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PodcastMarch 8, 2024

The Journey Towards Gender Equality: Are Laws on the Books Enough? | The Development Podcast

FEATURING: Gita Gopinath , First Deputy Managing Director, International Monetary Fund / Tea Trumbic, World Bank Manager for the Women, Business and the Law project / Victoire Tomegah Dogbé, Prime Minister of Togo / Maryse Mbonyumutwa, CEO of Pink Mango and Founder of Asantii.

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Use the following clickable timestamps to listen to the podcast.

[00:00] Welcome and introduction of the topic

[04:35] Making progress on equal opportunity legislation: The case of Togo

[06:10] Visions from Rwanda: Women's empowerment and entrepreneurship

[10:12] Main insights from the World Bank's Women, Business and the Law report

[16:24] IMF: How international institutions are supporting women's rights and inclusion

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As the world celebrates International Womens Day, we take a look at where we are on the march towards gender equality. How big is the gender gap and what would happen if we closed it? What are some stumbling blocks along this journey? And how can international organizations like the World Bank Group and IMF help achieve more progress?  

Find out the answers to these questions and more as we speak with Victoire Tomegah Dogbé, Prime Minister of Togo; Gita Gopinath, First Deputy Managing Director, International Monetary Fund; Tea Trumbic, World Bank Manager for the Women, Business and the Law project and Maryse Mbonyumutwa - CEO of Pink Mango and Founder of Asantii as they answer these questions and more on this month’s limited series episode of The Development Podcast.

Tell us what you think of our podcast here >>>. We would love to hear from you!

Featured Voices

  • Gita Gopinath, First Deputy Managing Director, International Monetary Fund  
  • Tea Trumbic, World Bank Manager for the Women, Business and the Law project 
  • Victoire Tomegah Dogbé, Prime Minister of Togo 
  • Maryse Mbonyumutwa, CEO of Pink Mango and Founder of Asantii   

The Journey Towards Gender Equality: Are Laws on the Books Enough? | The Development Podcast


[00:00] Srimathi Sridhar: Hello and welcome to The Development Podcast from the World Bank Group. I'm Srimathi Sridhar in Washington DC. This episode, the latest in our special series about ending poverty on a livable planet, coincides with the celebrations we are seeing across the globe this month to mark International Women's Day. We'll be exploring the economics of equality, and asking what it'll take to have parity for women across the board. We'll be getting the views from female leaders in business, politics, and from the International Monetary Fund.

Gita Gopinath: It is critically important to have gender equality, and from pure economic perspective, this makes a lot of sense.

Srimathi Sridhar: The Prime Minister of Togo tells us about being a role model for women across the region and the world.

Victoire Tomegah Dogbé: So I insist on the importance of investing in oneself, but also one's community. Because our local communities need our contribution to thrive as a community.

Srimathi Sridhar: One entrepreneur in Rwanda explains why support for women always needs to start at the grassroots level.

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: I do see actually the gender equality issue on probably lower function. But when it comes to management, to leadership, in Rwanda, it's a non-issue.

Srimathi Sridhar: And we'll be hearing how further including women in economies could potentially double the current global growth rate over the next decade from an author of a new World Bank report right here in Washington DC.

Tea Trumbic: Laws in the books are not enough. If you don't have the type of systems and frameworks to implement those laws, then women can't realize the rights that they have, even when they have them.

Srimathi Sridhar: That's all coming up in The Development Podcast from the World Bank Group.

It probably hasn't escaped your attention that International Women's Day takes place every year on March 8th, giving us the opportunity to assess progress towards gender and economic parity, raise awareness about discrimination, and discuss issues that are keeping women from achieving their social and economic potential. And of course, it is an occasion to celebrate women's achievements worldwide. So let's start this episode with a snapshot of some truly inspirational speakers.

