Photo: Visual News Associates / The World Bank
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, if there is one concept to keep in mind above all others, it’s that gender equity is vital 24-7-365, and not just as a once-a-year observance.
You have heard the argument before and you will hear it again: Economies cannot reach their full potential if half the population is systematically blocked from full participation. This fundamental idea motivates the World Bank Group as it redoubles its efforts to address gaps in gender equality.
Our deepening work to close key gender gaps shows that the issues go far beyond economic inequity. Barriers to women’s full economic participation also impose moral, emotional and at times even physical costs.
We see this in the laws that prevent wives from making autonomous decisions about their careers. We see it in instances of violence against women in the workplace. We see this when harassment occurs at rural border crossings where women traders can encounter threats, and worse, from border guards.
In developing and developed countries alike, women face obstacles to starting and managing a business, to accessing finance, to earning equal pay for equal work, and to owning land or other assets. Many countries maintain laws and regulations that advantage men while discriminating against women, often relegating them to the status of a legal minor.
As Emeritus Professor Linda Scott of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School told us recently, “Women are economically disadvantaged in every country on the planet” and “women’s economic exclusion imposes a significant drag on world economies and societies.”
A key part of the Bank Group’s gender effort revolves around the importance of leveraging the private sector to ensure that reform goes beyond policy statements and creates real economic benefits for women and men. The Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C) has developed an approach to gender equity that focuses on expanding market opportunities, enabling private initiative, and developing dynamic economies.
The work we are doing recognizes the entrenched nature of the obstacles to fuller economic empowerment for women. Achieving results at scale will require sustained commitment. But we also understand the importance of realizing near-term progress to catalyze change, and we recognize how interventions in particular countries can show the way forward elsewhere.
The concept is simple: Good results generate more good results.
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Photo Credit: Stephan Bachenheimer / The World Bank
Women today represent about 50 percent of the world’s population and, for the past two decades, about 50 percent of the labor force. Yet there are stark differences in the outcomes they achieve: Women are only half as likely as men to have a full-time wage-earning job. The women who do have paid jobs earn as much as one-third less than men. Fewer women than men are involved in trade or own registered companies. And women are more likely to work in low-productivity activities or informal employment.
There are many reasons for these outcomes, including socio-cultural norms, access to high-quality jobs, the lack of transport and the lack of child-care facilities. In many countries, such differences also continue to be written in the law.
For the first time since it was launched in 2002, the World Bank Group’s annual Doing Business report this year added a gender dimension to its measures, including to the annual ranking on each country's ease of doing business. This is good news, since the report attracts the attention of policymakers worldwide. Global benchmarks and indicators are a powerful tool to raise awareness, motivate policy dialogue and, above all, inspire action by policymakers.
Ensuring that women have the same economic opportunities by law and in practice is not only a basic human right, it makes economic sense. A recent study estimates that achieving equality in economic opportunities for women and men could spur $28 trillion in world GDP growth by 2025 – about the equivalent of the size of the Chinese and U.S. economies combined.
Looking at gender differences when it comes to starting a business, registering property or enforcing contracts, Doing Business shows that 23 countries impose more procedures for women than men to start a business. Sixteen countries limit women’s ability to own, use and transfer property. And in 17 economies, the civil courts do not value a woman’s testimony the same way as a man’s.
This pattern might give the impression that such legal differences are really only an issue in a selected group of countries. But Doing Business’ sister publication – Women, Business and the Law – tells us otherwise. The report analyzes gender parity in accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court and, most recently, protecting women from violence. It finds that 90 percent of the 173 countries measured have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities. In 30 economies, there are 10 or more legal differences between men and women, predominantly across the Middle East and North Africa.
To counter this, there is ample evidence that those countries that have integrated women more rapidly into the workforce have improved their international competitiveness by developing export-oriented manufacturing industries that tend to favor the employment of women. Legal gender disparities are also associated with lower female school enrollment and labor-force participation.
There is some good news. The Women, Business and the Law 2016 report shows that, between 2013 and 2015, 65 economies made 94 reforms increasing gender parity. The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C) – a joint practice of the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – works across the world to support governments as they design gender-informed and gender-neutral policies, and in many cases implement gender-targeted interventions to improve the business environment and expand market opportunities for women.
One billion women – more than 40% of the women around the world – don’t have access to formal financial services, according to Global Findex.
The gender finance gap remains at 9% in developing countries, although in some parts of the world it is much higher, according to the 2014 Global Findex data.
Women are 20% less likely than men to have a bank account and 17% less likely to have borrowed money formally.
Focusing on Universal Financial Access by 2020 in 25 Countries
To reach financial inclusion, the World Bank Group and partners are focusing on 25 countries where 73% of all financially excluded people live, under the Universal Financial Access by 2020 initiative.
