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The World Bank and Gender Equality: At a Glance

November 11, 2011

At a Glance

  • During the past few decades, women’s and girls’ education and health levels have improved greatly.
    • More than 37 million girls have been enrolled in primary school since 1995, 
    • Since 1970, average life expectancy for women increased by 15 to 20 years.
  • But women’s economic opportunities are still limited.
    • In low-income countries, women consistently trail men in formal labor force participation, access to credit, entrepreneurship rates, income levels, and inheritance and ownership rights.
    • In low-income countries, the female labor force shrunk from 53 percent in 1980 to 49 percent in 2005, while men’s employment rate remained steady at 86 percent.
  • Life’s chances should not be preordained at birth. This inequality is also bad economics: under-investing in women puts a brake on poverty reduction and limits economic and social development.

Recent Highlights

  • The World Bank launched Applying Gender Action Plan Lessons: A Three-Year Road Map for Gender Mainstreaming (2011- 2013), which aims to direct more of the Bank’s technical assistance, projects and programs towards giving women better economic opportunity. The Road Map draws on lessons from the implementation of a “Gender Action Plan” 2007 – 2011, which targeted World Bank operations in sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure, private sector and financial development in making them better at improving women’s economic opportunity.
  • For the first time, the 2012 World Development Report—the Bank’s annual flagship report—will focus on gender equality and development.
  • Gender was made a special theme of the Bank’s $49.2 billion fund for the poorest, the International Development Association (IDA), for the coming three-year period.

What We Do

  • The World Bank supports gender equality through many different interventions, such as increasing access for girls and young women to quality schooling, and helping increase access to health services. The World Bank also supports efforts to increase women’s economic opportunity.

Why We Do It

  • Under-investing in women limits economic growth and slows down poverty reduction, which is one reason that countries with greater gender equality tend to have lower poverty rates. Evidence links increases in women’s productivity and earnings to lower household poverty and to better health and education outcomes for household members, especially children.

Some Results from the Gender Action Plan implementation

  • In Senegal and Tanzania the Gender Action Plan complemented the IFC’s Gender Entrepreneurship Markets’ work in establishing lines of credit for women bankers and entrepreneurs. In Tanzania, an IFC credit line of US$5 million with Exim Bank resulted in loans to 10 small and medium enterprises and to Sero Lease, a woman-owned micro-leasing company, with an outreach to 30,000 women.
  • In Lao PDR, the House Wiring Assistance Program was designed to enable poor rural households, which are disproportionately female-headed, to access electricity. The project offers these households a concessionary credit of US$80 million to cover the high cost of connecting to the electricity grid. The implementation of the pilot project, Power to the Poor, was launched in September 2008. Connection rates in the 20 pilot villages increased from 78 percent to 95 percent overall, and from 63 percent to 90 percent for female-headed households.
  • A GAP-funded study in Ethiopia examined a program that issued 20 million land use certificates to six million households. It found that that by providing space for both spouses’ names and photos on the certificate, women’s registration for land ownership increased significantly, with women reporting improved economic and social status. Evidence of the positive impact of this cost-effective measure influenced a decision to support a US$30 million nationwide program that increased land-registration and certification throughout the country.