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Gender at the World Bank Group

February 25, 2013

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Disparities in gender equality come with economic costs, shortchange the next generation, and lead to suboptimal institutions and policies.


In September 2011, the World Bank launched the 2012 World Development report, the first of the series to focus on Gender Equality and Development. World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development (WDR 2012) highlighted impressive progress in educational enrollment and life expectancy, but also pointed out that these gains have not been universal and that in areas such as economic opportunities, the progress has been far too slow. Gender equality is a longer-term driver of competitiveness and equity that is even more important in an increasingly globalized world. The World Bank Group (WBG) promotes gender equality in developing countries through lending, grants, knowledge, analysis and policy dialogue.

Challenge

During the past decades, women's and girls' education and health levels have improved greatly. Two-thirds of all countries have now reached gender parity in primary education, and in over one-third, girls significantly outnumber boys in secondary education. However, in many parts of the world, too many women are still dying in childbirth, or, at alarming rates, not being born at all. Women continue to lack voice in the household and the ability to participate in decisions that affect them, their families, and their societies; and too often, their economic opportunities remain very constrained.

This inequality is manifestly unfair. It is also bad economics: under-investing in women puts a brake on poverty reduction and limits economic and social development. Gender equality is a longer-term driver of competitiveness and equity that is even more important in an increasingly globalized world. No country can afford to fall behind because it is failing to enable women and men to participate equally in the economy and society.

The World Bank Group (WBG) promotes gender equality in developing countries through lending, grants, knowledge, analysis and policy dialogue. The Bank is committed to ensure good levels of gender mainstreaming in its operations, and that all Country Assistance Strategies are gender-informed. (Gender-informed operations systematically consider gender inequalities and try to address them in design, implementation, expected impact and monitoring).

The World Bank Group has focused on gender since 1977, when it appointed its first Women in Development Adviser. In 1995, then-President Jim Wolfensohn chose to give his first major speech at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, proposing universal primary education for girls and boys by 2010. The Bank adopted a mainstreaming strategy in 2001, while at the same time adopting an operational policy and publishing the pioneering Policy Research Report “Engendering Development,” all of which helped set the stage for the 2007 launch of the Gender Action Plan (GAP).

The Gender Action Plan (2007-2011) boosted the Bank’s support to women and girls in the traditionally difficult-to-mainstream economic sectors, using pilots to increase visibility and yield results in the short term. The plan’s clear message, “Gender Equality as Smart Economics” built on the World Bank’s comparative advantage and helped gain broad-based support. World Bank staff who had never worked on gender were encouraged to integrate gender into their projects, which in turn contributed to the evidence base of innovations, impact evaluations, research and data.

Approach

Building on earlier work—including the Gender Action Plan, former President Zoellick’s six commitments on gender equality, and the identification of gender as a special theme of the International Development Association (IDA), for its 16th replenishment (2011 – 2014)—the World Bank released World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development (WDR 2012). The WDR 2012 highlighted impressive progress in educational enrollment and life expectancy, but also pointed out that these gains have not been universal. The WDR 2012 drew attention to the fact that there are still 35 million girls out of school; nearly 4 million “missing” women, annually (meaning the number of women in low- and middle-income countries who die relative to their counterparts in high-income countries); average wage gaps of 20 percent, along with gaps in labor force participation; and, 510 million women who will be abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has made strong commitments on gender, highlighting a need for better data that measures equality for women and girls. In this vein, the World Bank is committed to improving data collection in 10 countries this year, in key areas such as women's earnings, property ownership, and political voice. Next year, the World Bank will target 10 additional countries, and add more each year.

A gender companion to the 2013 World Development Report on Jobs will be completed in mid-2013, and a new report on Women’s Voice, Agency, and Participation will be released in Spring 2014. This underlines the World Bank’s long-held assertion that these issues matter intrinsically and that addressing them is the smart thing to do, because inequality is costly, and increasingly so in a globalizing world.

