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South Asia’s prosperity will require more women to work for pay

Annette Dixon's picture

Women in the Work Force

South Asia has enjoyed a growth rate of 6 percent a year over the past 20 years. This has translated into declining poverty and improvements in health and education. While worthy of celebration as we mark International Women's Day, the success could have been more dramatic if more women worked for pay. Only 28 percent of women in South Asia have a job or are looking for one, compared to 79 percent of men. This is the second lowest in the world, after the Middle East and North Africa region at 21 percent.

With the largest working-age population and growing middle class, South Asia’s development potential is vast. But the lack of women in employment and economic participation reflects lost potential. In India and Sri Lanka, tens of millions of women have dropped out of the work force over the last twenty years.

Many factors are holding them back. Almost half of South Asia’s adult women are illiterate and its girls suffer from the highest malnutrition rates in the world. Rates of violence against women and maternal mortality remain among the highest in the world. All these factors translate into a labor market characterized by low participation, high unemployment and persistent wage gaps for women.

What can be done to better prepare and encourage women to participate in the work force? It starts with valuing our daughters as much as our sons – providing them with the same access to nutritious foods and investing in their education for them to reach their potential. Let’s spark the interest of young girls in subjects like science and mathematics, and convince them that they are just as capable as boys –that they too can build careers in engineering, scientific research, IT, and other fields that are in demand by employers. We must also raise our sons to respect girls and women, and make it clear that there is zero-tolerance for gender-based violence.

It’s time to #PressForProgress for Sri Lanka’s women!

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
 
Starting today, March 8, we at the World Bank are embarking on a year-long effort to rally the government, our development partners, the private sector and the public to see how we can really deliver results for Sri Lanka’s women.
Starting today, March 8, we at the World Bank are embarking on a year-long effort to rally the government, our development partners, the private sector and the public to see how we can really deliver results for Sri Lanka’s women.    

International Women’s Day is always an important marker in my calendar and this year’s theme #PressForProgress couldn’t be more exciting.
 
Starting today, March 8, we at the World Bank are embarking on a year-long effort to rally the government, our development partners, the private sector and the public to see how we can really deliver results for Sri Lanka’s women.    
 
What’s the urgency?
 
Simply put, Sri Lanka is trailing behind many countries in its development bracket when it comes to working women. 
 
Did you know that 214,298 women over the age of 15 are unemployed in Sri Lanka today?  Sri Lanka’s female labor force participation or FLFP rate has stubbornly remained in the mid-thirties for the last two decades; out of an estimated 7.3 million people who are considered ‘economically inactive’ 73.8 percent are women, while just 26.2 percent are men.
 
It is clear this challenge is too great for any ministry, development partner or corporate office.
 
But why do Sri Lankan women need to get to work?
 
Because this country’s prosperity depends on it!  Sri Lanka is getting older before getting rich. Without a labor force the country cannot be competitive nor can it deliver on basic services that require revenue to be generated.
 
So, the question is, what will it take to really deliver change for Sri Lanka’s women? What are the challenges? How can we help motivate those able to energize change that will benefit women?    
 
The World Bank is ready to join the government, private sector, development partners and the citizens of Sri Lanka in supporting tangible initiatives which address the realities on the ground. We are going to advocate widely.
 
So, let’s start with a few important announcements. We want to learn from you. Tell us where we should start, and what specific issues need attention. We want to know what your challenges are, and who inspires you most.

My life as an entrepreneur in Egypt

Mostafa Amin's picture

Egypt is a market of more than 100 million people and full of opportunities for the trained entrepreneurial eye. Like many developing nations, Egypt seems to have a struggling job market, but many see this as a blessing in disguise. In a country where millions are looking for jobs, there are also millions who give up on the search and create their own opportunities. This might seem far-fetched, but the reality is that poor people in developing nations are extremely entrepreneurial – probably even more so than in developed countries. Professor Ha-Joon Chang captured this fact in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism

One of the best decisions in my life was to reject a job offer from a big corporation and embark on an entrepreneurial start-up journey. Indeed, the journey has been tough and there were, and still are, bumpy roads, but the rising entrepreneurial spirit across the country has been extremely uplifting. I have been in the Egyptian entrepreneurial ecosystem for the past few years and I consider myself well connected and quite informed about everything that has been happening. But I can say with confidence that what the country has been seeing in the past few years is very promising and inspires us to do more. 

Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa

Elizabeth Ninan Dulvy's picture
The facts relating to learning outcomes in many countries in the Africa region are depressing and the challenges are immense. But there is a growing body of new evidence from countries across Africa that points to lessons that can be learned about what has worked to improve learning. Together with my co-authors, Sajitha Bashir, Marlaine Lockheed, Jee-Peng Tan and many other contributors, the World Bank has just released a book entitled “Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa” that focuses on how to improve learning outcomes in basic education —i.e six years of primary and three years of lower secondary education. 
 

From marginalization to inclusion: The story of the waste pickers in the West Bank

Amal Faltas's picture

About a decade ago, we started a project to improve solid waste management for waste pickers like Ibrahim and the 840,000 people in the southern West Bank governorates of Bethlehem and Hebron. One of the project components included the closure of the Yatta dumpsite, where illegally dumped and burned household waste was reaching a very unsanitary and hazardous level. 

But here came the challenge. 

While the closure of the dumpsite would mean putting an end to a serious environmental and public health problem, it was terrible news for the waste pickers and their families. It meant that the livelihoods of those families would come to an end. 

Investing in Africa’s talent

Esteve Sala's picture
Africa will have more people joining the labor force over the next 20 years than the rest of the world combined. Photo credit: World Bank

For every software developer in the United States, there are five open jobs. Africa, meanwhile, has the youngest, fastest-growing population on earth, with more people joining the labor force over the next 20 years than the rest of the world combined.

