priority areas, private sector engagement via the IFC, and with stakeholders.

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