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To build a brighter future, invest in women and girls

Jim Yong Kim's picture

Arne Hoel

As we mark International Women’s Day 2018, there has never been a more critical time to invest in people, especially in women and girls. 

Skills, knowledge, and know-how – collectively called human capital – have become an enormous share of global wealth, bigger than produced capital such as factories or industry, or natural resources.

But human capital wealth is not evenly distributed around the world, and it’s a larger slice of wealth as countries develop. How, then, can developing countries build their human capital and prepare for a more technologically demanding future?

The answer is they must invest much more in the building blocks of human capital – in nutrition, health, education, social protection, and jobs. And the biggest returns will come from educating and nurturing girls, empowering women, and ensuring that social safety nets increase their resilience.

According to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school, and 15 million girls of primary-school age – half of them in sub-Saharan Africa – will never enter a classroom. Women’s participation in the global labor market is nearly 27 percentage points lower than for men, and women’s labor force participation fell from 52 percent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2016.

What if we could fix this? Fostering women’s labor force participation, business ownership, and improvements in productivity could add billions to the global economy.

Be the generation that ends FGM

Sandie Okoro's picture

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is an everyday reality for millions of girls and women around the world. I am no longer shocked when a woman confides in me that she has been “cut,” or tells me the consequences she lives with. Recently, I have had the privilege to meet with FGM survivors who are also activists, and they are fighting to stop the practice in a generation, reminding me that one person can make a difference in ending FGM. 

As we mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, on Feb. 6, we are supporting #EndFGM, a survivor-led movement gaining momentum and power around the world.

FGM/C, known as cutting, is a form of violence affecting at least 200 million girls and women worldwide. Every day, about 6000 women and girls suffer the practice, enduring prolonged and irreversible consequences during their entire lives

FGM/C is inextricably linked with ending extreme poverty; girls who experience it are more likely to be forced into child marriage, more likely to be poor and stay poor, and less likely to be educated. Beyond the data and the statistics, researchers have shown that FGM deprives women of sexual health and psychophysical well-being. 

Public-Private Partnerships: Promoting gender equity and preventing gender-based violence in Egypt

Laila El-Zeini's picture

Although employment is usually seen as a resource for women’s empowerment, it does not automatically translate into better status and lower rates of violence for women. In fact, in some settings, if gendered norms that support men’s violence against women are not addressed, the economic empowerment of women can inadvertently propagate gender-based violence (GBV). For example, when work is a major defining factor of masculinity, working women may face a greater risk of domestic violence.

Ranking the world’s megacities is a wake-up call for women’s rights

Monique Villa's picture
Cities are becoming monsters. Look at the world’s biggest megacities. 38 million people live in Tokyo! Try to take a taxi and find the house of a friend in Japan’s capital. You need luck. Six billion people will live in cities by 2045.

Cities are the new states; today, many of the world’s 31 megacities have larger populations and economies than individual nations.

For many people, these big urban centers represent the land of opportunity, offering better chances of employment, increased access to education and health services, social mobility.  For many others it’s a daily struggle for survival. In all big cities, the inequality between rich and poor has become gigantic and the divide seems only to grow.

We conducted a poll to investigate one aspect: how do women perceive their life in the world’s megacities? We chose women because they are the real economic accelerators, re-investing 90% of their salary into their families. When a woman thrives, her immediate community thrives with her.

Throughout June and July, we asked 380 gender experts in the 19 countries hosting the world’s biggest megacities to identify in which they thought women fared best and worst. The findings were eye-opening. They returned a truly compelling snapshot of the wider issues faced by women: from sexual violence, to security, to access to reproductive rights, from the risks of harmful cultural practices, to the lack of access to economic opportunities.

London was voted the world’s most female-friendly metropolis, thanks to its provision of free healthcare and access to economic resources such as education and financial services.  Tokyo and Paris came second and third.