Audio footage: It is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights. / And I considered it my duty to fight for their rights. I wanted to see them in school uniforms, holding books and pens in their hands. I wanted to see the future bright. If you don't educate children, it means it becomes a generation lost. / I am a feminist. And when I looked up the word in the dictionary that day, this is what it said, "Feminist, a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. / All of us must keep on hoping and working for a change, constantly asking ourselves if we are doing all we can to make clear our desire to live in peace and friendship with all our neighbors in the world community. / I ask the people of the world and not just the leaders therefore, to hold us accountable, and to ask us to act in your name to save this earth, and to save the people of this earth. The choice is ours. What will you do? What will you choose to save? / The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.

Srimathi Sridhar: Some amazing words of wisdom there from Hillary Clinton, the former United States Secretary of State, activist Malala, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, former first lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt, prime minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, and former president of Liberia, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson.

[04:35] Srimathi Sridhar: Now for further wisdom, let's cross over to Togo. According to the World Bank's recently published annual Women, Business and the Law report, Togo stands out amongst Sub-Saharan economies in making progress on equal opportunity legislation. It's recently enacted laws that now give women roughly 77% of the rights available to men, more than any other country in the continent. Her Excellency, Victoire Tomegah Dogbé, is the country's first female prime minister. So let's hear what words of advice she had to share.

Victoire Tomegah Dogbé: I think that in life, it's important to have ambition. It's important to dream. But at the same time, you need to feed dreams with ambition. For this, you need unshakeable determination, and it's also very important not to limit yourself. I really encourage women to invest in themselves, but also to find a way to invest in their communities. For example, it's great to have highly educated girls, but they cannot become great leaders if they don't understand the reality of local communities. So I encourage them to travel across their country and interact with other women and to learn from them. So I insist on the importance of investing in oneself, but also one's community, because our local communities need our contribution to thrive.

[06:10] Srimathi Sridhar: Thank you to Her Excellency for joining us. The often quoted phrase, "It's lonely at the top," takes on additional meaning when applied to many women in positions of power, especially if you're a female political leader in some parts of the world, where women sometimes represent fewer than 2% of elected politicians. But that's not the case in Rwanda, a country that is proud to have over 60% of seats in parliament occupied by women. In addition to having the highest percentage of women in parliament, Rwanda also leads the way in introducing reforms to encourage female entrepreneurship and support parenthood, according to the Women, Business and the Law report. But do these statistics reflect life in Rwanda for women looking to make it in the world of business? Our producer, Sarah Treanor, spoke to one entrepreneur to find out.

Sarah Treanor: The sounds of children singing at a trilingual nursery in Kigali, Rwanda. The nursery is attached to a garment factory, and the children of the factory's workers attend for free. It's the brainchild of one entrepreneur, putting women's empowerment at the heart of her business model.

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: So my name is Maryse Mbonyumutwa. So I've been in this business for the last 23 years, working mainly with factories in China and Southeast Asia for major retailers in Europe. I just launched also a new project, which is a brand called Ashanti, a new Pan-African brand that we hope will be a catalyst for the fashion garment and textile industry. So yeah, that's it a little bit about me.

Sarah Treanor: I asked Maryse how important women are for the success of her company and the broader industry, from the factory floor to the boardroom.

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: In our industry, the part of women is huge. It's an industry that traditionally employs a lot of women. For example, in our location, on our sites, on our four sites in Rwanda, where we now have close to 5,000 workers, we've got over 80% of them are women. The only criteria to work, to start in our factory, you need to be Rwandan and over 18, which means that we are attracting quite a lot of labor which was previously excluded from the labor market.

Sarah Treanor: And what kind of policies has she put in place to support female employees?

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: So first of all, we do have a free lunch for all the workers. Then we have set up a nursery since 2020, it's a pilot project for the moment, but where we welcome free of charge, completely free of charge children of the factory workers. A breastfeeding program. We introduced also free sanitary pad for women, because we realized after one year we started working, one of the main reason for absenteeism was also women not having access to hygienic product and they will feel embarrassed to come to work. Our human resource manager is a woman. The corporate social responsibility, Pink Ubuntu, program as well is also a woman. The fact that ourselves, women, mothers, we do have probably a level of understanding and empathy.