With this idea in mind, and the powerful belief that "brilliance is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not," Andela, founded four years ago, began recruiting recent graduates in Africa with the mission of connecting them to job opportunities in high-tech companies. Today, about 650 developers in Lagos, Nairobi, and Kampala work full-time for over 100 firms spread across 45 cities worldwide.

Can cash transfers solve Bangladesh’s malnutrition?

Rubaba Anwar's picture
Silvi and her mother arrive with Silvi’s birth certificate to enroll into Jawtno. a cash transfer program aimed to help 600,000 poor families in Bangladesh access prenatal and child care.
Silvi and her mother arrive with Silvi’s birth certificate to enroll into Jawtno. a cash transfer program that aims to help 600,000 poor families in Bangladesh access prenatal and child care. Credit: World Bank


Silvi is eight months old. She lives in a remote village in one of the poorest regions of Bangladesh.
 
Her mother Maya often reflects on her pregnancy and worries about her daughter’s wellbeing as she recalls her morning sickness, the uncertain and painful birth, and the long nights at Silvi’s side as the baby lay wide awake wailing, fighting one illness after the other.
 
She remembers, too, the thrills of hearing Silvi giggle at the sound of her rattle, and when she began to crawl.
 
Despite the little joys that her baby brings to Maya, Silvi’s early childhood was marked with apprehension: Shouldn’t she be a little heavier? When will she learn to walk? Will she be healthy and intelligent enough to earn a decent living when she grows up? Or would she be handed down her parents’ poverty and get married like Maya had to, at only sixteen?
 
But with the right kind of support, Silvi can have a chance at a better life and bring her family out of poverty.
 
Growing evidence has shown that adequate nutrition before birth and the two years after – or in the first 1,000-days – has lasting effects on a child’s intelligence and brain development.
 
When they’re properly fed and exposed to learning, children can reach their full potential and break the poverty trap.
 
Thus, investing in early childhood nutrition and cognitive development (CNCD) is critical to curbing poverty in a country like Bangladesh, where 36 percent of children below the age of 5 are stunted —or too short for their age--, low birth weight is prevalent, and maternal nutrition remains poor.
 
Sadly, poor families like Maya’s are not utilizing services available to them.  

The Arab Spring – Unfinished Journeys

Juliana J Biondo's picture
Helen Zughaib, The Places They Will Go, 2015-2016, dimensions variable, individual children’s shoes, painted in acrylic gouache on adhesive photo installation. © Helen Zughaib
Helen Zughaib, The Places They Will Go, 2015-2016, dimensions variable, individual children’s shoes, painted in acrylic gouache on adhesive photo installation. © Helen Zughaib 

Each one is different - one has pink rims, and multi-sized dots, and hues of electric orange, deep fuchsia, and sea foam green. Another is donning pinstripes in red and orange, with mint green rims. And another – violet, blue, and red checkers with accents of lavender. We are looking at shoes, twenty-two shoes to be exact. They are all hand-painted by artist Helen Zughaib. These shoes, titled Oh The Places They Will Go, is part of the artists’ exhibition The Arab Spring – Unfinished Journeys, which premiered at the World Bank in Washington DC from January 28th to February 16th, 2018. The exhibition was hosted by the World Bank Art Program, in partnership with the Middle East and North Africa Regional Vice President Hafez Ghanem. The World Bank Art Program hosts regular exhibitions, domestically and internationally, that shed light on pressing development issues.

The Arab Spring – Unfinished Journeys stands as an important connection point between the growing global crisis of refugees and internally displaced people, and the Bank’s continuing efforts to engage in reconstruction and recovery and address the root causes of conflict and violence  - from new financing mechanisms in Jordan and Lebanon, to new cash transfer programs in Yemen allowing more refugees access to food.

Unfinished journeys: Helen Zughaib captures the aftermath of the Arab Spring in her art

Aida Haddad's picture

According to a World Bank study, the current violence in the Middle East and North Africa Region led to fifteen million people fleeing their homes, giving rise to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Many sought refuge in neighboring countries that are economically fragile, further complicating the tragedy. Women and children bear the brunt of war and this is what Helen Zughaib aimed to capture in her paintings. 

The World Bank Art Program, in partnership with the Office of the Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Region, organized an exhibition of the works of artist Helen Zughaib, titled: The Arab Spring/Unfinished Journeys, that were on view in the main building of the World Bank’s Washington headquarters from January 18 to February 16. The theme of Helen’s work depicts the sense of hope and dignity that prevailed when the Arab Spring began, only to dissipate soon after with the horrors of war and forced migration. 

Edutainment changes the way we do development

Arianna Legovini's picture


Improving people’s lives is more than offering services. It requires people to be active participants in development, demanding services and products that add value to their lives and engaging in behaviors that are conducive to increasing their own welfare. Health prevention is a case in point.

At our HIV Impact Evaluation Workshop in Cape Town, South Africa in 2009, I listened to Nancy Padian, a medical researcher at the Women’s Global Health Imperative, presenting a systematic review of random control trials testing the effectiveness of HIV prevention campaigns.

The study she presented explained how three dozen HIV prevention campaigns had failed to change sexual behavior and reduce HIV incidence.

The presentation gave us pause. The review dismissed the communication campaigns as an ineffective means to change behavior and slow down the HIV epidemic.

A closer look revealed that the campaigns lacked inspiring narratives, and were communicated through outdated and uninteresting outlets such as billboards and leaflets.

The question we asked ourselves was: Can we do this differently?


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