• 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. In the last two decades, the world has narrowed the divide between men and women, especially in primary education and health. Yet critical gaps remain. Major challenges—from climate change to forced migration, pandemics, or the global jobs crisis—affect women and girls, men and boys, in specific ways. Less recognized is that women and girls have a unique role to play as drivers of growth and progress and powerful agents of change.

    Gender norms and stereotypes constrain the opportunities of both women and men, girls and boys, through different pathways. Most inequalities based on gender norms have historically put females at a disadvantage. Yet in some domains, reverse gender gaps are appearing, such as in male mortality in some European and Central Asian countries and male school dropout rates in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

    Key facts:

    Despite some significant gains, an estimated 130 million girls globally are out of school. Only 23 percent of low-income countries have achieved gender parity at primary level and 15 percent at secondary level. In contrast, 79 percent of middle- and high-income countries have achieved parity at primary level and 41 percent at secondary level.

    More than one-third of countries are still to achieve gender parity in primary education. Where there is disparity, this is at the expense of girls in more than 80% of countries. In 2014, 54% of countries had not achieved gender parity in lower secondary education and 77% in upper secondary. But issues of learning and quality of services remain, and in some regions, reverse gender gaps—whereby males are disadvantaged—are appearing at secondary and tertiary levels.

    Globally, women’s labor force participation has stagnated and indeed fallen from 52 percent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2016. Women remain half as likely as men to have full-time wage jobs. Those who have paid work earn up to one-third less than men, partly as a result of occupational sex segregation. Women are more likely to engage in low-productivity work and work in informal sector, and they spend at least twice as much time on unpaid domestic work and care activities as men; they contribute significant unpaid work, about 58 percent, to family enterprises and farms.

    Across the world, women are overrepresented in education and health; equally represented in social sciences, business, and law; and underrepresented in engineering, manufacturing, construction, and science. As with enrollment and completion, these choices matter because they translate into gender differences in employment, productivity, and earnings. 

    The credit gap for formal women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises is estimated at about US$300 billion dollars globally. Nor is the gender gap in account ownership closing: In 2011, 47 percent of women and 54 percent of men had an account; in 2014, 58 percent of women had an account, compared to 65 percent of men—a 7 percent gap.

    In many countries, women face legal and social barriers that prevent them from owning or inheriting assets, opening bank accounts, or accessing credit on their own. In 2016, 137 countries had laws on the books against domestic violence, up from 13 in 1995. Yet gender-based violence—perhaps the most extreme constraint on voice and agency—remains a global epidemic, affecting more than one in three women over the course of a lifetime. Women also hold roughly twice as many parliamentary seats as they did about 20 years ago, but that’s still only about 23 percent of seats globally.

    Last Updated: Sep 22, 2017

  • The Bank Group has begun implementing its Gender Equality Strategy . The new strategy charts an ambitious course by focusing on tangible interventions that reach real-world results, by identifying and implementing operations that narrow opportunity and outcome gaps between males and females. It aims further to address constraints cited in many economies as impediments to closing these gaps: occupational sex segregation, with women and girls often streamed into lower-paying, less secure fields of study and work; lack of safe, affordable transportation; and inadequate investment in and prioritization of care services across the life cycle, from early childhood to old age.

    The new strategy aims further to help countries go the last mile in addressing such as maternal mortality while taking aim at emerging challenges such as ageing populations, climate change, slowing economic growth, and the global jobs crisis. It focuses on four key areas:

    1. Improving human endowments—through health, education, and social protection services and programs;
    2. Removing constraints for more and better jobs—including tackling skills gaps and occupational sex segregation and addressing issues related to unpaid care
    3. Removing barriers to women’s ownership and control of physical and financial assets (land, housing, technology, finance);
    4. Enhancing women’s voice and agency—their ability to make themselves heard and exert decisive control over key aspects of their own lives—and engaging men and boys.

    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 22, 2017

  • 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:

    Unlocking the Potential of Women Entrepreneurs

    To help unlock the potential of women entrepreneurs, the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) will enable more than $1 billion in financing to improve access to capital, provide technical assistance, and invest in projects and programs that support women and women-led SMEs in World Bank Group client countries. The goal of the facility is to leverage donor grant funding of over $325 million and mobilize more than $1 billion in international financial institution and commercial financing, by working with financial intermediaries, funds, and other market actors, potentially through similar models as the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility/Banking on Women program.

    Smart, Scaled and Sustainable Financing

    The World Bank-administered Global Financing Facility (GFF) in support of Every Woman Every Child was launched in July 2015. The facility helps close the funding gap for reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health, to provide smart, scaled and sustainable financing to accelerate efforts to end preventable maternal, newborn, child and adolescent deaths by 2030. The GFF offers an innovative model of financing in a new development era, with countries in the driver’s seat and bringing together multiple sources of financing in a synergistic way to support national priorities for women, children and adolescents.

    The GFF is an essential financing vehicle to accelerate and align support for country-led plans to scale up crucial health, nutrition and population services for all infants, women, and children. For example, in the DRC, where maternal mortality is high, at 846 deaths per 100,000 live births, the country’s investment case is prioritizing improving the coverage of quality and equitable reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health services and strengthening health management systems.

    Empowering Girls

    In June 2016, the WBG Board approved an additional $100 million credit from the World Bank’s fund for the poorest, IDA, for the Nigeria State Education Program Investment Project. It will contribute to the return of students—particularly girls—to schools in the northeastern states (Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, and Taraba). The systems-focused project will incentivize skilled teachers to return to schools, and improve the learning environment. Many stakeholders will help identify out-of-school children, especially girls, and strategize on bringing them into school.

    Addressing Challenges Specific to Women

    With support from IDA’s new concessional finance facility, the 2017 Lebanon Emergency Health Project looks to address challenges specific to women, including antenatal care. It is also looking at how to better create female employment opportunities in roles such as community health workers, midwives, paramedics and physicians. And it is building capacity to recognize early signs of gender-based violence (GBV), and creating a strong referral mechanism for GBV survivors.

    Last Updated: Sep 22, 2017



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In Depth

Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality

The UFGE is a multi-donor trust fund dedicated to strengthening awareness, knowledge, and capacity for gender-informed policy-making.

Women's Leadership in Small and Medium Enterprises

The Women's Leadership in Small and Medium Enterprises (WLSME) Trust Fund helps foster successful women-led enterprises in developing countries.

VAWG Resource Guide

The Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Resource Guide offers operational guidance for integrating prevention and response activities into development programs.

Adolescent Girls Initiative

The World Bank's Adolescent Girls Initiative is a public-private partnership that promotes the transition of young women from school to productive employment through innovative interventions.

Additional Resources

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