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Gender Equality: The Right and Smart Thing to Do – World Bank report

September 18, 2011

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2011 – Gender equality matters in its own right, but is also smart economics:  Countries that create better opportunities and conditions for women and girls can raise productivity, improve outcomes for children, make institutions more representative, and advance development prospects for all, says a new World Bank flagship report.
According to the World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development, in many low-income countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, poor women and girls continue to face severe disadvantages and a particular concern is that of excess female mortality, or ‘missing women’.
According to the report, the number of women missing in SSA increased to 1.18 million in 2008, compared to 639,000 in 1990. To tackle the problem of missing girls during infancy and early childhood, the report calls for greater investments in adequate water, sanitation and waste disposal services. Lowering maternal mortality will require systemic improvements to the institutions that deliver medical care and services to expectant mothers. Also, HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention is vital, since the health status of women is especially bad in countries hardest hit by the epidemic and in those countries HIV/AIDS is more prevalent among women than men.
The WDR 2012 details big strides in narrowing gender gaps worldwide, especially in terms of education. In SSA, by 2008, there were about 91 girls for every 100 boys in primary school, up from 85 girls in 1999. However, in many countries in the region, girls’ enrollments in primary and secondary education have progressed little. In Eritrea the female primary net enrollment rate rose from a very low base of 16 percent in 1990 to just 36 percent in 2008. In Chad and the Central African Republic there are fewer than 70 girls per 100 boys in primary school. School enrollments for girls 5-19 years old in Mali are equivalent to those in the US around 1820.
“We need to achieve gender equality,” said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick.  “Over the past five years, the World Bank Group has provided $65 billion to support girls’ education, women’s health, and women’s access to credit, land, agricultural services, jobs, and infrastructure. This has been important work, but it has not been enough or central enough to what we do.  Going forward, the World Bank Group will mainstream our gender work and find other ways to move the agenda forward to capture the full potential of half the world’s population.”
The report cites examples of how countries could gain by addressing disparities between men and women:

  • Ensuring equal access and treatment for women farmers would increase maize yields by 11 to 16 percent in Malawi and by 17 percent in Ghana.
  • Improving women's access to agricultural inputs in Burkina Faso would increase total household agricultural production by about 6 percent, with no additional resources—simply by reallocating resources such as fertilizer and labor from men to women.
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that equal access to resources for female farmers could increase agricultural output in developing countries by as much as 2.5 to 4 percent.
  • Eliminating barriers that prevent women from working in certain occupations or sectors would have similar positive effects, reducing the productivity gap between male and female workers by one-third to one-half and increasing output per worker by 3 to 25 percent across a range of countries.
    “Blocking women and girls from getting the skills and earnings to succeed in a globalized world is morally wrong and economically harmful,” said Justin Yifu Lin, World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President, Development Economics. “Sharing the fruits of growth and globalization equally between men and women is essential to meeting key development goals.”
    Remaining gaps include the lower school enrollments of disadvantaged girls; unequal access for women to economic opportunities and incomes, whether in the labor market, agriculture or entrepreneurship; and large differences in voice between women and men both in households and societies.
    The report argues that these patterns of progress and persistence in closing gender gaps matters for development policies. Higher incomes help close some gaps, as in education. As schools expand and more jobs open up for young women, parents see clear benefits to educating their girls.  But too often, markets and institutions (including social norms around house and care work) combine with household decisions to perpetuate disparities between men and women.  As part of this, gender gaps in earnings remain stubbornly unchanged in much of the world.
    “The road to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Africa can only be built on a gender inclusive agenda that unleashes the productive power of women,”
    said Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President for Africa.  “That agenda should advance women’s education and access to information, protect women’s rights, improve women’s access to agricultural inputs and security over their land, promote female entrepreneurship, and increase the participation of women in government and public life”.
    In SSA, women’s share in the labor force is one of the highest in the world—61%--but their economic opportunities are far worse than those of men.  Women farmers lack security of tenure in many countries, and this translates into lower access to credit and inputs and to inefficient land use, reducing yields. Discrimination in credit markets and other gender inequalities in access to productive inputs also make it more difficult for female-headed firms to be as productive and profitable as male-headed ones. In agriculture, women operate smaller plots of land and farm less remunerative crops. In Kenya women account for 5 percent of registered landholders nationally. And in Ghana the mean value of men’s landholdings was three times that of women’s landholdings. As entrepreneurs, they tend to manage smaller firms and concentrate in “female” sectors. And in formal employment, they concentrate in “female” occupations and sectors.
    The WDR 2012 calls for action in four areas: 1) addressing human capital issues, such as excess deaths of girls and women and gender gaps in education where these persist; 2) closing earning and productivity gaps between women and men; 3) giving women greater voice within households and societies; and 4) limiting the perpetuation of gender inequality across generations. 
    “Focused domestic public policies remain the key to bringing about gender equality,” said Ana Revenga, WDR Co-Director.  “And to be effective, these policies will need to address the root causes of gender gaps. For some problems, as with high maternal mortality, this will require strengthening the institutions that deliver services. For other gaps, as with unequal access to economic opportunities, policies will need to tackle the multiple constraints –in markets and institutions- that keep women trapped in low productivity/low earning jobs.”
    To ensure that progress on gender equality is sustained, the international community needs to complement domestic policy actions.
    “Development partners can support domestic policies in many ways -- more funding, greater innovation and better partnerships,” said Sudhir Shetty, WDR Co-Director, “Additional financing for clean water and sanitation and maternal services, for instance, will help the poorest countries. More experimentation, systematic evaluation and better gender-disaggregated data can point to ways of improving women’s access to markets. And, partnerships can fruitfully be expanded to include the private sector, civil society groups and academic institutions.”
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