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How to boost female employment in South Asia

Martin Rama's picture
What's driving female employment in South Asia to decrease


South Asia is booming. In 2018, GDP growth for the region as a whole is expected to accelerate to 6.9 percent, making it the fastest growing region in the world. However, fast GDP growth has not translated into fast employment growth. In fact, employment rates have declined across the region, with women accounting for most of this decline.

Between 2005 and 2015, female employment rates declined by 5 percent per year in India, 3 percent per year in Bhutan, and 1 percent per year in Sri Lanka. While it is not surprising for female employment rates to decline with economic growth and then increase, in what is commonly known as the U-shaped female labor force function (a term coined by Claudia Goldin in 1995), the trends observed in South Asia stand out. Not only has female employment declined much more than could have been anticipated, it is likely to decline further as countries such as India continue to grow and urbanize.

The unusual trend for female employment rates in South Asia is clear from Figure 1. While male employment rates in South Asia are in line with those of other countries at the same income level, female employment rates are well below.
From the South Asia Economic Focus
Source: South Asia Economic Focus (Spring 2018).

If women are choosing to exit the labor force as family incomes rise, should policymakers worry? There are at least three reasons why the drop in female employment rates may have important social costs. First, household choices may not necessarily match women’s preferences. Those preferences reflect the influence of ideas and norms about what is women’s work and men’s work as well as other gendered notions such as the idea that women should take care of the children and housework. Second, when women control a greater share of household incomes, children are healthier and do better in school. Third, when women work for pay, they have a greater voice in their households, in their communities, and in society. The economic gains from women participating equally in the labor market are sizable: A recent study estimated that the overall gain in GDP to South Asia from closing gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship would be close to 25 percent.

Boosting entrepreneurship in rural Afghanistan

Miki Terasawa's picture
Also available in: دری | پښتو
The Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project has linked rural producers, inlcuding saffron farmers with markets to create businesses and provide employment opportunities to many Afghan women and men.
The Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project has linked rural producers, including saffron farmers with markets to create businesses and provide employment opportunities to many Afghan women and men. Photo Credit: AREDP/ World Bank.

Meet Mohammad Naim, a saffron farmer in Afghanistan’s Herat province.  In 2013, Naim launched a new business, the Taban Enterprise Group after he and his partners received training and attended agriculture fairs nationwide.

Taban cultivates, processes, and markets saffron, and since its founding, it has steadily improved the quality of its saffron and expanded operations. Today, the company employs 120 women annually for seasonal work to harvest and process the valuable crop.
 
This business success story started with small savings pooled together by rural men and women like Naim.
 
Since 2010, the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project (AREDP) has linked rural producers with markets and helped villagers form savings and credit groups to create businesses or expand their small enterprises.

تقویت تشبثات خصوصی و ایجاد فرصت های کار در روستاهای افغانستان

Miki Terasawa's picture
Also available in: English | پښتو
The Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project has linked rural producers, inlcuding saffron farmers with markets to create businesses and provide employment opportunities to many Afghan women and men.
پروژه انکشاف صنایع روستایی افغانستان  ازتولید کنندگان روستایی، به خصوص کسانیکه در عرصه تولید زعفران مشغول کاراند حمایت مینماید، تا نه تنها محصولات شانرا به بازار ها عرضه نمایند، بلکه خود قادر به ایجاد تشبثات و تجارت های کوچک گردند وزمینه های اشتغال زایی بیشتر را برای زنان و مردان فراهم نمایند. عکس: پروژه انکشاف صنایع روستایی افغانستان/ بانک جهانی

با نعیم یکتن از متشبثین محلی در ولایت هرات، که  در عرصه تولید زعفران مصروف کار است، آشنا شوید. در سال ۲۰۱۳ میلادی، نعیم و چند تن از شرکای او پس از اشتراک در یک سلسله برنامه های آموزشی در بخش زراعت و همچنان اشتراک در چندین نمایشگاه داخلی، تصمیم گرفتند یک شرکت تجارتی را بنام تابان تاسیس نمایند. شرکت متذکره که در بخش های کشت، پروسس و فروش محصول زعفران فعالیت را آغاز نمود، در مدت کم توانست با بهبود کیفیت تولید زعفران و گسترش فعالیت های تجارتی فراتر از مرز های افغانستان شهرت کسب نماید. بطور اوسط سالانه ۱۲۰ زن در این شرکت به منظور انجام کار های فصلی زعفران استخدام گردیده، تا در عرصه جمع آوری حاصلات و پروسس این نبات ارزشمند کار نمایند.
 
موفقیت این سرمایه گذاری با سهمگیری و اختصاص هزینه های کوچک پس انداز و قرضه از سوی چند زن و مرد روستایی مانند نعیم آغاز گردیده است.
 
