International Women’s Day 2015: 'This Is the Year'

March 5, 2015


Significant gains in school enrollment among girls have yet to translate into equal pay and equal opportunities.

Scott Wallace / World Bank

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2015—This is "the year for action" on gender equality, World Bank Group Senior Director for Gender Caren Grown says, with the launch of new global anti-poverty goals and the 20th anniversary of a landmark platform for action on empowering women.

"We have made great progress in some domains—for instance, in closing gaps between young boys and girls in primary school education," she says. "We’ve started to make progress in secondary school enrolment and completion" as well as maternal mortality in some countries.

"But there are important domains where progress has not happened even with economic growth and even with policy reforms. This is particularly the case with economic opportunity—in labor markets and women’s ownership and control over productive assets such as land and housing."

It's time to turn the targets and promises of the expiring anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action "into real results that empower women and close gaps between men and women" around the world.

"For those of us who have been working in this field, this is the year for action," she says. "I think I’d like to see us move from the 'why it is important' mode into the 'how we do it to get the job done' mode."

Governments will convene this year to adopt new Sustainable Development Goals that will succeed the MDGs, whose most lagging indicators include targets related to women’s health and leadership. They will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and its Platform for Action.

Speaking Feb. 27 in Chile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called the Beijing Platform "the international blueprint for gender equality and women’s empowerment," noting that two decades later, "important progress has been made, but it has been slow and uneven."

Significant gains in school enrollment among girls have yet to translate into equal pay, equal opportunities, and an equal chance to make decisions about their own lives, health, and work. Globally, girls and women face multiple constraints resulting from discriminatory laws and customs—curbing their productivity and imposing opportunity and other costs on them, their families, and their economies.

Grown joined the World Bank Group (WBG) in September as its first senior director for gender, after serving as Economist in Residence and Co-Director of the Program on Gender Analysis in Economics at American University. The author/editor of six books, she also served as Senior Gender Adviser and Acting Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

" For those of us who have been working in this field, this is the year for action. I think I’d like to see us move from the 'why it is important' mode into the 'how we do it to get the job done' mode. "
Caren Grown

Caren Grown

World Bank Group Senior Director, Gender

She envisages tackling persistent gender gaps through what she sees as promising levers for transformation. These include creating more and better jobs for women, closing gaps in ownership of land, housing, assets, and businesses, tackling gender-based violence, expanding women’s access to banking and other financial services, and properly quantifying and accounting for labor associated with the so-called "care economy"—in which women perform the vast majority of the world’s unpaid care.

"Gender wage gaps are an economic fact of life, like taxes and debt. It’s just sticky, [and] they don’t close," partly because women and men and streamed and segregated into different jobs, she says. "That women fall at the bottom of the job hierarchy is something we really need to pay attention to."

Men's engagement is also vital, she says, adding that gender equality "benefits them too."

Data and Measurements

Grown's research interests include devising new methods to measure poverty at the individual rather than the household level, which will provide a more accurate picture of how many women globally are poor and why.

She was an early advocate for more and better data on women and girls and has worked to scale up Bank partnerships to fill knowledge gaps regarding women’s work, time use, asset ownership, vital statistics, and access to resources such as technology or fertilizer—all of which can help identify entry points for tackling poverty.

"We have so much work to do in the data and statistics agenda to make visible the work that women do," she says.  

"One of the first issues is increasing the data whether it is through time use or labor force surveys on the unpaid work that women do. We also have lot of work to do to measure subsistence production, entrepreneurship, physical and financial assets that women and men hold within households."

"I think if we have information on not only the time men and women spend on different occupations, but also a way to value it, it will inspire us to do so much more."