The UFA2020 goal is to enable access for all adults, women and men alike, to a transaction account through which they can access other financial services -- such as savings, credit or insurance -- that can help improve the quality of their lives.
The following 4 charts explain how financially included women are in those 25 countries, according to Findex data.
How many bank accounts do you have? One, two or more? For people in developed countries, a bank account is a fact of everyday life. A constant presence. Something that is pivotal to your home, your work and your family. But imagine if you didn’t have one. How would you be paid? How could you pay for your rent or mortgage, your food, utility bills, and so on?
Photo: GBA Stock Image
As a global community, we’ve made great strides toward achieving the World Bank Group’s goal of universal financial inclusion by 2020. According to the Global Findex, 700 million people gained access to formal financial services between 2011 and 2014. This is equivalent to nearly the entire population of Europe. But the latest numbers from the Global Findex also revealed a startling fact: The gender gap in financial inclusion remains stubbornly intact, with women in emerging economies 20% less likely to have a bank account than men and 17% less likely to have borrowed formally.
Women who lack access to financial services face a number of related obstacles, including lower income and business growth, lower asset ownership – making it harder to borrow – and lower levels of financial capability. These factors, combined with increasing financial responsibility for their households, make . Recognizing that commercial banks can and must play a vital role in closing the financial access gender gap, the Global Banking Alliance for Women (GBA) made a commitment in April 2015 with a subset of its members – Banco BHD León of the Dominican Republic, Banco Pichincha of Ecuador and Diamond Bank Plc of Nigeria – to provide financial access to 1.8 million previously unbanked women in Latin America and Africa by 2020.
Would it surprise you to know that one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence from their intimate partner? Or that as many as 38% of women who are murdered globally are killed by their partners? It is a sad reality, but those are the facts.
Globally, the most common form of violence against women is from an intimate partner. The statistics are shocking. And while these numbers are widely disseminated, the facts persist. The stories repeat themselves, affecting girls and women around the world regardless of race, nationality, social status or income level.
This sad reality was the cause of Nahr Ibrahim Valley’s death in Lebanon, just months after the country's new law on domestic violence was finally passed. The new law came after several cases sparked campaigns and protests in the Lebanese capital surrounding International Women’s Day last year. Unfortunately, it was not enough to save her life, but it can be the hope for thousands of women in the country, who previously had no legal protection against this type of crime.
The World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law project studies where countries have enacted laws protecting women from domestic violence. The fourth report in the series, Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal, finds that more than 1 out of 4 countries covered around the world have not yet adopted such legislation. The effects of this form of violence are multifold. It can lead to lower productivity, increase absenteeism and drive up health-care costs. Moreover, where laws do not protect women from domestic violence, women are likely to have shorter life spans.
Domestic violence, also viewed as gender-specific violence, commonly directed against women, which occurs in the family and in interpersonal relationships, can take different forms. Abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual or economic. The 2016 edition of Women, Business and the Law shows that, even where laws do exist, in only 3 out of 5 economies do they cover all four of those types of violence. Subjecting women to economic violence, which can keep them financially dependent, is only addressed in about half of the economies covered worldwide.
In most developed nations, when dealing with the aftermath of a natural catastrophe, an accident, a divorce – or even retirement – women know they can buy and rely on insurance to handle the damages, give them access to long-term savings or, at a minimum, cover a portion of their lost assets.
In emerging and developing markets, on the other hand, this is usually not the case. Working at IFC in Washington and staying in touch with my family at home in Senegal, I’ve heard countless stories of men and women living in terrible conditions after a natural disaster.
These are not only people with lower incomes. I’ve met women who have lost everything following their spouse’s death or divorce because customary practices and inheritance laws did not give them access to the family assets. (In fact, in 20 percent of economies around the world, women do not have the same inheritance rights as men.) Worse, there are women whose children have died because the public hospital was too full and too busy to accommodate them at the time they needed medical help, and because they did not have the means to afford private health care.
These are sobering and, sadly, true stories that very seldom make headlines. Yet if we look at families’ needs and at how women tend to be more affected by death, disaster and family illness, the answer seems simple: insurance.
It’s only when something bad happens that, all of a sudden, people – especially women, who tend to be more risk-aware – wish that they had planned better to deal with the situation at hand. What tends to keep women from choosing insurance as the solution to their risk-mitigation needs are misperceptions, affordability, lack of awareness, lack of bank accounts or access, and the stories of people with insurance policies that do not seem to cover any claims.
The urgent challenge of generating jobs and incomes – as the world’s working-age population is poised to soar – will require making the most of all the job-creating energies of the private sector and the strategy-setting skill of the public sector. Today in Ankara, Turkey, the World Bank Group renewed its commitment to strengthen the global economy’s most promising and inclusive source of job creation: small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
At a signing ceremony at the B20 conference of global business leaders – coinciding with the G20 forum of government leaders from the world’s largest economies – the Bank Group joined in a partnership with a new organization promoted by the B20: the World SME Forum (WSF), which is to become the global platform to coordinate practical assistance and policy support for SMEs.