But when we look at what concerned women most, the poll offers proper food for thought. In London, for example, experts cited the gender pay gap (a recent study by the Chartered Management Institute and XpertHR found on average, women earned £12,000 less than their male counterparts, while just 26% of director-led roles are filled by women as opposed to 74% by men) as well as extortionate childcare costs, as two of the major issues facing women today.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Doing Business 2018 : Reforming to Create Jobs
World Bank Development Economics

Fifteen in a series of annual reports comparing business regulation in 190 economies, Doing Business 2018 measures aspects of regulation affecting 10 areas of everyday business activity: • Starting a business • Dealing with construction permits • Getting electricity • Registering property • Getting credit • Protecting minority investors • Paying taxes • Trading across borders • Enforcing contracts • Resolving insolvency These areas are included in the distance to frontier score and ease of doing business ranking. Doing Business also measures features of labor market regulation, which is not included in these two measures. The report updates all indicators as of June 1, 2017, ranks economies on their overall “ease of doing business”, and analyzes reforms to business regulation – identifying which economies are strengthening their business environment the most. Doing Business illustrates how reforms in business regulations are being used to analyze economic outcomes for domestic entrepreneurs and for the wider economy. It is a flagship product produced in partnership by the World Bank Group that garners worldwide attention on regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship. More than 137 economies have used the Doing Business indicators to shape reform agendas and monitor improvements on the ground. In addition, the Doing Business data has generated over 2,182 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals since its inception.
Navigating the digital future: The disruption of capital projects
McKinsey & Company

Productivity in the construction sector has stagnated for decades, with the average capital project reaching completion 20 months behind schedule and 80 percent over budget. Some overruns result from increased project complexity and scale, but another factor also looms large: all stakeholders in the capital-projects ecosystem—project owners, contractors, and subcontractors—have resisted adopting digital tools and platforms. These include advanced analytics, automation, robotics, 5-D building information modeling (BIM), and online document-management or data-collection systems. Meanwhile, companies in sectors ranging from government to manufacturing have significantly reduced costs and schedules by aggressively pursuing digital solutions.

Six tips to balance the gender scale in start-up programs

Charlotte Ntim's picture

Sinah Legong and her team meet at Raeketsetsa, a program that encourages young women in South Africa to get involved in information and communications technologies. © Mutoni Karasanyi/World Bank

Olou Koucoi founded Focus Energy, a company that brings light, news and entertainment to people living off-grid in his country, Benin. Its spinoff program ElleAllume hopes to train more than 1,000 women to bring power to 100,000 Beninois homes this year. “At the end of the day, [inclusive hiring] is not a gender decision, it’s a business decision,” he says.
Over the past few months, I interviewed a number of incubator and accelerator programs to compile best practices for the World Bank Group’s Climate Technology Program. The research spanned 150 programs in 39 countries, ranging from relatively new to seasoned veterans of the clean tech incubation space. The consensus regarding gender diversity and inclusion was almost unanimous; all but one program echoed Koucoi’s sentiments – in principle.
In practice, however, encouraging more women into the clean energy sector and related programs has proved challenging. Below are some of the most popular explanations for the low levels of female representation:
“We can’t find them.”
Many clean energy incubation programs said they had difficulty recruiting due to a lack of women in the industry and strong women’s networks to tap into. While there is no shortage of women in clean energy (with industry-specific examples such as clean cookstoves serving as a good example) there are few women-led businesses. This lack of visible leadership translates into lower rates of participation.
“We would love to focus on bringing more women into the program, but we have limited resources.”
Incubation programs are often lean, with little time and few resources to expand on offerings and create targeted programs for women. Instead, to create quick wins and draw in additional funds, programs often take a “low-hanging fruit” approach, seeking out the most visible companies to recruit and invest in, which tend to have male co-founders.
“Does it really matter at the end of the day?”
Many programs are pro-gender-diversity in principle, but gender-agnostic in practice. This stems from a disconnect between the “gendered-lens” approach discussed when fundraising for incubation programs and the results frameworks which judge their success. Such factors as the number of companies exited are still weighed much more heavily than gender balance.

Below are some of the best ways I have found to create more gender-diverse and inclusive programs:

Empowering Women in the World

Kristalina Georgieva's picture

© Binyam Teshome/World Bank

When women do well, everyone benefits. Giving women access to better jobs and financial security are keys to ending poverty. Gender gaps harm the entire economy. We know that when women control the finances, they tend to spend money on the things that matter most – essential food and water, school fees and health care for the family. It’s amazing what small changes can do – a mobile money account opens up the ability to get small loans, buy insurance, and make payments. The World Bank is working to empower women around the world, supporting women entrepreneurs in Pakistan and supporting women and their families with cash cards in Lebanon.

