As World Bank Managing Director Caroline Anstey said in her remarks at last Thursday’s event on women in the private sector, women make up nearly 50 percent of the world’s population. Despite this, they are only 40.8 percent of the formal global labor market. This gap represents a vast economic potential that could have the power to create jobs, drive economic growth and transform the global economy as we currently know it—shaky, stagnant and according to some of the data, in recession.
Unfortunately, women around the world continue to be deprived of economic opportunities. In some places, women are legally barred from working the same night hours as men. In many others, they are unable to get the financing they need to start—or grow—their businesses. And although education has been enshrined as a universal human right, young women continue to fight for their right to be educated so that they can become productive members of the economy—just last week, that fight almost turned fatal for one girl. The experiences that some women are lucky enough to take for granted—such as the opportunity to go to school, freely pursue a career and start a business if they wanted to—aren’t the norm. In far too many places, women with opportunities are the exception.
Leaving women out of the economy is not just unfair and unjust, it’s also not smart economics. So how do we change things? A commitment to more equitable policies and legislation is one way. Education to give women the skills they need to get jobs is another. And women entrepreneurs who seek capital for their businesses could benefit from loan products that are customized to their needs.
Empowering women to become full economic citizens is a crucial part of the World Bank’s work. At the Annual Meetings in Tokyo last Thursday, distinguished panelists such as H.E. President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, World Bank President Jim Kim and CIDA President Margaret Biggs came together to talk about how we can pursue a path of economic growth that includes the world’s other half. If you missed it, click here to tune in. And let us at @Worldbankpsd know what you think with hashtag #womenbiz.