I recall a visit to a Bank-funded project in a rural Bolivian community. An enthusiastic Quechua woman was proudly telling me that she was about to undertake the 3-hour journey to Sucre with her “wawa” (baby) to get the three price quotes she needed to purchase wire for the community fences. She was participating in one of over 600 investments designed to help vulnerable rural communities in Bolivia lift themselves out of poverty, within the scope of the Community Investment in Rural Areas Project (PICAR) executed by the Ministry of Rural Development of Lands.
“You just have one wawa, right?,” I asked. She replied: “Well, this is the youngest of six children; the others will stay home. My ten-year-old daughter will look after the younger ones. Right now my husband is working in the Chapare, harvesting coca leaves. He only comes home occasionally.”
After talking with her I had mixed feelings. One the one hand, I was worried that our gender-targeted project was asking too much of her and might be harming her kids in some way. On the other hand, I realized that it was giving her a unique chance to engage in tasks historically performed by the men.
Latin America & Caribbean
Women are emerging as a major force for change. Countries that have invested in girls’ education and removed legal barriers that prevent women from achieving their potential are now seeing the benefits.
Let’s take Latin America. More than 70 million women have joined the labor force in recent years. Two-thirds of the increase in women’s labor force participation in the last two decades can be attributed to more education and the fact that women marry later and have fewer children. As a result, between 2000 and 2010, women's earnings contributed to about 30% of the reduction in extreme poverty in the region.
In fact, for countries to leave poverty behind, both men and women need to get to equal and push the frontiers of equal opportunities even further. But to get there, we need to tackle three issues.
First, violence against women needs to end. More than 700 million women worldwide are estimated to have been subject to violence at the hands of a husband or partner. Domestic violence comes with great cost to individuals but also has significant impact on families, communities, and economies. Its negative impact on productivity costs Chile up to 2% of its GDP and Brazil 1.2%.
Many girls and women have little control over their sexual and reproductive health: If current trends persist, more than 142 million girls will be married off over the next decade while they are still children themselves.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) has been getting a great deal of attention since it was finalized at the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference– and rightly so. As we’ve written before on this blog, trade facilitation is a powerful driver of increased competitiveness and trade performance in developing countries.
But last month, the spotlight at the WTO was on another important decision from Bali—how to maximize the impact of a waiver to support exports of services from Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
At a meeting on February 5, around 30 WTO Members, covering most major export markets for LDCs, set out in concrete terms what preferences they could provide. The preferences cover a wide range of services and modes of supply, as well as regulatory issues that LDCs have identified in a “collective request” to other WTO Members.
Unfortunately, the country’s performance remains poor compared to many other countries with similar socioeconomic characteristics. In fact, Brazil’s death toll is currently between 23 and 27 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, which is more than twice the targets of its own national strategy for 2014 and far above the best performing countries in the world, such as Sweden (three deaths per 100,000). Why?
A variety of factors contribute to this situation, from lagging infrastructure quality to the overall organization of the transport sector, characterized by insufficient integration and coordination between jurisdictions as well as across sectors. This is further epitomized by the four distinct national programs mentioned at the beginning of this post.
In mid-2014, Brazil was selected by the UN to organize the mid-term ministerial review meeting of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, which will take place in November 2015. A unit within the Prime Minister’s Cabinet (Casa Civil) was appointed to coordinate the national road safety program at the federal level. Soon, the Brazilian government formalized a partnership with the World Bank to advise on a short-term action plan that features three main pillars: infrastructure assessment, institutional organization, and management evaluation and knowledge sharing.
As many middle-income countries are moving towards embracing cash transfers with or without co-responsibilities attached (and the recent hype of handing cash directly to the poor), there is an important wave of programs that provide “cash plus” intervention.
The problem seems to stem from strong, ingrained cultural beliefs. Unfortunately, the problem might be getting stronger as formal barriers to the participation of women decline, as suggests Marty Langelan, a World Bank consultant, professor of American University.
Specialists know that the complexity of the problem requires changes in social norms, and that this can only come from comprehensive approaches and time. Some governments may acknowledge the same; however, they still have to deal with the pressing urgency of the theme, and therefore adopt quick, pragmatic solutions.
Currently, countries like Mexico, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, and Nepal all have some form of women-only cars in public transportation.
While there are strong arguments that these women-only cars are effective temporary solutions, in the long-term they could reinforce the stereotypes of uncontrollable men and victimized women. They also remind us of the United States Supreme Court decision Plessy vs. Ferguson, which considered constitutional segregated black and white populations in public facilities under the idea of “separate but equal.”
We were ready to probe the effect of male out-migration from rural areas in Guatemala on women’s role in farming. But when we approached surveyors, experts, policymakers, and municipal officials, they were, quite simply, puzzled.