The World Bank Group works with public- and private-sector clients to close gaps between males and females globally in tackling poverty and driving sustainable economic growth in our client countries. 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, forced migration, and pandemics to decelerating investment growth and rising poverty rates in many developing countries—affect boys, girls, men and women differentially (often to the detriment of females) due to discriminatory laws and policies, along with gender and social norms that influence their economic roles, and responsibilities. It is time to go beyond ensuring equal access to recognizing and elevating women as agents of economic growth, stability and sustainability, and for men to work with women to accelerate progress toward gender equality.

    Key Facts

    About 830 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications around the world every day. In education, enrollment has increased, but school completion remains a challenge at the secondary level for both girls and boys, albeit for different reasons.

    Globally, women’s labor force participation fell from 51% in 2000 to 49% in 2018; women devote 1 to 5 hours more a day to unpaid domestic work and childcare and other family care work, and 1 to 6 hours a day less to market activities than men.

    Women in all countries face earnings gaps. If women could have the same lifetime earnings as men, global wealth could increase by $160 trillion--an average of $23,620 per person – in 141 countries studied.

    Over the past decade, in 131 economies there have been 274 reforms to laws and regulations, leading to an increase in gender equality. This includes 35 economies that have implemented laws on workplace sexual harassment, protecting nearly 2 billion more women than a decade ago.  However, many laws and regulations continue to prevent women from entering the workforce or starting a business; discrimination can have lasting effects on women’s economic inclusion and labor force participation.

    Women globally are 7.5% less likely to have an account with a financial institution or mobile banking than men, and the gap is larger in poorer countries. The IFC estimates a $1.5 trillion annual credit deficit for women-owned small and medium enterprises.

    Gender-based violence—perhaps the most extreme constraint on women’s voice and agency—remains a global epidemic, affecting more than 1 in 3 women over the course of a lifetime.

    Last Updated: Oct 31, 2019

  • The World Bank Group’s Gender Equality Strategy tackles these challenges. It is based on a conceptual framework which posits that households, markets and institutions (both formal and informal), and their interactions all influence gender equality and economic development. The foundational premises are threefold:

    • Households are composed of individuals with varying preferences and needs ─ they are not homogeneous units. 
    • Markets and institutions influence the relationship between economic development and gender equality, directly and indirectly.
    • Markets and institutions are dynamic, rather than static, with society influencing their attributes. Consequently, markets and institutions can evolve in response to external stimuli, including policy interventions.

    The strategy therefore focuses on 4 key areas where countries and companies can focus investments to ensure equal economic participation:

    1. Close remaining gender gaps in education and health in countries where they persist, including girls’ completion of secondary schooling, boys’ drop-out in secondary, and improving the quality of learning for both girls and boys.
    2. Remove constraints to more and better jobs for women, focusing on safe transport to and from work, child and other family care, training in the digital and technological skills required to compete for jobs and access economic opportunities, and reducing occupational sex segregation.
    3. Remove barriers to women’s ownership and control of land, housing and bank accounts, and improve access to finance, technology and insurance services needed to make such assets productive.
    4. Enhance women’s voice and agency, including by engaging men and boys, to tackle challenges related to child marriage, gender-based violence, social norms, and women’s participation in governance in infrastructure and other sectors.

    The strategy emphasizes outcomes and results, which requires:

    • Strengthening the country-driven approach, with better country-level diagnostics, policy dialogue, and sex-disaggregated data
    • Building more systematically on what works, by developing and bringing evidence to WBG task teams and clients
    • Adopting a strategic approach to project design, including a more robust monitoring and evaluation system
    • Leveraging partnerships for effective outcomes.


    IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, provides investment and advisory services to promote business opportunities for women in the private sector, which accounts for an overwhelming majority of jobs in developing and emerging economies. IFC aims to increase women's access to finance and markets, help clients improve work and conditions for female employees, support training for women entrepreneurs, and improve corporate governance—including the appointment of women to clients' boards.

    Last Updated: Oct 31, 2019


    The World Bank Group’s key corporate targets are on track, while our new goals heighten attention to gender inequalities and put greater emphasis on impact and results. The majority of our operations and strategies now target the closure of specific gender gaps through analysis, smart design in interventions, and monitoring and evaluation of our work.

    Some Examples:

    Closing Gender Gaps in Human Endowments

    In Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project aims to reduce gender inequality and spur a demographic dividend, the period in a country’s demographic transition when the proportion of working age population is higher compared to the number of dependents. Investing in girls’ education and keeping girls in school is a critical first step in opening up opportunities for women in the Sahel. More than 100,000 girls from poor families are receiving support from the project in the form of a school kit, scholarships, housing and academic support. In addition, the SWEDD has helped train over 6,600 midwives across the implementing countries, and 99,704 women have benefitted from vocational training.

    Removing Constraints for More and Better Jobs

    The Ethiopia Electrification Program  is one of the largest and most ambitious electrification programs the WBG has undertaken in Africa. A focus is the creation of more equitable energy institutions, starting with helping the Ethiopia Electric Utility (EEU) achieve a better balance between men and women among leadership and in its workforce. Women made up just 20% of the workforce, so the EEU has set a goal of women holding 30% of all jobs over the next five years. It is establishing high-level decision-making bodies to make sure gender equality is championed by department heads, is offering leadership training to female staff, establishing childcare facilities in one-fifth of offices, and is supporting female solar technicians and women-led businesses to break into the off-grid market. In addition, career development and support for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education is being provided, including full scholarships for up to 88 female employees.

    Removing Barriers to Women’s Ownership of and Control over Assets

    While the global insurance industry is expanding across emerging markets, women—including entrepreneurs—have largely been overlooked. Without access to insurance, they often resort to selling assets or taking loans to cover health-care costs or pay for other expenses, hurting their ability to recover from setbacks. IFC’s Women’s Insurance Program, created with support from the governments of Canada and Japan, as well as the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), helps insurers design solutions that improve the financial security of women in emerging markets. For example, with IFC support in the Philippines, Insular Life embarked on a process to better understand the needs of its women customers, which revealed that the insurance company’s products did not address the risks inherent in different stages of women’s lives. As a result, the company is developing women’s insurance solutions with specific coverage, bundling of products, and customized add-on services. The company is training both women and men agents to have an increased awareness of women customers’ needs. It is expected to impact the lives of one million Filipino women.

    Enhancing Women’s Voice and Agency

    One-in-three married women in Nepal have been subjected to physical, sexual, or emotional violence by a spouse, according to the Nepal Demographic Health Survey 2016 – but 66 percent have never told anyone. Survivors who have tried to seek help have been forced to place multiple calls to get medical attention, rescue vans, shelters, and other services. With financial support from the Umbrella Fund for Gender Equality, the World Bank Group and partners in Nepal successfully piloted an integrated case helpline and case management system which was transformed into a nationwide system through the Integrated Platform for Gender Based Violence Prevention and Response project. This allows gender-based violence survivors to connect to service providers including the police, a One-Stop Crisis Management Center, and organizations providing shelter, healthcare, legal aid and psycho-social counselling. In roughly the first year of operation, the helpline received 1,938 calls from women seeking help, and in 180 cases, immediate necessary support was provided.

    Last Updated: Oct 04, 2019



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Additional Resources