Women still lack voice and the ability to participate in decisions that impact them, their families, and their societies, and their economic opportunities remain very constrained. Addressing gender inequalities is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do, because inequality is costly. Studies show that gender progress 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. Disparities in gender equality come with economic costs, shortchange the next generation, and lead to suboptimal institutions and policies.
The WDR 2012 demonstrates that gender equality shapes investments and outcomes in health, education, social protection, and labor. Prevailing gender roles, social norms, and social networks influence control over resources and access to services, and rules and norms imposed by a range of institutions shape the status of women and men. However, too often these services may not be equally accessible or affordable to men and woman, with impacts muted by gender norms, discrimination, and market failures.
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 those facing multiple sources of disadvantage often based on gender, location, disability, and income. In poorer households, for instance, lower quantity and quality of education are often greater obstacles for girls than boys. For example, in both India and Pakistan, while boys and girls from the top income quintile participate in school at similar rates, there is a gender gap of almost five years in the bottom income quintile.
In health, an estimated 10-20 million women suffer from preventable reproductive health illnesses annually, with more than 287,000 maternal deaths each year. Additionally, 72 percent of youth living with HIV/AIDS worldwide are young women, and the lack of access to knowledge about contraception too often results in unwanted pregnancy or unsafe abortions. Country health systems must be able to deliver quality health services and transform people’s health-related choices and behaviors.
In social protection programs and in the workplace, women experience significantly lower labor market participation rates and earnings than men, and face institutional and regulatory failures, such as lack of child support, constraints to mobility, and reduced coverage for social insurance programs.
To respond to these challenges, the Bank has structured its investments across these sectors to help countries eliminate persistent gender barriers to women accessing quality social services, entering the job market, and building resilience to shocks. This work builds on findings that have shown that gender equality benefits society as a whole. Gender equality is affected by the household decisions that women and men make in their daily lives, and the status of both women and men is shaped by the rules and norms imposed by a range of limitations. The Bank’s strategies for education, health, and social protection and labor explicitly address gender equality.
Learning for All, the education strategy, articulates how the Bank supports countries to address gender equality and advance gender parity in education through a combination of effective policies and sustained national investments in education; improving countries’ education system capacity to raise not only school attendance but also learning outcomes. In order to improve learning outcomes for all, the education sector recognizes the importance of addressing multiple or overlapping sources of disadvantage. Being born a poor girl in a rural community or to an ethno-linguistic minority group compounds education and life disadvantages and increases vulnerability. At the same time the Bank stresses how and why educating girls and women is smart economics. Evidence shows that one additional year of schooling for girls and women increases their wages by at least 10 percent; reduces infant mortality rates by at least 5 percent; and enables per capita income growth of at least 0.3 percent on average. The Bank plays a key role in advancing girls’ education through its research, funding, policy advocacy, and strategic partnerships including the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative.
Healthy Development: The World Bank Strategy for Health, Nutrition, and Population Results and 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-sector investments to improve reproductive health outcomes.
The Bank’s Social Protection and Labor Strategy 2012 builds on ongoing work to emphasize gender equality as a key outcome of well-designed social protection systems, highlighting the need for institutions, policies, and programs to close gender gaps. The strategy helps rethink social insurance programs and labor regulations to expand the coverage of women. To support this work, the Bank is producing new tools, data and research to generate knowledge about the links between gender equality and human development, and is consolidating and analyzing data on gender-specific indicators of human development across countries.