از سال ۲۰۱۰ بدینسو پروژه انکشاف صنابع روستایی افغانستان تولید کنندگان روستایی را با بازار ها وصل ساخته و همزمان با آن از طریق گروپ های پس انداز و گروپ های قرضه قریه، روستاییان را کمک نموده، تا برایشان تجارت های کوچک ایجاد نموده و یا تشبثات کوچک شان را توسعه دهند.

د افغانستان په کلیوالو سیمو کې د خصوصی تشبثاتو او د کارموندنی د فرصتونو پیاوړتیا

Miki Terasawa's picture
Also available in: English | دری
The Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project has linked rural producers, inlcuding saffron farmers with markets to create businesses and provide employment opportunities to many Afghan women and men.
د افغانستان د کلیوالي صنایعو د پراختیا پروژه له ټولو کلیوالو تولید کوونکو، بالخصوص له هغو بزګرانو څخه چې د زعفرانو د کښټ او پروسس په برخه کې کار کوي، مالي  او تخنیکي ملاتړ برابروي. په دې توګه نه یوازې، چې بزګران به وتوانیږي څو خپل محصولات بازارونو ته عرضه کړي، بلکه خپله به کوچني تجارتونه او تشبثات پرانیزي او د ښځو او نارینه وو لپاره به د کارموندنې فرصتونه برابر شي. انځور: د افغانستان د کلیوالي صنایعو د پراختیا پروژه/ نړیوال بانک

د زعفرانو د کښت چارو کې د هرات ولایت د یوه بریالي متشبث نعیم سره وپیژنئ. په ۲۰۱۳ کال کې نعیم او څو نورو شریکانو یې وروسته له دې چې د کرني په څو ښونیزو برنامو، او کورنیو نندارتونونو کې ګډون وکړ نو د تابان په نامه د یوه سوداګریز شرکت په جوړولو یې پیل وکړ. نوموړی شرکت چې د زعفرانو د کښت، پروسس او خرڅلاو په برخه کې فعالیت کوي، په ډیر کم وخت کې وتوانید د زعفرانو د کیفیت په لوړولو سره  د خپل سوداګریز فعالیتونو شهرت د افغانستان تر پولو واړوي. اوس مهال په منځنۍ توګه دغه شرکت په کال کې ۱۲۰ ښخې د زعفرانو د فصلی چارو لپاره ګوماري، تر څو د دغه ارزښتناک بوټي  د حاصلاتو د راټولولو او پروسس چارې پر مخ بوزي.
 
د دغه پانګه اچونې د بریالیتوب کیسه د سپما او پورونو لپاره د کوچنیو نغدي ونډه اخیستنو  په وسیله د نعیم په شان دڅو نارینه وو او ښخو له خوا پیل شوه.
 
د ۲۰۱۰ کال نه را پدیخوا د افغانستان د کلیوالي صنایعو د پراختیا پروژې، کلیوال تولید کوونکي له بازار سره وصل کړل او همدارنګه د کلي سپما او پورونو د ګروپونو په واسطه یې  له کليوالي خلکو سره مرسته وکړه تر څو ورته کوچني تجارتونه جوړ او کوچني تشبثاتو ته وده ورکړي.

Why should we care about changing attitudes on gender roles in Pakistan?

Saman Amir's picture



Our recent research suggests that attitudes related to women’s roles at home and in the public space are in flux and moving towards greater gender equality, at least in aspirations.

In recent focus group discussions with women conducted by the Pakistan Gender Platform in Pakistan’s four provincial capitals, most women voiced a preference to work outside the home in mixed gender settings, regardless of age, occupation or income levels, and despite the many barriers involved: from lack of safe public transport to sexual harassment at work. Yet, their choices are still limited by patriarchal norms: as one young FGD participant who expressed her desire to work noted, “We may become economically independent but will always be socially dependent.”

This tension between the changing aspirations of young Pakistanis and the barriers they face in realizing them came alive in a recent online poll that we launched as part of the Country Office’s flagship [email protected] initiative. Despite some limitations stemming from its sample and mode of delivery, the poll provides an eye-opening glimpse into the urban youth’s shifting aspirations and attitudes on gender norms.

A Pakistani daughter and her destiny

Sameera Al Tuwaijri's picture



Koshi is 4 days old. She was born in a small village near Hyderabad (Sindh, Pakistan) and is one of four siblings – all girls, all under the age of 10. Her parents were hoping that this time it would be a boy, but perhaps better luck next time? Her mother is worried that if she doesn’t give birth to a boy, she will be stigmatized. Family planning is out of the question – not that she and her husband have even discussed this. She worries about her girls’ well-being too. They are underweight and get sick a lot. She wants them to grow up healthy and get an education. Koshi’s father is worried about them too. He is a tenant farmer with a meager income. He already struggles to provide the basic necessities – food, clothing, shelter. Even if they marry young, how will he arrange their dowries? Of course this is only if Koshi and her sisters live long enough.