Based in İstanbul, WSF has been founded through a partnership between the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and ICC’s World Chambers Federation.
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim – in Ankara, Turkey, on September 4, 2015 – signs a Memorandum of Understanding to confirm the Bank Group's partnership with the World SME Forum. Also signing the document, along with President Kim, is Rifat Hisarciklioglu, the Chairman of B20 Turkey and the President of TOBB (the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey).
SMEs are a vital engine of innovation and entrepreneurship, and the success of the SME sector is central to every country’s prospects for job creation and economic growth. Providing support for SMEs is a fundamental priority for the World Bank Group, as we pursue our global goals of eradicating extreme poverty by the year 2030 and boosting shared prosperity.
SMEs are crucial to every economy: They provide as much as two-thirds of all employment, according to a recent survey of 104 countries – and, in the 85 countries that showed positive net job creation, the smallest-size enterprises accounted for more than half of total net new jobs.
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How safe and how stable is today’s international financial system? Eight years since the global bond markets started quaking – and almost seven years since the Lehman Brothers debacle triggered a worldwide meltdown – is the financial system resilient enough to recover from sudden shocks?
These are not just rhetorical questions, but urgent ones. Amid the ominous recent tremors within the European Union – with the intensifying risk that insolvent Greece could soon “crash out” of the eurozone if it fails to extract more bailout money from its exasperated rescuers – the global financial system may be about to get another real-life lesson in riding out traumatic turbulence.
So mark your calendars for this Wednesday, May 6, when a top-level conference with some of the world’s leading financial luminaries will be livestreamed online at (click here) this website from 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m. Many of the world’s top regulators, policymakers and scholars – brought together by the Institute for New Economic Thinking – will gather at the International Monetary Fund for a day-long exploration of “Finance and Society.”
A sense of déjà vu might seem to surround the conference agenda, especially for World Bank and IMF colleagues who recall the nonstop financial anxiety that consumed the Spring Meetings just a few weeks ago. A similar economic dread reportedly pervaded last week’s Milken Global Economic Conference in Los Angeles.
Yet the INET conference may be poised to offer a somewhat different perspective. The Spring Meetings featured the familiar lineup of business-suited, grim-and-greying Finance Ministers – mostly male, mostly middle-aged, mostly mainstream moderates – but the group of experts at the “Finance and Society” conference will reflect a welcome new dose of diversity. Every major speaker on the agenda is a woman.
The economists at the pinnacle of the world’s most powerful financial institutions – Christine Lagarde of the IMF and Janet Yellen of the U.S. Federal Reserve System – will keynote the conference, and the proceedings will include such influential financial supervisors as Sarah Booth Raskin of the U.S. Treasury and Brooksley Born and Sharon Bowen of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. There’ll also be a pre-conference speech by the woman who has suddenly galvanized the Washington economic debate: No, not Hillary Clinton, but Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The new global roster of financial leaders – in this conference's case, all of them women – illustrates how economic policymaking is now, at last, drawing on the skills of an ever-wider-ranging talent pool. The economic expertise featured this week is bound to mark a positive step forward, considering the ruinous impact of the recent mismanagement by middle-aged mainstream men. (Sorry, guys, but can you really blame people for noticing that the pale-stale-and-male crowd allowed the world to drift toward the Crash of 2008?)
This week’s conference agenda is admirably forthright about the challenge: “Complexity, special interest, and weak systems of governance and accountability continue to interfere with the ability of the financial system to serve society's needs.” With Lagarde and Yellen setting the tone – and with Warren adding an injection of populist vigor – this week’s INET conference seems likely to offer some imaginative insights that go beyond the familiar Spring Meetings formula.
If ever there were a time when an INET-style dose of “new economic thinking” might be needed, it’s now. Growth is sluggish and sometimes even stagnant in many developed nations, amid what Largarde calls “the new mediocre.” Markets are fragile and currencies are volatile in many developing countries. A commodity-price slump may drain the coffers of many resource-rich but undiversified economies. As mournful pundits have been lamenting seemingly ad infinitum and sans frontières, the global economy is suffering from a prolonged hangover after its pre-2008 binge of irrational exuberance.
As if the worries about “secular stagnation” were not enough, there’s also the tragedy of Greece, where an economic calamity has unfolded like a slow-motion car wreck as financial markets breathlessly await the all-too-predictable collision. Regular readers of this blog will surely have noted that fears of Greece’s potential crashout from the eurozone have been nearing a crescendo – and the possible default-to-the-drachma drama may soon reach its catharsis.