Speeches & Transcripts

Remarks by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim at “Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Gap”

July 19, 2012

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim U.S. State Department/Gallup event on “Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Gap” Washington, DC, United States


Making Women Count


Good morning everyone. Madam Secretary, Jim Clifton, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It’s a great pleasure to be here today to address one of the key challenges of the 21st century: achieving gender equality. 

I share a deeply-held conviction that gender equality counts for societies and economies to make progress. 

It counts because it’s the right and fair thing to do.  Simply put, a person’s opportunities should not be determined by whether they are born male or female.

It also counts because gender equality is vital for growth and competitiveness of countries.  When countries value girls and women as much as boys and men; when they invest in their health, education, and skills training; when they give women greater opportunities to participate in the economy, manage incomes, own and run businesses – the benefits extend far beyond individual girls and women to their children and families, to their communities, to societies and economies at large. 

Just look at some of the numbers:

Women make up 40 percent of the global work force, and 43 percent of the agricultural workforce.  Across the developing world, there are 8 to 10 million formal small and medium-sized women-owned businesses – and those numbers are growing.

Today, women are more than half the world’s university students.  In a third of developing countries there are now more girls in school than boys.

Evidence shows that when women have greater control over household funds or agricultural resources, it can have significant payoffs.  In Brazil, for example, when family income goes into the hands of the mother rather than the father, I know this from personal experience, a child’s chance of survival is 20 times greater.  In Ghana, ensuring that women farmers have the same access as men to fertilizer and other agricultural inputs would increase maize yields by 17 percent.

So this isn’t just about giving women more resources.  It’s about giving women their fair share.  It’s about giving half the population the opportunity to lead better, and more productive lives – and, at the same time, raise productivity and prosperity, break the cycle of inter-generational poverty, make institutions more representative, and advance development prospects for everyone

At a time when the world is looking for additional sources of growth, there’s an untapped market out there that everyone should invest in more: women.

At the Bank, we’re promoting gender equality through financing.   This past fiscal year, over 80 percent of the Bank’s lending and grants – more than $28 billion – was allocated to gender-informed projects in areas such as education, health, land rights, access to credit, financial and agricultural services, jobs, and infrastructure. 

We’re also supporting gender equality through knowledge and analysis – we’re generating new ideas, testing new approaches, evaluating systematically what sorts of interventions really work.  We made Gender Equality the subject of our 2012 World Development Report.   

The Report makes clear that one of the fundamental challenges for tackling all these issues is more and better data and evidence.  Before we can solve a problem, we need to understand it.  We need to be able to evaluate systematically what sorts of interventions work, which don’t, and why.

But data and evidence are also important to make visible the lives of women and girls.  Their experiences can teach us so much. But only if they are counted.

For many developing countries, we don’t have the data to help us understand just how big these gender gaps are, or how to address them.  It simply doesn’t exist. 

This is a particular problem when looking at women’s economic opportunity.  Take agriculture – a hugely important sector for women, particularly in poor countries: If you want to compare how many women in different Sub-Saharan African countries use fertilizer to help grow their vegetables, in order to evaluate where best to target scarce development funds – sorry, there’s no information for that. 

Part of the challenge of collecting sufficient data is methodology: many surveys, including at the World Bank, address households – but not women’s opportunities specifically. 

In addition, many national statistical agencies in developing countries lack the resources and know-how to gather more data. 

And then there’s a greater challenge of strengthening country systems.  As  experienced in my own work on maternal health, even seemingly simple data, such as births and deaths, can sometimes be difficult to capture.  Basic indicators like maternal mortality remain underreported because too many women in poor countries never come into contact with health facilities or official statistical systems.

So how do we start to close the gender gap – the gender data gap? 

First, we need to work together.  We’re partnering with the United States government, UN Women, and the OECD on the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative to push existing efforts for comparable gender indicators on education, employment, entrepreneurship, and assets.

Second, we need to invest in gathering new data and evidence. For example, In April, the World Bank Group and Gallup presented findings from the Global Financial Inclusion Index – a new joint project with support from the Gates Foundation.  It’s the first public database that consistently measures how men and women in 148 countries are engaging in financial activities – saving, borrowing, making payments, and managing risk. 

The World Bank Group has established Women, Business, and the Law – a global database which tracks and measures legal and regulatory constraints to women’s financial access. 

Third, we need to be open and transparent about what we know and what we don’t know.  It’s the best way to determine the gaps in our knowledge and to fill them.

Finally, if we are to make significant and lasting change, we need to direct the data back towards developing countries. By making country data accessible, we can help empower men and women in the real world to become agents of change. This is important, because it’s only with sufficient country demand for better gender equality that we will ultimately succeed.

That’s why I’m excited to announce today that the World Bank is launching a new Gender Data Portal – part of our Open Data Initiative. 

Visitors to the Gender Data Portal will be able to access data from the World Development Indicators, national statistics agencies, and UN databases.  You’ll find results from surveys, analytical work, and reference materials covering girls' and women's employment; access to productive activities; education; health; public life and decision making; also human rights; and demographic outcomes.  The portal’s data visualization tool allows users to interact with the data.  And we’ll keep it updated and respond to feedback.

It’s an important step forward – bringing together the multiplicity of data sources on gender, and allowing anyone with an Internet connection to see how patterns are evolving across countries and regions over time.  As part of the World Bank’s broader open data initiative, visitors will be able to access a whole range of data on Bank operations and financing, so they can access the latest figures on our own performance on gender mainstreaming – and hold us to account.

When you visit our new site, you’ll also see that there are appalling gaps in country coverage and frequency.  You won’t find data on gender wage gaps in developing countries because comparable data doesn’t exist across developing countries.  You won’t find enough data measuring women’s voice and agency beyond women’s representation in national parliaments – there are bits and pieces, but the gaps are still huge.

Today, let's commit to moving forward on making women count.  One year from now, let’s commit to seeing progress in data availability in two areas – women’s economic opportunities, and women’s voice and agency – for at least 10 countries where that data is currently missing.    We’ll need to make greater efforts and investments in building statistical capacity in those countries to collect the relevant data.  We will need to focus on strengthening country systems, too. 

When we succeed in those 10 countries, we will expand those efforts to 10 more countries.  And then ten more ever more quickly.

I’m very excited to be working with the U.S. State Department and Gallup, who do such great work in this area and are so committed to closing the gender data gap.  Together, we’re calling on more development partners to support countries in this effort.

Before I hand the podium over, please let me pay tribute to the next speaker for her tireless efforts for gender equality across the world.

Secretary Clinton staked her claim as an advocate for global women’s issues a long time ago. In 1995, as first lady, she gave a speech at a UN conference in Beijing that many of us still make reference to today.

She said that "Women's rights are human rights." And that: "Every woman deserves the chance to realize her own God-given potential. But we must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected."

These are powerful words that helped galvanize a global movement for women's rights. They are no less relevant today.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank Secretary Clinton because I wouldn’t be here today without you.

Thank you so much.