Disparities in gender equality come with economic costs, shortchange the next generation, and lead to suboptimal institutions and policies. Studies show that progress in this area benefits everyone, not just women and girls. Economies thrive; women, men, girls, and boys have access to equal opportunities; and communities prosper when women and men are equally empowered.

Results

Education

In education, the persistence of gender gaps among girls or boys depends increasingly on whether schooling actually produces knowledge and skills, and the failure is most severe for the poor and disadvantaged. Poverty persists as the most important and pervasive factor for education inequality and it is imperative that the global community continue to address the multiple sources of disadvantage that many children face. As part of the IDA16 commitments, the World Bank’s new Education Strategy lays out a 10-year agenda focused on the crucial goal of "learning for all." The bottom line: Invest early, invest smartly, and invest for all. The strategy draws on consultations with governments, development partners, students, teachers, researchers, civil society, and business representatives from more than 100 countries.

Two-thirds of the Bank’s partner countries have now reached gender parity in primary education, and girls significantly outnumber boys in secondary education in more than one-third of those countries. Women’s worldwide enrollment in tertiary education has increased sevenfold since 1970 (compared to fourfold for men); in fact, more women than men now attend university. These successes result from a combination of effective policies and sustained national investments in education that have expanded the availability of schools even in rural areas and have lowered the cost of school, especially for the poor. Research shows that these education gains for girls and women can positively affect development outcomes beyond education: per capita income growth, increased wages, reduced infant mortality rates and lowered maternal mortality rates.

In Punjab, Pakistan, home to 60 percent of the country’s population, the Bank is helping expand access to quality education and promote better governance and accountability in the education system. Under the government’s Bank-supported program, more than 400,000 eligible girls receive targeted monthly stipends tied to school attendance; and the government supports approximately 2,000 low-cost private schools serving nearly a million low-income students. This is in a broader context where the primary net enrollment rate increased from 50 percent to 54 percent since 2007 and the ratio of female-male primary net enrollment rose in rural areas from 61 percent to 76 percent.

With financing from IDA, the Basic Education Development Program aims to increase school enrollment in Yemen, with a particular focus on gender equality in impoverished districts, and improve the quality of teaching. As of 2009, the project had built almost 4,000 classrooms and trained over 90,000 teachers. To close the gender gap in education, the project has provided conditional cash transfers to more than 30,000 girls from the most underprivileged rural households, starting in 2007. It has also focused on recruiting and training female teachers to make girls’ education more culturally acceptable. The gross primary school enrollment rate in the country rose from 68 percent to 87 percent over the period 1999–2009, with larger gains for girls than for boys. This improvement in overall basic education also contributed to a considerable rise in girls’ grade 6 completion rate, from 38 percent in 2001 to 51 percent in 2009.

Health

Healthy Development: The World Bank Strategy for Health, Nutrition, and Population Results and the Reproductive Health Action Plan focus on reducing high fertility, improving pregnancy outcomes, and reducing sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Specific interventions include strengthening health systems to achieve better reproductive health outcomes by improving access to and knowledge of family planning among households, increasing antenatal visits and skilled birth attendance, training health workers, and promoting youth-friendly services and young women’s life skills, and promoting multi-sectoral investments to improve reproductive health outcomes.

The multi-country HIV/AIDS program operations in Africa have focused particular attention on addressing gender dynamics in its response to the pandemic, with operations in a series of countries. In Chad, IDA funds a project to reduce the transmission and socioeconomic impact of HIV/AIDS by supporting education and income-generating activities for women. In Rwanda, IDA has financed rural access to AIDS care and some 5,000 poor patients, mainly women, benefit from antiretroviral therapy, around 60 percent of those in need. In Africa, IDA has financed services to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission for more than 1.5 million women, and helped distribute 1.3 billion male condoms and 4 million female condoms. IDA has also supported innovative reproductive health and family planning programs in high-fertility countries, although this is an area where more work is needed.

