JOHNANNESBURG, October 10, 2011 -- More than 100 representatives from a broad spectrum of South African society kicked off a vigorous debate on the findings of the “World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development,” and discussed how they could be applied to inform and improve public policies for achieving gender equality, both in South Africa and beyond.
“Discussion of gender equality needs to be put in the broader context of the sad legacy of apartheid,” Ruth Kagia, World Bank country director for South Africa, said in her opening remarks.
“Fortunately, South Africa has developed one of the world’s most progressive constitutions. It has strong policy and regulatory foundations, however, a gap remains between policy and implementation.”
Her presentation focused on the new opportunities for achieving gender equality offered by the “New Growth Path” document, the Vision 2025 document and the 2011 census. Noting that the Vision 2030 needed to be “genderized,” she said the 2011 census offered a fresh opportunity to disaggregate data to better inform policymaking.
For five million jobs to be created, the focus should be on ensuring that women benefit proportionately, Kagia said, and that the work and efforts of gender networks be more effectively coordinated for achieving better, gender-sensitive results.
In an overarching presentation, Sudhir Shetty, co-Director of the World Development Report (with Ana Revenga), said the principal finding of the report is that gender equality is both a core development objective, as well as smart economics. Greater gender equality can enhance productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation, and make institutions more representative, he said.
He began by citing the paradox that emerges from looking at how gender disparities have evolved across the world. In the last 20 years, university enrollments for women grew seven-fold and in 2009 women comprised 51 percent of college students, yet 35 million girls are still not enrolled in school today, many of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Shetty mentioned that in the past three decades, over half a billion women joined the labor force, and four out of 10 workers globally are women, yet, on average, for every dollar a man makes, a woman earns .80 cents. And, while women’s legal rights have expanded almost everywhere, domestic violence scars all societies – rich and poor.
These patterns of change matter because many gender gaps persist despite economic growth, and it is these gaps – in excess female mortality and entrenched education gaps, disparities in access to economic opportunities, differences in voice within households and societies, and in the reproduction of gender inequalities over time – that policy needs to focus on because they matter for welfare, he said.
After highlighting how these gaps might be addressed by governments, Shetty also said that sustainable reforms would be enabled by building coalitions, including with men, leveraging the private sector to build the case for gender equality, and taking advantage of “windows of opportunity.”
In her keynote address, Hon. Dipuo Peters, South Africa’s Minister of Energy, pointed out that the findings of the report were especially germane to ongoing discussions in South Africa. She said gender equality is about turning the tide against the feminization of poverty and toward enabling women lead lives of sustainable economic advancement and self-reliance.
“To be effective, policies must target the root causes of gender gaps,” she said. “In some areas as with maternal mortality, governments will need to address the single binding constraint to progress. In others, policies will be needed to tackle the issue of economic empowerment for women, especially poor and rural women.”
Tembisa Marele of the South African Broadcasting Corporation moderated a high-energy panel that discussed gender inequality and the implications of the report’s findings for national actions. The panel featured compelling presentations by Miriam Altman (Commissioner of the South Africa’s National Planning Commission), Vuyo Mahlati (Chairperson, Post Bank), Tebogo Maitse (Commissioner, Commission for Gender Equality) and Mary Hallward-Driemeier (World Bank Lead Economist).
The development dialogue, held at Johannesburg’s historic Sunnyside Hotel, was cosponsored by the Government of South Africa’s Department of Women, Human Sciences Research Council, PostBank and the World Bank. Its overarching purpose was to engage a broad audience, brief them about the findings, and find practical ways of improving public policies and forging coalitions for change. Ms. Ranji Reddy welcomed participants on behalf of the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.
While presenting summary remarks, Shantayanan Devarajan, World Bank Chief Economist for the Africa Region, asked participants to look at the issue of health, noting that South Africa’s health spending is among the highest, yet maternal mortality rates are rising.
“While that may tell you something about the effectiveness of health spending, the problem may lie elsewhere, say in the poor quality of water and sanitation, “ Devarajan said, adding that “gender equality is not only smart economics, it is also smart politics.”
A highlight of the development dialogue was a speech by Hon. Qedani Mahlangu, MEC for Economic Development of Gauteng province which includes the metropolises of Johannesburg and Pretoria.
“Underdevelopment disproportionately affects women,” she said, citing an example of how a trade mission she led to Italy opened up new opportunities for South African women to develop designer fabrics and tap into the rarefied, niche world of Italian fashion. Making the case for investing in manufacturing and human capital, she asked why is it that India manufactures pharmaceuticals on an industrial scale while South Africa only dispenses them? She said finding solutions for gender inequality depends not only on people exercising their rights, but also accepting responsibility for their actions.
The development dialogue in South Africa, along with a concurrent event in Tunis, began a series of launch events for the World Development Report 2012, and will be followed by similar discussions in New Delhi, Paris and Dhaka among others.