Sarah Treanor: Does she think that there are still barriers to becoming a successful woman in business in Rwanda?

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: Being a woman in Rwanda, what I have noticed has become a non-problem or a non-question. It has become a normal thing. I do see actually the gender equality issue on probably lower function, but when it comes to management, to leadership. in Rwanda today, it's a non-issue. It's a normal. It has become normal.

[10:12] Srimathi Sridhar: Thank you to Maryse and to Sarah. So now we've heard from two countries that are doing well in terms of implementing reforms tracked by the World Bank's Women, Business and the Law report. But what about the broader global outlook? How is the world doing overall? And what are the most persistent stumbling blocks hampering the achievement of greater equality. Here the report offers some sobering findings around legal rights and economic earnings.

According to the report, the workplace gap in terms of legal rights is not just big, it's bigger than previously thought. In fact, the inclusion of two new indicators has helped reveal that women enjoy less than two thirds of the legal rights available to men, far lower than the three quarters previously estimated. Furthermore, women today earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and progress towards enshrining stronger equality legislation remains patchy at best. These disparities have an outsized impact on the entire global economy, with the report estimating that by closing the gender gap and employment and entrepreneurship, global gross domestic product could increase by more than 20%. And eliminating the gender gap would essentially double the current global growth rate over the next decade.

Srimathi Sridhar: So what's stopping progress toward making these social and economic improvements? Well, to find out, I spoke to Tea Trumbic, the World Bank's manager for the Women, Business and the Law report. She joined me here in Washington DC. Tea, thank you so much for coming into the studio for us today. The headlines from this year's Women, Business and the Law report are quite stark, and in many ways really not what we'd hoped to hear. It says in the report that the global gender gap, in terms of economic opportunities for women, is significantly wider than previously thought. Talk us through some of these big picture findings.

Tea Trumbic: Yeah, sure. Thank you. Thanks for having me. And it's true, the global gap in gender, especially in gender legal equality, is wider than we previously thought. This report is really different than the previous ones. We are adding new measures. We are looking at it in a different way. We previously looked at eight different indicators that follow women's working life. So issues like mobility, workplace, what happens when they get married, have children, open businesses, all the way to retirement. But we have been learning that there's more to it than this. And this is why some of the outcomes have not been following the change in laws that we've been seeing. And so there are two new indicators we're adding this year, on women's safety and on access to childcare. And because we're measuring different things, the results are different. And so it's not necessarily that things have gotten worse, but we just realize now that the reality is much worse than we previously thought. So whereas previously, our findings were showing that women had three quarters of the legal rights of men, we now find that it's actually two thirds. But the other thing that we really are bringing to the table this year is that laws in the books are not enough. If you don't have the type of systems and frameworks to implement those laws, then women can't realize the rights that they have, even when they have them. So I can give you an example of that. For example, equal pay. We hear all the time that the gender wage gap exists in all countries, no matter how developed they are, no matter how good their laws are. And we had previously countries that we measure that have equal pay legislation on the books. But without certain mechanisms like pay transparency, or things that really empower women to understand where they stand and be able to take this forward, we have the reality that women still make only 77 cents on the dollar. And without enforcing some of these mechanisms, we won't move forward. So according to our data now, only 98 countries out of 190, so about half, have the laws in the books. So there's a lot of room to work on the laws as well. But out of those, only about 30 have pay transparency mechanisms in place. So you might have a law in the books that say you're guaranteed equal pay, but how can you prove it if you don't know what others are making? Countries are losing out by leaving half of their population on the sideline. And one of the shocking facts we have now is that we don't have one country that has equality on the books in the areas that we're measuring.

Srimathi Sridhar: Are there any parts of the world you would say have made significant improvements according to your findings? And why would you say so?

