On February 27, a high-level regional workshop kicked off in Lomé, Togo, with the participation of Ministers of gender affairs and officials from 11 economies from West and Central Africa focusing on the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2014: Removing Restrictions to Enhance Gender Equality report. A welcome dinner prior to the official opening of the event revealed the dynamic nature of gender affairs Ministers – all women – and the common realities and issues facing their nations. Most were meeting for the first time in a unique experience that enabled sharing stories and views about laws, cultural norms and traditional roles within the family in prelude to the official discussions.
The opening remarks at the workshop reflected well the importance of gender equality for the region. In welcoming the event, Mr. Hervé Assah, the World Bank's Country Manager for Togo, noted that “underinvesting in the human capital of women is a real obstacle to reducing poverty and considerably limits the prospects for economic and social development.” Those concerns were echoed by the Minister of Social Action and Women and Literacy Promotion in Togo, Mrs. Dédé Ahoéfa Ekoué, who highlighted the importance of women’s participation in society and the economy, both in Togo and worldwide. The tone was thus set for this two-day event, which aimed at both highlighting recent reforms enacted by countries in the region and promoting the sharing of experiences, challenges and good practices among the participants in promoting women’s economic inclusion.
There is certainly much to highlight and share over these two days and beyond. Over the past two years, several Sub-Saharan African economies passed reforms promoting gender parity and encouraging women’s economic participation. For example, Togo reformed its Family Code in 2012, now allowing both spouses to choose the family domicile and object to each other’s careers if deemed not to be the family’s interests. Côte d’Ivoire equalized the same rights for women and men, and also eliminated provisions granting tax benefits only to men for being the head of household. Furthermore, Mali enacted a law allowing both spouses to pursue their business and professional activities and a succession law equalizing inheritance between husbands and wives. While the pace of reform has been accelerating in the region, it is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is the region that has reformed the most over the past 50 years: Restrictions on women’s property rights and their ability to make legal decisions were reduced by more than half from 1960 to 2010.
As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8th, I was moved to write about the visibility of women. Women visible – or not – conjure up many images. Think about it.
Women in business.
We’ve heard about women not being sufficiently represented on the boards of major corporations. According to new polls of Fortune 500 companies reported by Anne Fisher on CNN, the numbers of women in leadership haven’t shifted much: “Women's share of corporate board seats, at 16.6%, hasn't grown at all since 2004. The percentage of female executive officers at Fortune 500 companies is even smaller -- 14.3% -- and has remained flat for three straight years…” Why’s that? It’s linked to women’s visibility: "Being visible and making your accomplishments known is essential to getting the kinds of experience that can move you up into senior management, but some corporate cultures penalize women for that.”
The international media have recently put attention to laws against homosexuality adopted by several African countries. Sensible people have, quite rightly, expressed outrage over these laws, and the widespread homophobia behind them. World Bank President Jim Kim expressed his opinion against such discrimination deeming it bad for people and for societies. In a Washington Post opinion piece, President Kim shares his personal experience of being judged based on appearance and reminds us that discrimination is widespread: 83 countries in the world outlaw homosexuality; more than 100 countries discriminate against women; and even more countries have laws that discriminate against minority groups.
A recent research by Audrey Sacks, Safi Lakhani, and me indicates that negative attitudes toward various groups are widespread around the world. Although these things vary by country, immigrants, ethnic minorities, the poor, HIV-positive, and homosexuals are frequent targets of discriminatory attitudes—in developed and developing countries alike.
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.
Saturday, March 8 is International Women’s Day and UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. This video from UN Women was created in support of their mission to accelerate progress on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
"It is time to admit defeat. The bankers have got away with it. They have seen off politicians, regulators and angry citizens alike to stroll triumphant from the ruins of the great crash.”
- Philip Stephens, associate editor and chief political commentator of the Financial Times.
See also: Anniversary of the New Delhi Attack Reminds Us that Tackling Violence is Urgent
December 16, 2012 will in the foreseeable future be remembered as the day in which six men savagely gang raped a 23-year old female student on a bus in New Delhi. The young woman died from her injuries 13 days later. The event shocked the nation and sparked unprecedented uprisings in the Indian capital and across the country. It put the international spotlight on India and reminded us that violence against women remains a leading cause of female mortality worldwide.
Today, on the one-year anniversary of what is simply referred to as the “Delhi Rape”, we are compelled to pause and reflect. Four men were sentenced to death for the crime in September – did this bring closure? Beyond the protests and public appeals for change, has there been meaningful change in India?
Madame Ngetsi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of thousands of women in the world who—despite their talent, drive, and potential to contribute to the economic development of their countries—may never be able to fulfill their dreams of starting their own businesses. Their dreams may be dashed because of outdated legislation that reproduces debilitating gender roles.
If she were a man in the DRC, Madame Ngetsi’s initial steps in starting her business would be to obtain a certificate confirming the headquarters location, notarize the articles of association, and register with the Commercial Registry. As a woman, however, a significant roadblock stands in her way: She is legally mandated to first obtain her husband’s permission to register a business. This legal requirement, found in the family code rather than in any commercial or business code, is fully in effect in the DRC. Permission letters are readily found on file at women-owned company registries. Married men face no such requirement.
“We have a fantastic opportunity to work together,” Dr. Kim told hundreds of investors at the 15th Annual Global Private Equity Conference, hosted by the Bank Group’s private sector arm IFC and the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association (EMPEA).
“…Private equity is going to play a critical role in whether or not we can truly have high aspirations for the 1.2 billion people living in absolute poverty in the world,” he said in a speech that was liveblogged and followed on Twitter with #wblive and #GPEC2013.
In two weeks, economic policymakers from around the world will gather in Washington, D.C., for the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings. As has been the case for the past five years, there will be much talk of economic crisis and of strategies to restore confidence, kick start growth, and create jobs. There is growing evidence that we are on the right track, but this agenda still requires much more work.
The meetings, though, also offer an occasion to look beyond the short term crisis-fighting measures. It is a chance for leaders to adopt a long-term perspective and assess where we stand and where we are headed.
If they do, they will see that today we are at a moment of historic opportunity. For the end of absolute poverty, a dream which has enticed and driven humanity for centuries, is now within our grasp.
I’ve been thinking a bit about norms recently – how do the unwritten rules that guide so much of our behaviour and understanding of what is acceptable/right/normal etc evolve over time? Because they undoubtedly do – look at attitudes to slavery, women’s votes, racial equality or more recently child rights.
So in advance of International Women’s Day, I ploughed my way through a really important new World Bank study, On Norms and Agency: Conversations about Gender Equality with Women and Men in 20 Countries. Like the Bank’s path-breaking Voices of the Poor or the more recent Time to Listen, it’s an attempt to take the global temperature on a big topic through a process of rigorous and deep listening involving 4000 women and men around the developing world.
Such studies are lengthy, complex and expensive, but are incredibly revealing and useful, especially as they start to accumulate. We’re trying a mini version with the Life in a time of Food Price Volatility listening project – first year results out soon.
The report is 150 pages and pretty heavy going – subtle, nuanced and complex, and very hard to extract easy headlines. A close reading will yield much more than a skim, but for the time-poor blog reader, here are some of the findings that jumped out at me.