A big idea can be rejected. It might be illegal. It might mean political suicide. In the words of Marcelo Giugale, the World Bank’s director of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programs for Africa, challenging conventional wisdom isn’t always easy. But in the realm of big ideas, the risk is part of the reward.
A multi-disciplinary art exhibition on the topic of gender based violence (GBV) is opening today at the World Bank in Washington, DC. The exhibition is entitled “1 in 3,” since an estimated one in three women worldwide will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. “1 in 3” includes art from around the world - photographs, paintings, drawings, sculpture; films and videos; posters from advertising campaigns against GBV, and performing art.
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 latest data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union show that Rwanda tops the list as the country with the highest proportion of women in parliament, with nearly 64 percent of seats held by women in 2013. Globally, women account for an average of about 20 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 15 percent a decade ago.
The top ten countries are a mix of high and middle income economies, some with legally mandated gender quotas and some without. Rwanda, a low income country, is followed by Andorra at a flat 50 percent and Cuba at 49 percent. Sweden, with 44 percent of parliamentary seats held by women, is the country that achieved the highest rate without any gender quota.
Pick any country in the developing world.
Where are the women entrepreneurs in Pakistan?
They start and manage digital-content creation firms serving international clients. They are sole proprietors of construction businesses bidding for government projects. They supervise tailors and embroiderers in windowless storage rooms that double as stitching units. They export high-end gems and jewelry around the world.
Women entrepreneurs in Pakistan lead cutting-edge, innovative businesses – but there are far too few of them. The recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report finds that only 1 percent of Pakistani women are engaged in entrepreneurship – the lowest proportion in the world.
Pakistan is not alone in its dismal ratio of growth-oriented (or indeed any kind of) women entrepreneurs. Even in the developed Asian economies of Korea and Japan, only about 2 percent of women are entrepreneurs. Sub-Saharan Africa does much better in this regard, with 27 percent of women, on average, engaged in entrepreneurship -- but they are mostly involved in low-productivity sectors of the economy.
Women entrepreneurs, in Pakistan and globally, have narrow networks of friends and family who provide them with some initial capital to start their small businesses, with little expectation of further financial support. Their export customers are located wherever they have extended family. And they rarely feature in local chambers of commerce activities.
Banks are often reluctant to extend lines of credit to, provide working capital to or lend to women-led enterprises. This makes it difficult for these enterprises to pursue growth. Perhaps this is why the average growth projections for women-led enterprises are seven to nine percentage points below those for their male counterparts.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Are Women Really Less Corrupt Than Men?
“Will electing more women to office make governments less corrupt? One new paper suggests in might—but the reason for that is not necessarily encouraging.
Previous research has suggested an association between a politician’s gender and their likelihood to engage in corrupt behavior. A World Bank study from 2001, for instance, found that “one standard deviation increase in [female participation in government] will result in a decline in corruption... of 20 percent of a standard deviation". This perception has been behind some well-publicized campaigns, such as Mexico City’s plan to employ all-female traffic cops in some areas.” READ MORE
On this year’s International Day of the Girl, I was part of the vast audience in the Atrium of the World Bank who had the opportunity to hear Malala Yousafza, the young activist who is inspiring the world with her bravery and courage, speak about her passionate fight for girls’ education.
Just the night before, she had wowed Jon Stewart on his television show with her poignantly articulate and exceedingly wise responses. Among them, she said: “I believe in equality. And I believe there is no difference between a man and a woman. I even believe that a woman is more powerful than men.”
These words, though spoken by a teenager, could scarcely ring more true amid the battle to eliminate poverty. Women are indeed more powerful than men, in the sense that, when you invest in a woman, you also invest in her family, her community and her country at large.
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.
After a long job search, you are rewarded by the phone call all job seekers wait patiently for, the interview invitation. You prep and spend as much time on the outfit you plan to wear as you do practicing mock interviews with your friends. You get to the interview all prepared to discuss your semester abroad as a graduate student, your thesis that took you to Congo and extensive work experience that landed you coveted past jobs. Your prospective employer will be as interested in your past work experience as in your formal education or schooling. The quality and the quantity (number of years) of relevant experience could drop you out of the race all together or…land you the job, determine your pay bracket and impact your future career growth.
Is a solid education enough to level the gender gap in human capital? (Credit: World Bank)
Women entrepreneurs in the Caribbean are breaking through the walls (Credit: infoDev)
In the last few decades, women in the Caribbean have made impressive strides to break through the glass ceiling and obtain positions of power and responsibility. In governments throughout the region, we’ve seen women as national leaders including Janet Jagen (Guyana), Eugenia Charles (Dominica), Portia Simpson Miller (Jamaica) and Kamla Persad-Bissessar (Trinidad). In addition, the region’s women are attaining high levels of academic achievement, and now there are more female than male college graduates in total. While this is all extremely positive news for gender equality in the Caribbean, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels just yet. There is still one area of the playing field that remains to be leveled, and not just in the Caribbean, which is women succeeding as well as men as high growth entrepreneurs.