Tajikistan faces high stunting rates, the result of under-nutrition, a condition exacerbated by the 2008 food price shock. To mitigate the risk of malnutrition, the Bank-supported community and basic health project provides food packages and micronutrient supplements to approximately 50,000 women, infants and children under age 5. By mid-2011, the project had trained 1,000 primary healthcare workers and 300 community volunteers to deliver education on breastfeeding, good nutrition and care of sick children to 1,000 pregnant woman, and micronutrient supplements and vitamins had been delivered to approximately 44,000 women and children.

Agriculture and Rural Development

IDA investments and collaboration with governments enable women to access land and secure tenure rights. An IDA-financed pilot project in north central Vietnam has instituted an approach to land titling that gives both women and men rights to use land. As Vietnam transitions from collectives to smaller family farms, this land-titling project has increased opportunities for women to use their most productive asset—their land—to generate income. Similarly, in Ethiopia, the World Bank is supporting the US$20 million Sustainable Land Management Project (2008- 2013), a nationwide program that includes efforts to expand land-registration and certification. The project is partly the result of a Gender Action Plan-funded study of an Ethiopian program that issued 20 million land use certificates to about 6 million households.

The study found evidence that issuing land certificates had a positive impact for women and on land productivity. Merely by providing space for both spouses’ pictures on the certificate, women’s registration for land ownership jointly with men increased significantly. Almost all women respondents with joint certificates reported having improved their economic and social status. More than 80 percent of respondents indicated that the certification reduced conflicts and encouraged them to plant trees and lease out their land.

Economic Empowerment

A $50 million IDA operation in Ethiopia, the Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Project,  promotes small and medium enterprises owned or part owned by women, through access to microfinance, developing entrepreneurial skills, technology and cluster development, training in project management, advocacy and outreach, monitoring and evaluation, and impact evaluations to provide lessons about what works.

The National Rural Livelihood Project in India covers 350 million rural poor, with one of its aims being to enable rural women to increase household incomes. Over the next 5 years, the World Bank will invest $1 billion, and the Government of India will invest $6 billion; leveraging of additional private investment is expected.

In Liberia, the Adolescent Girls Initiative Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women targets 2500 young women age 16 to 27 in Greater Monrovia and Kakata City at the critical school-to-work transition stage. The program consists of six-months of classroom training followed by six-months of placement and support (including micro-enterprise advisory services and internship and job placement assistance). The aim is to smooth the transition from the classroom to wage or self-employment. About 65% of the girls were trained in business development skills and roughly 35% were trained in job skills. All girls also received life skills training. Post-training all graduates enter a 6-month support period where they are assisted with job searching and placement or otherwise supported to start their own businesses.

Preliminary results from the midline survey show that the program led to a 50 percent increase in employment and a 115% increase in average weekly income among project beneficiaries, compared to those in the control group. The majority of the employment increase was driven by the business skills track. The program also significantly increases average weekly income and girls’ savings.

Infrastructure

In drought-stricken Kenya, the Water and Sanitation Service Improvement Project (2007-2012) financed by IDA and with a financial contribution from the Bank’s Gender Action Plan, seeks to improve women’s water access. The Water and Irrigation Ministry held training sessions for newly appointed gender focal points from eight regions to impart a gender-mainstreaming approach for boosting water access and food security. In addition, Water and Irrigation officials have instituted performance-based contracts to offer incentives and penalties for ministry staff to address gender equality objectives.

In the energy sector, a promising approach to introduce gender-informed design into energy projects is a pilot project in southern Bangladesh to deliver low-cost renewable energy services. The project trained women to manage a cooperatively owned microenterprise that manufactures and sells energy products such as battery-operated lamps, batteries, battery-charging facilities, diesel operated small-scale (micro-grid) electrification, and solar home systems. Within two years, over 1,200 households, shops, and boats started using battery-operated lamps, and 300 business owners were on micro-grid services. These lamps and micro-grid services improved the quality of indoor air and lighting and household and business security, enhanced productivity, and increased incomes by 30 percent. Shops were able to keep longer hours, and children spent more time on schoolwork at home. The project was introduced to other regions in 2002, and lessons from this initiative were incorporated into the Rural and Renewable Electrification Project in Bangladesh (2002-2009), which is jointly funded by IDA and the Global Environment Facility.

