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  • Context

    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.

    Countries around the world are working to contain the spread and impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Evidence from outbreaks similar to COVID-19 indicates that women and girls can be affected in particular ways, and in some areas, face more negative impacts than men. In fact, there is a risk that gender gaps could widen during and after the pandemic and that gains in women’s and girls’ accumulation of human capital, economic empowerment and voice and agency, built over the past decades, could be reversed.

    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 810 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 48% in 2019; women spend three times longer on unpaid care work than men, devoting 1 to 5 hours more a day to unpaid domestic work, childcare and other family care work. This is likely to increase during COVID-19, brought about by the closure of schools, the confinement of elderly people and the growing numbers of ill family members.

    Women in all countries face earnings gaps. If women could have the same lifetime earnings as men, global wealth could increase by $172 trillion, and human capital wealth could increase by about one fifth globally.

    Countries made more than 1500 reforms over the past 50 years to enhance women’s economic participation, however women still have only three-quarters of the legal rights of men. This includes 190 economies and examines laws and regulations affecting women’s prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Many laws and regulations, however, 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 9% less likely to have an account with a financial institution or mobile banking than men, and the gap is larger in poorer countries. Some research suggests that digital financial services can improve women's economic participation and therefore facilitate economic development. Compared to cash, digital financial services offer several potential benefits to women, including greater financial control and lower transaction costs. These benefits can make it easier for women to invest in businesses, get jobs, and manage financial risk. The IFC estimates a $1.5 trillion annual credit deficit for women-owned small and medium enterprises.

    Gender-based violence affects more than 1 in 3 women over the course of a lifetime. Violence against women and girls has a significant toll on not just their wellbeing, but also on their families across generations and societies more broadly. In some countries, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP.

    Last Updated: Apr 10, 2020

  • 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, services for 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: Apr 10, 2020

  • Results

    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. Most recently, the World Bank Group is working to ensure that projects responding to COVID-19 consider the pandemic's different impacts on men and women.

    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 is aimed at enhancing women and adolescent girls’ empowerment; increasing access to quality reproductive, child and maternal health services, and improving regional knowledge sharing globally. Investing in girls’ education and keeping girls in school is a critical first step in opening opportunities for women in the Sahel.

    More than more than 40,000 girls across project countries have benefited from schooling-related interventions; 400 health and midwifery training institutions have been evaluated and equipped across the region; and 3 centers of excellence in Niger, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali have been launched, offering for the first time in the Sahel, a master’s program on Nursing and Obstetrics. Simultaneously, thousands of young boys and men have contributed to discussions about reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health; and about gender, power, and healthy couple dynamics as brothers, husbands and fathers.

    Removing Constraints for More and Better Jobs

    The South Asia Women in Power Sector Professional Network (WePOWER)—a collaboration of strategic and institutional partners convened by the World Bank—supports workforce participation of women in energy projects and institutions and promotes normative change regarding women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. WePOWER to date has recruited 22 partners—including 11 South Asian energy sector utilities—and informed several World Bank operations. For example, Energy Efficiency Services Limited, the implementing agency for the India Energy Efficiency Scale-Up Program, aims to increase the share of women employed from 16 to 25 percent by 2022 and monitor the number of women employed at the managerial, technical and administrative levels.   

    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: Apr 10, 2020



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In Depth

Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality

The UFGE is a World Bank Group multi-donor trust fund financing research, impact evaluations and data to help policy makers and practitioners close gender gaps in countries and sectors.

WePOWER Network

WePOWER is a professional network in South Asia that supports women's participation in energy projects and institutions and promotes change regarding women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.

We-Fi Supports Women Entrepreneurs in Pakistan

Women-owned start-up Dot & Line is boosting childhood learning outcomes in Pakistan. We-Fi helps women in developing countries gain access to finance, markets and networks necessary to start and grow a business.

The Little Data Book on Gender 2019

The Little Data Book on Gender 2019 illustrates the progress towards gender equality for 217 economies around the world.

Additional Resources

Contact Us

World Bank Group Gender
1818 H St. NW
Washington, DC 20433