With gender equality a main topic for the World Bank's Annual Meetings this week, some of us have done a bit of a reflection on how our investments in health and other human development programs shape, and are shaped by, gender equality. It turns out that during the past 6 years, the World Bank mobilized $28.4 billion -- or nearly three-fourths of the Bank’s financing for human development during this same period -- to help promote gender equality and empower women and girls through investments in health, education, social protection, and labor. Not too bad.
We learned that in Afghanistan, for example, Bank support has resulted in a tripling of health facilities, deploying 20,000 community health workers -- half of them women -- and a four-fold increase in the number of women delivering babies in a facility by a trained health worker. These critical investments are expanding access to family planning and helping mothers and babies survive and thrive.
Yet despite impressive gains in recent years in health, education, and rights for women, many critical gender gaps persist. An estimated 10 million to 20 million women worldwide suffer from preventable reproductive health illnesses every year. Pregnancy-related complications are among the leading causes of death and disability for women between 15 and 49, with adolescent girls bearing 23 percent of the disease burden. Globally, there are more than 350,000 maternal deaths each year, 87 percent of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The Bank's Reproductive Health Action Plan focuses on the 57 countries with the highest rates of maternal mortality and fertility.
Getting to equal in health seems elusive. But we are making progress, and we have learned a lot about what works -- like strengthening the entire health system, not just any single component. And having the right incentives for both health care providers and families, so that poor women can access quality health care when they need it. And we know that getting to equal is a smart investment -- for healthy development and brighter futures for all.