Speeches & Transcripts

Centennial Celebration of International Women's Day

March 8, 2010

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director, World Bank Centennial Celebration of International Women’s Day

As Prepared for Delivery

Ladies and Gentlemen: I am absolutely delighted to be here to celebrate International Women’s Day.

One hundred years is a true milestone to celebrate and engage in some serious debate.  In addition to a celebration, today is a day to look at the role women play in the work we do and in our own workplace. I would like to hear more of what we do well and what can we do better.

I’d like to take a moment to say special thanks to the men in the audience, and to one man in particular, President Robert Zoellick who has shown a true belief in gender issues. For change to occur, we need men and women to work together on the gender issues we face in our work and workplace. Thank you for being here.

100 years ago, the world’s population was about 1.6 billion people—nearly 4 times smaller than now (6.8 billion). In 1911, the British medical journal The Lancet noted many of the same issues that face us today:  the health of disadvantaged people, the maintenance of charitable hospitals in a depressed economy, and occupational health and safety.  Italy was at war with Turkey, China was having a revolution, and the Titanic launched and sank. Brassieres were just a twinkle in inventor Caresse Crosby’s eye. Cars and planes were cutting edge technology. Women had the right to vote in only a handful of countries.  In the US, over 2 million workers were children under the age of 15.

We live in fascinating times—revolutions are underway in several Middle Eastern countries, much of it spurred by the “bulge of youth”, where nearly a third of their populations are between age 15 and 29.  Young people want jobs and a voice in their governments.

One of the ways we at the Bank Group helps younger people is through the Adolescent Girl Initiative, an important part of our operational gender work.  Since adolescent girls grow up to be mothers, their well-being has a large impact on families and communities.  More educated young women have a greater capacity to earn income, and enhanced access to reproductive health information and services. In addition, they are more likely to delay marriage and childbirth, have healthier babies, and attain higher literacy rates.

The evidence strongly suggests that investing in adolescent girls is one way to break inter-generational patterns of poverty.    Let me give you a few examples why: 

An extra year of secondary schooling for girls can raise their future wages by 10 to 20%;
In Brazil, income in the hands of a mother has a larger effect on her family's health than income controlled by the father: for child survival probability, the effect is nearly 20 times larger;  and
In Kenya, income in mothers’ hands increased children’s height by 17 %.

Closing the Gap on Education. Data from across the developing world show that girls are closing the gap with boys in education.   At the 2010 MDG summit in New York, we were able to take stock of progress.

Nepal, for example, has had remarkable success. The overall enrolment rate increased from 64 % of children in 1990 to 94% today. Meanwhile, parity between girls and boys in primary enrollment was achieved. And girls are outpacing boys slightly in completion rate: this year, 79.8% of girls enrolled completed primary school all the way through, compared to 77.8% of boys enrolled.

This is a story echoed in many developing countries today. Yet girls -- particularly those in poorer households -- transition much less successfully into the workforce.  This is neither fair nor smart economics.

In Bangladesh, where young women have transitioned in larger numbers, both they and their families benefit from the additional income.  Moreover, both marriage and childbirth have been significantly delayed, reducing maternal mortality at childbirth.   So investing in an adolescent girl’s economic opportunity empowers her and her society in many ways.

This is what the Government of Liberia had understood.

In fact, it was the experience in Liberia that helped spark the launch of the Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) in 2008.  In October of that year, the World Bank launched AGI as part of our “Gender Equality as Smart Economics.”

AGI Background AGI helps adolescent girls transition into productive adulthood in some of the poorest and most fragile countries.  Out of 230 million girls aged 15 to 24 in poor countries, between 47% - 72%, depending on the region, are neither in school nor at work. This is not only the right thing to do.  It is smart development.

AGI targets “inactive” adolescent girls and young women. It provides marketable skills and connects young women to economic opportunities through interventions that are rigorously tested and scaled-up. The project has received $22 million in financing.

The countries in which AGI is being implemented are mostly low-income and post-conflict countries, where the need is the greatest.  We know these are challenging environments to launch innovative activities in.

But we also know that if the interventions are effective in such challenging circumstances, they can be replicated and scaled-up in many other parts of the world.

Girl Hub In efforts to scale up investments in adolescent girls, an initiative entitled Girl Hub was launched last year.

Girl Hub provides an innovative structure for private and public sector actors to collaborate on the scaling up investments in adolescent girls and young women. 