Similarly in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Bank’s Gender Action Plan supported the integration of gender considerations in an IDA-funded Rural Electrification Project (2006-2010), which helped increase the connection rate of poor households headed by women.

Fragile and Conflict-Affected States

The Addressing Sexual Gender-Based Violence in South Kivu Project aimed to improve the provision of services that promote treatment and prevention of gender based violence (GBV) against women and girls in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. The project was funded by the State and Peace Building Fund and closed in September 2012. It targeted survivors of sexual violence, as well as other women and girls who are deemed vulnerable, including widows, female-heads of households, and teenage mothers. The project aimed to mitigate the short-term and medium term impacts of GBV at the individual, family and community level and reduce the vulnerability of women and girls. An evidence-based impact evaluation is still ongoing, with an overall objective to identify effective and scalable interventions for the response to sexual violence in areas affected by armed conflict by evaluating innovative approaches to socio-economic programs.

In Haiti, a Rapid Social Response (RSR) Trust Fund worked to address and prevent sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in five of Haiti’s internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. They joined forces with KOFAVIV, a grassroots Haitian organization comprised of female survivors of SGBV, and their international partner organization, MADRE. Building off of evidence that the most effective interventions in crises draw on pre-existing organizations' experience and networks, the project used KOFAVIV's well-established approach of empowering rape survivors to become community outreach workers and peer counselors. Most of the male and female community agents live in IDP camps themselves, and were thus empowered to become advocates within their community.

Under the project, over 7,087 vulnerable women and children received health and safety kits including vital supplies such as solar flashlights, tarps, mobile phones, whistles, shoes, and hygiene supplies. Anecdotal evidence points to a decrease in the instances of transactional sex, especially for young and more vulnerable women.

Bank Contribution

In FY2012 alone, (July 2011 to June 2012), just over US$29 billion, or 83 percent of the World Bank's lending and grants, were allocated to gender-informed operations in education, health, access to land, financial and agricultural services, jobs, and infrastructure.

Moving Forward

The WDR 2012 identified the following areas where domestic policy efforts as well as the support of the international community are required, since higher incomes alone will do little to reduce existing gender inequalities:

  • reducing excess deaths of girls and women and eliminating remaining gender disadvantages in education;
  • narrowing disparities between women and men in earnings and productivity;
  • diminishing gender differences in household and societal voice; and
  • limiting the reproduction of gender equality across generations.

In order to operationalize these findings, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors requested, and the Development Committee approved, Implications of World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development for the World Bank Group. The paper outlines the following five strategic directions to increase attention to gender equality, and to provide a framework for the World Bank’s work going forward:

1.      informing country policy dialogue;

2.      enhancing country-level gender diagnostics;

3.      scaling up lending for domestic priorities;

4.      increasing the availability of gender-relevant data and statistics; and

5.      leveraging partnerships.

The World Bank is thus now well placed to help accelerate progress on the gender agenda; there is, however, much more to do.

A one-year progress report was given to the Board in Fall 2012, outlining progress in these five areas, and identifying key areas of focus for 2013. These include providing more effective support to Task Team Leaders, who are at the front lines of work on gender equality; ramping up efforts to address lagging sectors and regions; addressing knowledge and data gaps; and continuing a focus on results.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has made strong commitments on gender, highlighting a need for better data that measures equality for women and girls. In this vein, the World Bank is committed to improving data collection in 10 countries this year, in key areas such as women's earnings, property ownership, and political voice. Next year, the World Bank will target 10 additional countries, and add more each year.

A gender companion to the 2013 World Development Report on Jobs will be completed in mid-2013, and a new report on Women’s Voice, Agency, and Participation will be released in Spring 2014. Additionally the third edition of the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law report will be released in Fall 2013, updating and expanding on the existing data, including new economies, and adding information on violence against women legislation. This underlines the World Bank’s long-held assertion that these issues matter intrinsically and that addressing them is the smart thing to do, because inequality is costly, and increasingly so in a globalizing world.