Last week we saw two Ivorian women, Murielle Ahouré and Marie-Josée Ta Lou, fly past the finish line in a historic one-two finish in the 60 meters sprint at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England while Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba triumphed in a gritty 800 meters race. From the 60 meters to the 3000 meters, African women graced the podium or were not far from it, a testament to their athletic prowess.
Bhutan is a small country nestled in the eastern Himalayas between China and India, has managed to maintain its rich and unique cultural heritage in this modern-day age, partly due to its relative isolation during much of the last century. Bhutan is one of the smallest but fastest-growing economies in the world and a success story in poverty reduction.
There has also been an increasing representation of girls at the higher secondary level although the lag continues at the university level.
Gender gaps in labor markets and job quality was identified as one of the main areas of gender gaps in the 2013 World Bank Gender Note Policy. Although tremendous progress has been made, - 58% of Bhutanese women working for pay or looking for jobs - the female labor force participation saw a slight decline compared to men in 2016. It remains one of the highest in the region.
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?
Yesterday morning I participated in the “Ring the Bell for Gender Equality” event at the opening of the Mongolian Stock Exchange. A global event sponsored by the IFC and other partners*, the event highlights how economies and individual companies benefit from efforts to close gender gaps in their operations and governing structures.
Earlier I had dug out my notes from a survey of listed companies conducted in 1996. Only 25 of the 249 companies we surveyed counted women as general directors. Today, women lead around six percent of the top 100 listed firms – that is, fewer than 20 years ago. This does not mean that there has not been progress. The last time the World Bank Group enterprises surveys were done, Mongolia had a similar or larger share of firms with women in top management. This number is higher than the region’s average, but such leadership roles were more heavily weighted to smaller firms. Whereas 31 percent of medium-sized firms – that is, those with 20-99 employees – had female top managers, only 17 percent of firms with over 100 employees had women in senior management.
Getting to equal at the top requires more systematic scrutiny of the factors that support or hinder women’s economic empowerment throughout their lives. No one is born a CEO.
So, where are the gender gaps?
Stories like these remind me of the vast economic potential of this region, especially if countries here tap into one of their most valuable resources: women.
Photo: Carol Mitchell | Flickr Creative Commons
As the backbone of development, infrastructure provides vital support for the twin goals of poverty reduction and shared prosperity. Considering the different needs, roles, and responsibilities of men and women in infrastructure design makes the achievement of these goals more sustainable.
Women and men face constraints both as beneficiaries and producers of infrastructure services. For example, there can be inequitable access to roads, financing for electricity connections, or clean water. There are also inequities in the infrastructure business value chain: Do utilities have a balance of women and men on technical and leadership teams? Is there diversity on boards, with regulators or policy makers? Are women-owned firms in supply chains?
Happy International Women’s Day! This is an important year to celebrate – from global politics to the Oscars last weekend, gender equality and inclusion are firmly on the agenda.
But outside movies and matters of government, we see the effects on gender equality every day, in how we live and work. One area we have data on comes from companies: what share of firms have a female CEO or top manager?
Only 1 in 5 firms worldwide have a female CEO or top manager, and it is more common among the smaller firms. While this does vary by around the world – Thailand and Cambodia are the only two countries where the data show more women running companies than men.
Better representation of women in business is important. It ensures a variety of views and ideas are represented, and when the top manager of a firm is woman, that firm is likely to have a larger share of permanent female workers.
“Sabse jyada munafa chuski mein hai (The biggest margin lies in small ice pops)”, says Shanti Devi with the definitive confidence of a seasoned entrepreneur. Shanti, a resident of Kotwana village in Bihar’s Gaya district runs an ice-cream production and sales unit that has an annual revenue of INR 1.9 million and employs 22 workers for a significant part of the year. While sharing the long list of ice-cream flavours she vends, Shanti also signals at a much larger phenomenon. “Every third shop in this market is run by a JEEViKA member, ranging from grocery and utensil stores to a newspaper agency.”
Shanti is the microcosm of a transformative ecosystem that has nurtured 1.8 million new and existing women entrepreneurs while creating 800,000 new jobs in India. The JEEViKA that Shanti refers to, is a World Bank supported program of the Government of Bihar aimed at empowering women through Self-Help groups (SHGs), commodity specific producer groups and higher federations. The approach scaled up nation-wide under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) is driving growth and job creation in rural areas through women-owned enterprises.
Today there are 45 million rural women across India that are mobilized into self-help groups under the NRLM umbrella. Some 3.9 million SHGs and their federations have been empowered with skills, access to finance, markets, and business development services. This is triggering a huge change in the lives of the rural women.
What does empowerment really mean? The Northern Area Reduction Initiative (NARI) project has forced me to ask this question several times. And the answers are apparently not as neat and foldable into the pre-set indicators as one would think.
. Today, the industry accounts for 80% of Bangladesh’s total exports. 85% of the workers in the garments sector are women. The NARI program aims to facilitate the entry of skilled women into this sector. However, this program is not just about technical skills aimed at churning out yet another RMG worker. The girls learn how to adjust to life outside their homes and villages, open and manage bank accounts, and learn about their rights and responsibilities as workers. They also negotiate contracts and rent, understand what sexual harassment is, and learn how and where to report it. They build networks, allow ideas to form on the basis of newly discovered confidence and self-esteem. Some graduate and join the earmarked jobs, often in positions several steps ahead of what they would have been offered without the training.