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