The World Bank Group works with public- and private-sector clients to close gaps between males and females globally for lasting impact in tackling poverty and driving sustainable economic growth that benefits all. In the last two decades, the world has narrowed the divide between men and women, especially in primary education and health. Yet critical gaps remain. Major challenges—from climate change to forced migration, pandemics, or the global jobs crisis—affect boys, girls, men and women, differentially due to gender norms, roles, and responsibilities. Less recognized is that women and girls have a unique role to play as drivers of growth and progress and powerful agents of change.
Historic human development gains have been made over the past 25 years, but serious challenges remain. About 830 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications around the world every day. Despite progress, developing countries account for 99 percent of global maternal deaths and the maternal mortality ratio in developing regions is 14 times higher than in developed regions.
In education, only 23 percent of low-income countries have achieved gender parity at primary school level and 15 percent at secondary level. Girls enrollment is increasing, but attendance and completion remain a challenge, especially at secondary level for both girls and boys, albeit for different reasons.
Globally, women’s labor force participation fell to 49 percent in 2016; women are more likely to work in the informal sector and spend at least twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work and care activities. As women are more likely than men to bear childcare responsibilities, lack of access to quality and affordable childcare is a major barrier to female labor force participation.
Women in all countries face earnings gaps: countries are losing $160 trillion in wealth due to differences in lifetime earnings between women and men.
Between 2015 and 2017, 65 economies made 87 legal reforms towards greater gender equality, ranging from Bulgaria, Kiribati and Poland eliminating all restrictions on women’s employment, to the Democratic Republic of Congo reforming its family code to allow married women to sign contracts, get jobs, open bank accounts and register businesses in the same way as married men.
However, remaining economic, structural, social, and legal barriers can often hinder women’s economic opportunity.
The credit gap for formal, women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises is estimated at about US$300 billion dollars globally. The gender gap in account ownership in developing economies has remained unchanged at 9 percent since 2011.
Gender-based violence—perhaps the most extreme constraint on women’s voice and agency—remains a global epidemic, affecting more than one in three women over the course of a lifetime.
Further, more than 2.7 billion women in 104 economies are restricted by laws preventing them from working in specific jobs, while 59 economies have no laws on sexual harassment in the workplace, and in 18 economies, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.
Last Updated: Sep 28, 2018