Women can and do play a vital role in driving the robust, shared growth needed to end extreme poverty and build resilient societies, but in many parts of the world, their potential, participation, and productive capacity are undervalued and untapped.
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In palatial rooms at the Berlaymont, Brussels, EU finance ministers have been discussing how to save the Eurozone and balance growth with austerity. Across the globe in Mexico City, G-20 ministers hav... Show More +e been trying to save the world economy by strengthening financial systems. In New York at the General Assembly, representatives have been rallying to muster resolutions to denouce violence in the Middle East. Where in the corridors and halls of power are they talking about women's rights? The answer is easy. In side meetings, rarely ever the main event.Let's for a moment imagine a different world. It's a world where women are recognized as helping drive global growth -- today we already know that women represent 40 percent of the global labor force. A world where all women and girls have the chance to live full productive lives -- today we know that too many girls and women still die in childhood and in the reproductive ages. A world where there's equal employment opportunities, equal earnings, equal rights to own land or inherit property.Today in the developing world, it is women who're more likely to be the unpaid family laborers, or farming smaller plots or if they're entrepreneurial, operating in smaller firms and less profitable sectors. It's women who in general in the developing world are earning less than men. It's women who are suffering from pervasive sexual violence, and political, economic, and social disenfranchisement.We know all this from countless studies. Our own World Bank research has shown the lower the income, the more women and girls are disadvantaged, and we know that low income countries lag behind in realizing progress in boosting female school enrolment. Countless more studies from the UN, government agencies and non government organizations all point to persistent segregation, opportunity and earnings gaps between men and women.These studies line our shelves. At women's meetings or international fora we quote them incessantly to one another. But where are the men at these meetings? And is anyone listening? Where are the global agreements? Where is the action? Where is the nexus of change?Some might argue it's happening all around us. They would say just look beyond the sea of men in blue, grey and black, and you'll see the women. In boardrooms? Well only partly. The fact is women have low representation on the boards of large firms -- about 12 percent in Europe, ten percent in the Americas, seven percent in Asia and the Pacific and three percent in the Middle East and North Africa. In Parliaments? Well again the answer is only partly. The fact is women are much less likely to belong to a political party than men. Even in 2010, women ministers were twice as likely to hold a social portfolio than an economic one.There was of course last year's Nobel Peace Prize which was awarded jointly to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work." There's been improvement in girls' access to primary education, and more countries have signed up to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, though some key countries are noticeably missing.So there is recognition -- but insufficient change. In the World Bank we believe that gender equality is smart economics. We know it to be the case -- and so do many others. We know delivering clean water, sanitation and maternal care helps drive down maternal mortality rates. We know giving women title to land -- as has happened in Ethiopia -- helps narrow the gaps between men and women. We know from countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Brazil, Cote d'Ivoire., Mexico, South Africa and the United Kingdom that increasing the share of household income controlled by women -- either through their own earnings or by cash transfers -- changes spending in ways that benefit children, communities, and societies.The list of what works is long. We also know the list of what's needed is long. We know too that progress for instance in reducing maternal mortality has not kept pace with income growth. Over the past two decades, only 90 countries had a drop of 40 percent or more in maternal mortality rates, while 23 countries showed an increase. Women who run the house in rural areas in the developing world are less likely to get credit. And on a continent like Africa, women are less likely than men to own or use a cell phone.So as we mark International Women's Day, let's consider how we can reshape attitudes and change societal "norms" among men and women about gender. It needs to be done. One of the most disturbing findings from the World Bank's field research in 19 countries in all regions around the globe, showed that for women going about their everyday lives, many of the problems of old still remain, even as new challenges have emerged.Perhaps more telling still, for many women change remains an aspiration reserved for future generations. Not for them, not for now, but hopefully for their daughters or granddaughters. We owe it to those women to take action now. A good start would be for some of those high-level global discussions -- and decisions -- on growth, prosperity, financial systems, and violence, to begin to factor in the potential role of the forgotten fifty percent of the world's population. Let's not leave it till the next generation. Show Less -
WASHINGTON, November 28, 2011—As the United Nations conference on climate change opens in South Africa, a new World Bank study demonstrates that women, when fully empowered, can be an important force ... Show More +for change as countries and citizens grapple with the impacts of climate change and prepare to adapt to them. World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte said a growing body of evidence shows that women tend to be disproportionately more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change compared to men. Because of their vulnerability – to more frequent and more extreme natural disasters like cyclones, floods, and droughts – it’s vital that women play a more central role in building their communities’ climate resilience. “We are seeing time and time again that when women are empowered to play leadership roles within their communities, the whole community benefits from better preparedness for extreme weather events,” Kyte said. “It's smart economics, smart business, smart planning, and smart design to look at challenges with women’s realities in mind." One example of this comes from Bangladesh. In 1991, Cyclone Gorky killed 140,000 people in that country. Deaths of women outnumbered deaths of men by a ratio of 14 to 1. Through the government’s intensive efforts to increase women’s involvement in preparedness – including providing women-only spaces in storm shelters and getting women more involved as community mobilizers – the number of deaths in a similar cyclone event in 2007, saw the gender gap in mortality rates shrink to 5:1. “Now women are acting as powerful agents of change in Bangladesh,” Kyte said. “Women are getting the message out ahead of cyclones through early warning messages to other women in the community, encouraging them to use cyclone shelters. It’s not only had a dramatic effect in reducing the gender differential in those who are dying in cyclones, but it has also improved cyclone preparedness overall.” In the paper, entitled “Gender and Climate Change: Three Things You Should Know”, the World Bank underscores the importance of gender equality for effective and equitable action on climate change. The