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December 2015

Identification for Development: Its Potential for Empowering Women and Girls

Lucia Hanmer's picture
Widespread lack of official identification (ID) in developing countries disproportionately affects women and girls, who face more and higher barriers to obtaining IDs. As economists at the World Bank Group, even we hadn’t immediately appreciated the enormous deprivations facing girls and women who lack official identification. These barriers include: restrictions on women’s freedom to travel outside the home or community; distance; financial cost; time constraints; illiteracy; lack of information and lack of awareness; and, lack of support or opposition from other family members.  
 
Missing birth registration certificates, often needed to obtain an ID, and other missing documentation hamper numerous daily activities: access to services such as social protection, education, and health care; entitlement claims; access to financial institutions, credit, and other economic opportunities and enablers, including many jobs; family and property transactions requiring certified individual legal status; and the exercise of basic citizenship rights, such as voting and participating in politics.
 
Among the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal 16 aims to "promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels." To track progress toward meeting this goal, SDG16.9 sets the following target: By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration. Sharply scaling up efforts to meet this goal is especially vital to achieving Goal 5, "Achieve Gender Equality and Empower Women and Girls."
 
Jobs and assets are key levers of change for women in their communities and economies. Goal 5 aims to fulfill women’s equal rights to economic resources including access to and ownership and control over land and other forms of property, and inheritance. But this will require vastly more women to possess official proof of identity.