Koshi’s chances of survival are slim. In Pakistan, 1 in 20 newborns die within the first month of their birth.[i] By age 5, 79 of every 1000 children born die. There is an 11 percent chance that they will not survive beyond age 14 years.[ii] The situation in Sindh is worse than the national average, and the risk of deaths is higher in its rural areas where access to healthcare and other social services is more limited. Investing in the health and well-being of the population, especially the youth is pivotal for Sindh’s economic growth and development.

Having a primary health center near the village and local lady health workers for example will improve the girls’ chances of access to healthcare and childhood immunization – necessary for protection against diseases such as measles, polio, and diphtheria that still take a heavy toll on children’s lives. It also improves the mother’s access to skilled birth attendance. Skilled attendance at birth reduces newborn deaths by 43 percent[iii] and maternal deaths by 66.67 percent.[iv]

More women need to shape Pakistan’s digital future

Uzma Quresh's picture
Annie Gul from Codematics tells the audience of what is required to have more women digital entrepreneurs in KP
Annie Gul from Codematics tells the audience of what is required to have more women digital entrepreneurs in KP

“I have always enjoyed studying computer and human physiology since childhood, that’s why I jumped at the opportunity of developing a scientific application with KPITB’s support. This app has even helped my younger brother understand different body organs and their functions in a fun way. The KPITB’s ‘early age programming’ program has supported many girls from public schools, who would otherwise have never received this chance of realizing their dream of developing apps.”

Such compelling words came from Hafsa, a 13-year-old female student of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) public school as she addressed about one thousand young men and women at this year’s Digital Youth Summit (DYS) in Peshawar.

Girls like Hafsa are becoming the face of DYS, an annual event that brings the spotlight on young talent and their digital innovations.

I heard similar passionate accounts during my two-day interaction with KP youth as they shared candidly how they had transformed challenges into opportunities through hard work and perseverance.

DYS has brought together the next generation of digital entrepreneurs since 2014 to educate and inspire youth in a conflict-affected region where 50 percent of people are age 30 or under.

Such forums also provide a space for youth to voice their aspirations and claim for greater and more meaningful socio-economic inclusion.   

And while Hafsa’s impassionate story of progress resonated with everyone in the room, it stood as a stark reminder that Pakistan still has a long way to go to achieve an equal digital future for both men and women.

Indeed, statistics about women’s employment in KP and FATA are alarming as only 14% of women in KP and 8.6% of women in FATA work for pay.

Fittingly, DYS discussed different gender issues and offered solutions to boost female digital entrepreneurship.

Empowering Indian women after a natural disaster hits

Hyunjee Oh's picture
In June 2013, a heavy deluge caused devastating floods and landslides in the state of Uttarakhand in India’s Himalayan foothills. Damyanti Devi, the mother of a young daughter, lost her home and livelihood. Her old house in Rudraprayag was completely washed away by the landslide.
In June 2013, a heavy deluge caused devastating floods and landslides in the state of Uttarakhand in India’s Himalayan foothills. Damyanti Devi, the mother of a young daughter, lost her home and livelihood. Her old house in Rudraprayag was completely washed away by the landslide.


This blog is part of a series exploring housing reconstruction progress in Uttarakhand, India.
  
In June 2013, a heavy deluge caused devastating floods and landslides in the state of Uttarakhand in India’s Himalayan foothills.
 
The disaster – the worst in the country since the 2003 tsunami—hit more than 4,200 villages, damaged 2,500 houses, and killed 4,000 people.
 
Damyanti Devi, the mother of a young daughter, lost her home and livelihood. Her old house in Rudraprayag was completely washed away by the landslide.
 
“The river was fast swelling up,” she said. “It had crossed the danger mark and reached close to our house. We just took our daughter and left with an umbrella and a lantern.”
 
She now owns a new house abuzz with music and her daughter’s laughs.
 
Like thousands of other people in Uttarakhand, Damyanti received support through the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) to rebuild her home.
 
This support channeled through the Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Project (UDRP) also helped build better roads and mitigate future disaster risks in local communities.
 
A key component of the project was to rebuild 2,382 more resilient houses based on the owner-driven housing reconstruction model,  which allows families to rebuild according to their specific needs.
 
This community-driven approach is important as women are typically at greater risk from natural hazards than men, particularly those who are poor and live in low-income countries.
 
There is indeed strong evidence that disasters impact women differently and amplify gender inequalities.
 