study refers to examples in India where poor women in drought-prone states like Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan have improved their social and economic opportunities through self-help groups that have linked together to increase their bargaining power. Over time, these institutional platforms that have grown up around improved livelihoods can be used to build climate resilience, including accessing advice for dealing with drought and building better watershed management structures. The paper’s author, Lead Social Development Specialist Robin Mearns, says the key to ensuring gender equality is ensuring equal access to resources and opportunities for everyone. “Women very often don’t enjoy the same rights or the same socio-economic status as men and that structural disadvantage means that they are often more vulnerable than men to the impacts of the same climate or hazard events,” he said. In developing countries, projects aimed at addressing climate change or improving energy access can have important benefits for women if gender considerations are factored into early planning. For example, a new Bus Rapid Transit project in Lagos, Nigeria has helped cut carbon emissions in that city by 20 percent. A gender analysis undertaken ahead of the project highlighted the need for providing well-lit bus shelters and other safety measures for women to improve their likely use of the system. Now, women are significant users of public transport, improving their participation in the local economy. The paper also highlights the important decisions that billions of women make every day that influence the amount of carbon that is released into the atmosphere. Women’s choices around cooking fuels, cooking technology and the foods to cook all have an important bearing on carbon emissions. “Low-emissions development pathways can be more effective and more equitable where they are designed using a gender-informed approach,” said Mearns. Show Less -
Imagine if a city of almost four million people disappeared every year. A Los Angeles, Johannesburg, Yokohama. It would be hard to miss. Yet it goes largely unnoticed that almost four million gir... Show More +ls and women “go missing” each year in developing countries when compared to their female counterparts in developed countries. About two-fifths are never born; a sixth die in early childhood, and more than a third die in their reproductive years. High mortality rates are just one of many barriers to equality between men and women, as argued in the World Bank’s new report. Equality is not just the right thing to do. It’s smart economics. How can an economy achieve full potential if it ignores, sidelines or fails to invest in half its population? The world has taken significant steps over the past 25 years toward narrowing the gaps between men and women in education, health and labor markets. Today, girls and boys participate equally in primary education in most developing countries; a third have more girls in secondary school than boys. At the university level, women now outnumber men in more than 60 countries. Women are using their education to participate increasingly in the labor force, diversify their time beyond housework and childcare and shape their communities, economies and societies. Women now make up more than 40 percent of the global labor force — including a large share of the world’s entrepreneurs and farmers. This pace of change has been remarkable: For example, what took the United States 40 years to achieve in increasing girls’ school enrollment, Morocco did in a decade. Other dimensions of equality, however, portray a more disturbing picture. Girls who are poor, live in remote areas or belong to minority groups still cannot attend school as easily as boys. Women are more likely than men to work in low-paying occupations, to farm smaller plots and to manage smaller firms in less profitable sectors. Whether workers, farmers or entrepreneurs, women earn less than men: 20 percent less in Mexico and Egypt; 40 percent less in Georgia, Germany or India; 66 percent less in Ethiopia. Women —especially poor women— have less say over decisions and less control over household resources than men. Women’s voice and representation in society, business and politics is significantly lower than men’s — with little difference between poor and rich countries. Leveling the playing field for women would offer huge potential. Talk to Julian Omalla. This Ugandan business woman had trouble getting a loan in 2007. She was not alone. Ugandan women owned nearly 40 percent of registered businesses, our research showed, but got less than 10 percent of commercial credit. Since Omalla gained access to credit, thanks to Uganda’s DFCU Bank and the World Bank’s private sector arm the IFC, her food and beverage company has thrived. Today it employs hundreds of people. Much more can be done to stop women from being economically marginalized. Equalizing access to fertilizers, and other inputs for female and male farmers, for example, could increase agricultural yields in much of Africa by 11 percent to 20 percent. Removing obstacles to women that block certain sectors and occupations could raise output per worker by 3 percent to 25 percent — depending on the country. Legal reforms that would allow women to own land and businesses, or inherit property, can free them to become economic agents of change. Putting resources in the hands of women has shown to be good not just for them, but also for their children. It increases a child’s chances of survival, health and nutrition and school performance. Empowering women to use their talents and skills can boost countries’ competitiveness and support growth —a valuable, under-used resource in an uncertain global economy. During the 2008 financial crisis, women’s incomes helped keep many families afloat —hence the importance of ensuring that women’s productivity and incomes are not held down by market or institutional barriers, or overt discrimination. This challenge is not just about developing countries. Around the world, one in 10 women will be sexually or physically abused by a partner, or someone she knows, over her lifetime. The World Bank’s new report calls for action in four areas: • addressing human capital issues, like the higher mortality of girls and women, through investment in clean water and maternal care and persistent disadvantages in education through targeted programs; • closing the earning and productivity gaps between women and men — by improving access to productive resources; water and electricity, and childcare; • increasing participation by women in decisions made within households and societies; and • limiting gender inequality across generations, by investing in the health and education of adolescent boys and girls, creating opportunities to improve their lives and offering family planning information. We have seen that focused policy attention can make a difference. Sustainable solutions are best grounded in partnerships including families, the private sector, governments, development agencies and religious and civil society groups. Even in the most traditional societies and poorest villages, I have seen that when women gain opportunities to earn more for their families, it quickly overcomes men’s suspicions — or even initial hostility. But people often need a project that sparks a changed outlook. The poorest countries can accomplish much more with financial help. The World Bank will invest, in part, because the economic payoffs are large. Gender equality is the right thing to do. And it is also smart economics. Robert B. Zoellick is the president of the World Bank Group. Their new report, “World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development,” was released Monday. Show Less -