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FEATURE STORYJanuary 23, 2024

Completing school is the pathway to a better future for Dominican women

The World Bank

A girl with a study book at the Salomé Ureña School in the Capotillo neighborhood of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Picture: Orlando Barría

Despite its exponential economic growth, a recent gender assessment from the World Bank identifies critical points limiting the development of women in the Dominican Republic.

The recent history of the Dominican Republic is, in many aspects, a success: exceptional economic growth compared to the rest of the region, a middle class outnumbering the poor, and improvements in the quality of life. However, when focusing on Dominican girls and women, the story does not seem to be the same.

On one hand, the pace of poverty reduction has not been proportional to economic growth, and women are one of the most affected groups, being in a more vulnerable situation than men. On the other hand, beneath the economic indicators, inequalities between genders persist, often accentuated by existing social norms.

Staying in the classroom and finishing school is one of the most critical and determining factors for the future of Dominican women,” explains Alejandro de la Fuente, Senior Economist at the World Bank and one of the authors of the World Bank's Dominican Republic Gender Assessment.

Staying in the classroom and finishing school is one of the most critical and determining factors for the future of Dominican women.
Fatimetou Mint Mohamed
Alejandro de la Fuente
Senior Economist at the World Bank
Share of 15-year-old dominican students affected by school violence

Nearly half of the students report having experienced some form of school harassment, the highest figure in Latin America and the Caribbean. This leads to poor academic performance and, especially for girls, increases the likelihood of early unions, teenage pregnancies, and school dropouts.

Being wives and mothers before being girls in school

The Dominican Republic records the highest rate of early unions and child marriage in the region, often sheltered by a broad social tolerance.

Seven out of ten married or sexually active teenage girls reported being pregnant at least once, which is directly linked to school dropout. Almost half of the girls who reported being pregnant left school after the birth of their first child.

The adolescent fertility rate in the DR is 93 births per 1000 women ages 15-19

For these reasons, the number of young women who are neither in school, nor employed, nor in training (called NEETs) reaches 39%, compared to 25% of young men. This becomes a vicious circle that often persists for a lifetime and results in the lagging behind of young mothers and their children.

Lack of education perpetuates economic disadvantage

According to the assessment, low levels of schooling and low quality of education are a bottleneck for accessing better jobs and achieving economic independence.

In the case of Dominican women, the lack of economic autonomy begins in their adolescence and persists into adulthood, with low salaries and a disproportionate burden of domestic responsibilities.

In addition, women always earn less than men, a wage gap that widens even further in informal and low-skilled sectors, where most women work.

In the informal sector of the DR the average male labor income can be up to 75 percent more

"The loss of wealth of human capital (the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate throughout their lives, enabling them to realize their potential) due to gender inequality represented $185.4 billion in 2018, equivalent to 2.2% of that year's GDP," estimates De la Fuente.

Women are crucial to reaching 2030

The study highlights several interventions that have shown positive results for girls. For example, it explains that economic incentives are often key for the retention of women in schools and the delay of child marriage, as well as improvements in the employability of young women (such as the SUPÉRATE program, where approximately 60% of beneficiaries are women).

There is also evidence of successful interventions in other countries that the Dominican Republic could replicate, such as the Abriendo Oportunidades program in Guatemala, which helps rural girls stay in school and develop skills, and whose model has since been exported to Mexico and Belize.

However, there is still a long way to go.

In the coming years, closing gender gaps and fostering a young and productive female workforce will be crucial for the Dominican Republic to achieve its goal of becoming a high-income country by 2030.


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