Photo Credit: Mauricio Santana – Women’s Forum 2014
The question was posed at this year’s Women’s Forum Brazil held in São Paulo, Brazil, on May 26 and 27. In a country bustling with the World Cup and gearing up for presidential elections, "Vibrant Growth for All" was a fitting topic. As more than 500 women and men involved in politics, business, civil society and academia from all regions of Brazil, countries of Latin America, the United States and Europe gathered together, women’s full participation in the economy and society was center stage in the discussions. The setting was quite appropriate: Women have made great strides and have increasingly taken the stage in the country. And starting from the top – the country’s President – and in all sectors of society and the economy, women are present and continue to take on leading positions, with many good examples present at the plenary room and throughout the two-day event.
Kicking off with an impassioned plea for the release of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls and the keynote address given by Minister of State of Public Policies for Women Eleonora Menicucci, focusing on the achievement of economic autonomy for women in Brazil and initiatives to end violence against women such as the “Eu Ligo” campaign (with the double meaning in English: “I call / I care”), the forum throughout was indeed a vibrant event.
The plenary sessions and panels that followed were brilliantly composed of high-level women in leadership positions from Brazilian and international companies, small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and of government and civil society, including the CEO of Boeing Brazil, the CEO of Brazilian Tam Airlines, the CEO of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, and the Clinton Global Initiative Director for Women and Girls, to shed light on topics such as business and human rights, marriage, machismo, and social investment in women, incentivizing leadership and talent, among others.
Gender and Equality
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.
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.
Gender plays a crucial role in developing countries’ ability to ensure improved water and sanitation services are delivered to all citizens. According to the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development, when services fail, women and girls are disproportionately affected.
This year, the World Bank/Water and Sanitation Program’s calendar depicts water and sanitation challenges from a gender perspective to call attention to some of the social norms that result from, and reinforce poor service quality. Take a look. Images can convey a thousand words--and speak for billions of people.