Chart: In These Countries, Internet Use is Higher Among Women than Men

Tariq Khokhar's picture

Access to information and communication channels empowers women. In 13 countries, women access the internet at a higher rate than men. But this figure represents only one fifth of countries with data - in most the world, women are less likely to be internet users regardless of a country's region or income group.

And if you plot all the countries with available data, we see that in the majority of cases, internet use is lower among women than men.

Women in science: Africa needs more role models

Madiha Waris Qureshi's picture
There is inadequate encouragement of girls to pursue math and science in school. (Photo: Dominic Chavez/World Bank)

UNESCO estimates that barely 30 percent of Africa’s women pursue research in science and engineering fields. I am inspired by one of them – a woman who is among the few female PhDs in the West African nation of Togo, and is helping more girls in her country enroll into science and technology fields.

Working to address gender-based violence in fragile situations

Diana J. Arango's picture
World Bank Senior Gender-Based Violence and Development Specialist Diana J. Arango shares insights into her work to operationalize gender-based violence prevention and response in fragile settings.

Why is gender important for development in environments affected by fragility, conflict and violence (FCV), in the context of your work?

Even though we know that 35% of women in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hand of an intimate partner or sexual violence at the hand of a non-partner, we have yet to fully understand the complexity and different manifestations of gender-based violence (GBV) experienced by women and girls in conflict. 
Photo: Shutterstock

We do know that women and girls experience increased violence, because of the breakdown in social fabric that regulates the use of violence, the lack of security and services, and the reality of being forcibly displaced and living in areas where there is no protection. UNHCR estimates that globally, women and girls comprise about half of internally displaced or stateless populations.
We are learning that the Syrian crisis has led to increases in early marriage, and has severely limited women’s mobility. Girls are not given access to education because they are not allowed to leave their homes. Women in Iraq who are widowed enter into temporary marriages to collect dowry and provide food and shelter for their families. While in these temporary marriages, they are often sexually and physically assaulted. 
The increased vulnerability of women and girls in FCV and the entrenchment of norms and attitudes that contribute to violence and eat away at women’s autonomy are reasons why it is especially important to always bear in mind how FCV affects women and men, girls and boys differently. 
Tell us about your experience working in this area.

I led the creation of the Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide which was developed and launched in partnership with the Global Women’s Institute (GWI) at George Washington University, and the Inter-American Development Bank in 2014. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) joined the partnership in June 2015.
The guide was created to provide basic information on the characteristics and consequences of violence against women and girls, including operational implications. It offers guidance on how to integrate prevention and the provision of quality services to violence survivors within a range of sectoral projects. The guide highlights potential entry points and partners to engage with, while recommending strategies for integrating violence against women and girls into policies and legislation, sector programs and projects. The guide gathers existing global evidence and emerging promising practices, including those implemented by several teams across the World Bank.
In addition, we are partnering with the Sexual Violence Research Initiative out of the Medical Research Council of South Africa to address the dearth of evidence. The Development Marketplace for Innovations to Prevent Gender-Based Violence is funding innovation in GBV prevention and response around the world -- including in FCV countries. Two of the nine projects we funded last year are working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey. The funding in Lebanon, for example, will help us better understand the drivers of early marriage and how men, women, boys and girls understand this phenomenon. This information will give us the data we need to design an intervention to address the root causes of early marriage.
How can we take this agenda forward?
The new World Bank Group Gender Strategy and commitments under the International Development Association (IDA) give us the opportunity to continue our research and improve our understanding of the different ways in which FCV affects women and men. We can also integrate into our operations measures to address GBV and increase economic opportunities as well as access to labor markets for women, while also increasing access to assets and services.
I hope to use my experiences of working for almost a decade in humanitarian settings and GBV to provide technical support and share examples of evidence-based interventions that we can use across the World Bank’s programs in FCV to help women and girls in these environments.