Tea Trumbic: Yeah. Well, we are seeing progress, especially in Sub-Saharan African countries. Of course, those are the ones that had lower scores, and so there was more for them to do. But we have seen a sustained effort in several countries, Rwanda, Togo, Sierra Leone, they've been reforming over several years. And we know that they have read our report and they've looked at this data and they've worked with the World Bank, with other organizations, to really address this issue. And for example, I can talk about Togo, which has been reforming for several years. And this year, according to our previous measurements, they're the country that has the highest score in Africa, almost at 100. But when we now add these new indicators in safety and childcare, their score goes down to about 77, which is still very good. But when we look at the implementing mechanisms, they have about 30% of the measures that should be in place to enforce those laws. So while many countries have been focusing on changing laws, there's a lot more room to focus on these systems that really need to be there to implement the laws. And when we look at globally, only 40% of these frameworks are in place to implement the laws on the books.

Srimathi Sridhar: Now Tea, it might seem very obvious, but explain to us why it's important for economies that women have equal access to opportunities and legal rights. Why does it matter for economic development?

Tea Trumbic: Well, women make up 50% of the world population, and yet they're not equally represented in the workforce. Today, about 50% of women are in the labor force, compared to 75% of men. And so if you think of just the numbers game here, countries that want to grow, that want to increase their productivity, that want to have more businesses, are leaving out a significant portion of their population that could be contributing. And we know that when women work, when they start businesses, when they have money, they have more power, they have louder voices, they make better choices, not only for themselves, but for their families, for future generations, and for their communities.

[16:24] Srimathi Sridhar: Thanks so much, Tea. So we've heard from some famous names from women leading the way in politics and business, and also about the gap that still remains between men and women in terms of rights and pay. But let's hear more about how international institutions are supporting women's rights and inclusion. I had the pleasure of sitting down here in the studio with Gita Gopinath, the first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

Gita Gopinath: Srimathi, firstly, it's a real pleasure to join you. It is critically important to have gender equality. And from a pure economic perspective, this makes a lot of sense. We are staring at a growth projection which is one of the weakest we've seen in several decades, so we are looking at medium term growth of around 3% or so. So as countries, we need to find ways of boosting growth. And one surefire way of doing that is by bringing more women into the workforce. So if you look at labor force participation rates of women right now, that's 47%. For men, that number is 72%. So there is a big gap in terms of labor force participation between men and women, and therefore just a simple arithmetic of bringing more women into the labor force can do wonders for growth. So if I were to give you a statistic, if you think of emerging market and developing economies, if they can increase their labor force participation rates by around six percentage points, then they can raise their GDP by about 8% over the next few years. These are sizable gains and absolutely critical. It's also very important to have women participating in society because we are facing aging societies. There are countries where the population is shrinking. I can give you the example for instance of Japan. And one of the big initiatives that was part of Abenomics that happened was to encourage women's labor force participation. So despite the fact that population as a whole has been shrinking in Japan since the 1990s, the labor force as a whole has stayed relatively stable, because over the last 10 years, women's labor force participation went up by around 11 percentage points. So that can be done, and that's absolutely critical. And it's not just the participation, but it's important to have a well-educated, healthy workforce. And that requires paying a lot more attention to women's health and education than what's being done right now.

Srimathi Sridhar: So the old saying goes, it's a man's world. Where do you think we stand with that in 2024, and particularly in the developing world?

Gita Gopinath: I would say it's no longer entirely a man's world, but it still, to a great degree, remains unequal. Just again, in terms of labor force participation, the fact that only 47% of women participate in the workforce while 72% of the men do, that is a big gap. And if you look ahead and you try to see what it will take to close those gaps, it's going to take a very long time and it's not going to happen automatically. You really need concerted policy actions to make that happen. Also, if you look at what kinds of jobs women do, women tend to be more in informal jobs, in more part-time jobs. So the nature of the job, it's not just that they participate or not in the workforce, but the nature of the job also looks very different. We looked at central banks around the world to see how many women were there in leadership positions as economists, as managers, and so on. And what we see in the group of advanced economy central banks is that while there are women working in the central bank, the vast majority of them are working more in HR and administrative roles as opposed to as economists or managers. So again, it's not just the labor force participation, but it's the nature of that participation that still looks very different. And these gaps that I'm pointing to are a result of unequal access to opportunities for women. And if you look at the gender gap when it comes to health outcomes, when it comes to education outcomes, those are wide. And it remains the case that women do a whole lot more in terms of childcare, in terms of domestic chores, than men do. And as long as those imbalances remain, it's going to be very hard to close those gaps. But again, real policy action is required to solve this problem.