Women and men have different perceptions of their surroundings and coping abilities, roles, responsibilities, and resources before or in the aftermath of a disaster.
 
Gender-sensitive approaches to disaster prevention, mitigation, adaptation, relief, recovery, and reconstruction can save more lives and promote more gender-inclusive development.  

With that in mind, the  housing reconstruction component of UDRP helped empower women like Damyanti in the aftermath of a disaster in 4 different ways:

Face to face with Country Director for India, Junaid Ahmad

Nandita Roy's picture

The Lighthouse India is a platform to facilitate knowledge flows across states within India and to create strategic partnerships with other countries to share and transfer knowledge and experience, which would inform development policies, scale up good practices and innovations. We caught with our Country Director, Junaid Ahmad, for an in-depth understanding of this initiative of the World Bank.

What is Lighthouse India?

Development is best catalyzed when people learn by doing. The notion of lighthouse is that you are a beacon for someone. An Indian state innovating on how local government programs are run, say in West Bengal, can be a source of information for other states, say Madhya Pradesh or Karnataka, which are also trying to figure out how to strengthen local governments. In a federal system like India, the potential for learning from each other is vast especially where innovation is constantly happening. The problem is that the lessons from these innovations and the information about them is not moving smoothly across borders. Lighthouse India is based on the Bank's unique position to facilitate these exchanges and link them to actual implementation.

It is not only about exchanges between states in India. As India moves along the development trajectory towards high middle income, the nation itself is transforming. The lessons of this transformation are going to be critical for other countries. The Bank can also proactively broker these exchanges between India and other countries as India acts as a “lighthouse” for others.

It is important to stress that Lighthouse India is not just a passive exchange of best practices. It is an active exchange of practices and approaches where the expertise and experiences of India can be leveraged by another country. And as always, these exchanges are never one way: as India shares, it will gain from the development experiences of others.

Importantly, Lighthouse India will change the way we do analytical and advisory services.  The latter will be built around operational issues and offer the analysis to understand better implementation challenges.

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How is Lighthouse India important for Bank’s strategy in engaging with India?

First, Lighthouse India is essential in supporting the strategy of scaling up development impact. Let me take the example of livelihood programs. We’ve been working in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha supporting the creation of self-help groups of women and facilitating their access to micro credit and economic activities. We could respond to every state that requests our assistance for this kind of activity. On the other hand, if we have worked in three or four States, we can then leverage their expertise and experience to support others. In this context, the World Bank can act as a broker of exchanges where states learn from the experience of each other. And this could be in any area such as local government strengthening or in solar power generation.

Second, Lighthouse India will play an important role in the delivery of global goods. For example, in the case of climate change, if we support the collective efforts of nations to de-carbonize their growth path, we may be able to achieve the objectives set out in COP18 in Paris. India has set for itself the aspiration of delivering 175GW of renewable energy in the coming years. Not only will India’s energy strategy help in delivering the global goal of sustainable development, its experience with scaling up renewable energy and energy efficiency will support the collective efforts of other countries to achieve their own objectives in the energy sector. This is where Lighthouse India can play an important role of leveraging India in the achievement of global goods.

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The latest poverty numbers for Afghanistan: a call to action, not a reason for despair

Shubham Chaudhuri's picture
Also available in: دری | پښتو

The just-released Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey (ALCS) paints a stark picture of the reality facing Afghanistan today. More than half the Afghan population lives below the national poverty line, indicating a sharp deterioration in welfare since 2011-12.[1]  The release of these new ALCS figures is timely and important. These figures are the first estimates of the welfare of the Afghan people since the transition of security responsibilities from international troops to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in 2014.

While stark, the findings are not a surprise

Given what Afghanistan has gone through in the last five years, the significant increase in poverty over this period is not unexpected. The high poverty rates represent the combined effect of stagnating economic growth, increasing demographic pressures, and a deteriorating security situation in the context of an already impoverished economy and society where human capital and livelihoods have been eroded by decades of conflict and instability.

The withdrawal of international troops starting in 2012, and the associated decline in aid, both security and civilian, led to a sharp decline in domestic demand and much lower levels of economic activity. The deterioration in security since 2012, which drove down consumer and investor confidence, magnified this economic shock. Not surprisingly, Afghanistan’s average annual rate of economic growth fell from 9.4 percent in the period 2003-2012 to only 2.1 percent between 2013 and 2016. With the population continuing to grow more than 3 percent a year, per capita GDP has steadily declined since 2012, and in 2016 stood $100 below its 2012 level. Even during Afghanistan’s years of high economic growth, poverty rates failed to drop, as growth was not pro-poor. In recent years, as population growth outstripped economic growth, an increase in poverty was inevitable.

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