It seeks to be “part advisor, part catalyst and 100% dedicated to adolescent girls in poverty”. It aims to do this by:
Strengthening client country capacity to design, implement, monitor and evaluate programs targeting adolescent girls and young women;
Enable the scaling-up of pilot interventions under the Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) or similar initiatives in client countries, with a particular focus on Africa; and
Facilitate cross-country learning and knowledge sharing.

Results-Based Initiatives.  In addition to AGI and the Girls Hub, the Bank partners on Results-Based Initiatives (RBIs), which are pilot interventions that aim to promote women's economic empowerment in order to achieve sustainable and shared growth, intensify gender mainstreaming beyond the social sectors, and improve efforts to measure results and impacts.

Its main partners are DFID ($17M), Nike Foundation ($4M) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($3M).

RBIs comprise an important part of the Bank’s Gender Action Plan (GAP)—Gender Equality as Smart Economics —and are implemented through a partnership with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and local partners.  Six RBIs were piloted in Egypt, Kenya, Liberia, the Mekong, and Peru; the RBI Program began in 2007 and ended in December 2010. Impact evaluation reports are expected to be completed by June 2011.

We are fortunate and grateful to have many good partners.  It is also encouraging to see the private sector invest to expand young women’s economic opportunity. 

Women. We will continue the important work to increase women’s access to resources and jobs.

The Bank’s World Development Report next year will focus on gender dimensions of development.  The Bank’s Three Year Road Map for Gender Mainstreaming (2011-2013) will continue investing in women’s access to jobs, land rights, financial services, agricultural inputs, and infrastructure.  And we will further mainstream women’s empowerment into our work.

We urge more public and private partners to join us as we seek to open more doors of opportunity for girls and women.  This is an exciting area with much potential to do well by doing good.

Workplace Diversity. Another area the Bank is doing well in terms of gender is in the workplace. Half of our senior managers- Vice President and higher- are women (21 out of 42). Over a third of all Bank Group managers and more than 40 percent of mid professional career professionals are women.

There has been a steady increase in female managers since President Zoellick’s announcement two years ago calling for gender parity by the end of 2012.  Our top leader has clearly demonstrated his commitment to gender parity in management. This is good news; however, we can and must do better.

We have recently launched a new career map for staff in grades A through E, the grades that 53 percent of women in the Bank Group work. The tool details potential career paths and the specific competencies needed to attain a position at a higher level. Transparency and knowledge are powerful tools.

We are near gender parity at grade F, meaning 49 percent are women. However, with more than a quarter of all staff are in grade G, the percent of women is 39 percent.  The gender gap widens to 29 percent women for grade H technical staff.  We are working on strengthening our internal bench. For example, 53% of participants in internal IFC leadership trainings since FY08 are female. During the same time frame, in IBRD, females comprised 43% of participants of internal leadership training attending the newly designed state-of-the art, high-quality formal training followed up by deep dive leadership clinics on leading during crisis, strategic decision making, innovative risk, organizational performance, and sustaining change. We also plan to deliver at least two of these sessions in EAP and ECA/MNA.  What else can we do to ensure that we have a healthy pipeline of potential future women leaders?

We have many progressive family-friendly programs in place that help both women and men grow their careers including flexible working hours, alternative work schedules, family leave, and lactation rooms. Most staff believe their managers would be supportive of flexible work arrangements, according to the Staff Association. Communications are important: over 90% of staff surveyed did not know of the existing flexible work arrangements. Check out the flexwork toolkit! Try asking your manager! Start the conversation and see if there is a better work schedule that meets both your manager’s and your personal needs.

So much of the work we do is about fostering good relationships. Last year in my International Women’s Day speech, I challenged staff to act as mentors to their peers. How many of you took time with a junior colleague to help groom them professionally? How many of you made the time to really listen to your colleagues? If you were already a mentor, did you start mentoring someone new?

Mentors are critically important to assuring the successful performance and professional growth of excellent, high potential staff. Mentoring is not free.  It takes time, thought and effort but it is also a responsibility and a privilege for all of us in leadership positions at whatever level to mentor the next generation of leadership.

Mentor a female staff member. Help culture your mentees’ career development.  Help younger people succeed. 

Our President committed this organization to gender parity in management by December 2012.  Let’s make it happen.  Let us move together from words, to deeds so we can all celebrate.

Happy International Women’s Day. Thank you.