Srimathi Sridhar: Can you talk to me a little bit about the IMF strategy on gender, specifically on gender mainstreaming?

Gita Gopinath: So the IMF launched its gender mainstreaming strategy in 2022. What does that mean? That basically means that we are now putting gender as an important ingredient in all of our three streams of work that we do, which is in surveillance, in lending, and in capacity development. So for example, if you look at our country engagement for about a quarter of the countries that we deal with, we are directly engaged in terms of policy advice on how to close the gender gaps. And we focus on our areas of expertise, which is for example in terms of fiscal policy advice. Governments and budgets and how to make sure that the fiscal choices that you're making are also helping women. As an example, what we know very well in terms of a particular expenditure that governments can do is in terms of providing childcare support. That is very helpful in bringing women into the workforce. What we also find very helpful is when you have conditional cash transfers to households that require them to keep their girl child in schools. That ensures education. So those kinds of very concrete steps can help close these gaps, and this is what we are helping countries with.

Srimathi Sridhar: And why is it important to make sure that women are well represented in leadership roles to help close the gap further?

Gita Gopinath: Firstly, I think as a society, we need to use the diversity of the talent that we have. For several leadership positions, frankly, the woman is better at the job than men. So it's not just that there's a diversity aspect to it, but they're just better at it. They will be qualified, have better outcomes at it, and there are plenty of studies that can point to that. We also know from a lot of research that having a much more diverse leadership pool is great for bringing in different viewpoints, for instance in terms of the kinds of goals you want as a company or as a nation. So when women for instance get into leadership positions, there's a lot more focus for instance put on climate goals, on education for children, on healthcare for children. These have to be essential parts of the conversation that get lost when women are not in leadership positions. Similarly, financial inclusion for women requires women in leadership positions. We've done research of multiple kinds where we've looked at women's representation on boards of financial companies, and found that having a more diverse pool helps that financial company be more resilient, have greater stability. So there are many pluses to it.

Srimathi Sridhar: Now Gita, you were the IMF's first female chief economist. You're now first deputy managing director of the IMF. What would be your advice to fellow women leaders and those that are aspiring to be leaders?

Gita Gopinath: This is reflecting on what I've gone through, is to actually seek out advice from others and not just wait for it to come to you. What's particularly valuable would be speaking to other senior women, because many of them have experienced the same explicit or implicit biases that you are likely facing at this time. So getting advice from them would be very valuable. Look out for other women. We all are standing on the shoulders of other women. For me personally, Christine Lagarde hired me as chief economist. Kristalina Georgieva hired me as the first deputy managing director. I think I owe it to the previous women for where I am today. So you have to pay it forward. And it can be in small things, which is just sending a compliment to a female colleague who you think is doing something really nice. Just a kind gesture would be a place to start.

Srimathi Sridhar: Thank you so much, Gita, for coming into the studio. Please do join us next month when we'll be exploring how economics can help preserve the world's forest. Do check out our survey in the meantime. And thanks for listening to The Development Podcast from the World Bank Group. We'll see you again soon.

Women Business and the Law 2024 Report


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The World Bank is one of the world’s largest sources of funding and knowledge for low-income countries. Its five institutions share a commitment to reducing poverty, increasing shared prosperity, and promoting sustainable development on a livable planet.

VIDEO | Women, Business and the Law 2024

A series of annual studies that measures the enabling conditions that affect women’s economic opportunity in 190 economies. This study presents three indexes: legal frameworks, supportive frameworks (policies, institutions, services, data, budget, and access to justice), and expert opinions on women’s rights in practice.

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