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gender equality

5 Arab women who are breaking down stereotypes and building their countries

Bassam Sebti's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español | Français

There is a horrible old saying in some Arab countries: Women belong to their homes and husbands only. They shouldn’t be educated, work, or have an opinion. This belief, unfortunately, still dominates some areas in the Arab world. But modern, educated, and strong-willed Arab women and men find this saying backward and unfitting.

Women are 49.7% of about 345.5 million people in the Middle East and North Africa region. Some in the West think of these women as zipped up in a tent in the desert, probably beaten up by their husbands, a stereotype many of today’s Arab women fight and prove wrong.

Yes, there are still many barriers remaining in the way of closing the gender gap in the Arab world, but many advances have been made in education, politics, entrepreneurship, labor, and health. Arab women today are entrepreneurs, leaders, activists, educators, Nobel Prize winners, and much more. They are reshaping their societies and building a better road to gender equality and girl empowerment for generations to come.

Here are some of many stories on how women from different Arab countries are reshaping their societies and fighting gender inequality:

How joint land titles help women’s economic empowerment: the case of Vietnam

Wael Zakout's picture
Photo credit: CIAT/Flickr
Vietnam is my first love working for the World Bank. It is the first country I worked in when I joined the Bank back in 1994.
 
At the time, the country was still opening up to the outside world, and the Bank had just set up a small office there. I recently returned to Vietnam after 15 years, this time as the Bank’s Global Lead for Land. I saw a completely different country: while the old city charm is still there, Hanoi has transformed to the point that it is really difficult to recognize… as if I had landed in Japan, China, or any other Southeast Asian country.
 
The airport used to be one gate; now, it is a modern airport not much different from any airport in Western Europe or the United States. I remember that, when I worked in Vietnam in the mid-90s, GDP per capita was averaging US$200, and around 50% of people lived in extreme poverty. Today, GDP per capita has soared to about US$2000, while extreme poverty has dropped to around 3% according to the US$1.9/day extreme poverty line... An impressive achievement in less than 20 years.
 
My trip to Vietnam had the goal of helping the government modernize and automate the land administration system. In the early 90s, the country launched an ambitious reform program to transform the land use model from communal farming to individual household ownership by breaking up the communal land structure and distributing land to individual households. This reform was then credited with changing Vietnam from a net importer of rice to one of the largest rice exporters in the world in only a few years.
 
In accordance with the Land Law of 1993, the first Land Use Certificates (LUCs) issued under the program were in the name of the “head of household”, i.e. in the name of men only. Later on, the Vietnamese government, with support from the World Bank, strove to change things around by issuing LUCs bearing both the wife’s and the husband’s names.

The future is in her hands

Bassam Sebti's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français | Español


She is described as having strong ideas. A spirited and energetic girl who dreams of a big future, Shams helps children and encourages them to learn and play.

But Shams is not a real child. She is a Muppet and one of the most popular fictional characters in the children’s show Iftah Ya Simisim, the Arabic version of the popular, long-running US children’s show Sesame Street, which was introduced in the Arab world in the 1980s.

A new strategy to address gender inequality

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture
Also available in: Español | العربية | Français | 中文
The evidence is clear: When countries value girls and women as much as boys and men; when they invest in their health, education, and skills training; when they give women greater opportunities to participate in the economy, manage incomes, own and run businesses—the benefits extend far beyond individual girls and women to their children and families, to their communities, to societies and economies at large.

Discriminating against women keeps countries poorer

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español | Français | 中文 | 日本語
© Stephan Bachenheimer/World Bank


In 100 countries around the world, women are barred from doing certain work solely because they are women. More than 150 countries have at least one law that is discriminatory towards women. And only 18 countries are free of any law disadvantaging women.
 
This is just the tip of the iceberg of legal barriers for women to achieve their full economic potential. New World Bank Group research in the Women, Business and the Law 2016 report shows that in 32 countries women cannot apply for passports in the same way as men and in 18 countries they cannot get a job if their husbands feel it is not in the family’s interest. Jordan and Iran are among them. In 59 countries, there are no laws against sexual harassment at work. Myanmar, Uzbekistan and Armenia are among 46 countries where there is no legal protection against domestic violence. In a nutshell, the research makes for depressing reading when you care about inclusion and ending poverty. 

The Poor, the Bank, and the Post-2015 Development Agenda

José Cuesta's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español | Français



Something Is Changing


Fifteen years ago, the international community designed the Millennium Development Goals, including that of halving extreme poverty, through a process that mostly took place in New York, behind closed doors. A few years earlier, the World Bank had developed the guidelines of the Poverty Reduction Strategy for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries from Washington, D.C. in a similar fashion.
 
Fortunately, this approach has changed.
 
Today, the process of identifying and consulting on the post-2015 development agenda has been opened to the general public including, importantly, those whom the goals are expected to serve. In fact, the United Nations and other partners have undertaken a campaign to reach out directly to citizens for ideas and feedback on the issues most important to them in the post-2015 agenda. Those who are formulating the post-2015 goals will no longer need to assume what the poor and vulnerable want: they will have a firsthand knowledge of what their priorities are.  
 
The World Bank Group has explicitly stated that our new goals of eradicating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity cannot be achieved without institutions, structures, and processes that empower local communities, hold governments accountable, and ensure that all groups in society are able to participate in decision-making processes. In other words, these goals will not be within reach without a social contract between a country and its citizens that reduces imbalances in voice, participation and power between different groups, including the poor.   

Making International Women's Day Count

Nigel Twose's picture

A question dominated discussions ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8: How can we make it count?
 
Gender equality and empowerment are principles that have been widely adopted for some time; but for many women, particularly those in developing countries, action lags way behind the rhetoric. The same is true in business: Evidence abounds for the business case for investing in women, but the reality remains that for a lot of women, things at work haven’t progressed much beyond what their mothers experienced.
 
It makes sense then that the issues that came up time and again during a panel I participated in at the sixth annual meeting of the UN's Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs)  titled “Jobs, Gender and Development: Confronting the Global Challenge," mainly related to the enduring challenges women face at work. I had gone there thinking I had much to add to that topic, but I came away having learned more than I could share, about topics I hadn’t expected.

3 Blind Spots for Gender Equity: Work, Education, and Violence

Jim Yong Kim's picture
Also available in: Français | Español | العربية

Woman in Nepal

As we mark International Women’s Day, women and girls are better off than just a few decades ago. Boys and girls are going to school in equal numbers in many countries. Women are living longer, healthier lives.

But even with the steady progress we’ve seen over the past few decades, one of our biggest challenges today is to avoid falling prey to a sense of self-satisfaction.  We don’t deserve to, not yet. 

We need a renewed sense of urgency and a clearer understanding of the remaining obstacles.   When it comes to improving the lives of women and girls, we have blind spots.  In fact, we know of three shocking inequalities that persist in education, the working world, and women’s very security and safety.

Blind Spot No. 1: Education of Girls.

We have made impressive gains in achieving universal access to education, but what we’re failing to see is that girls who are poor—those who are the most vulnerable—are getting left behind.  

While wealthier girls in countries like India and Pakistan may be enrolled in school right alongside boys their age, among the poorest 20 percent of children, girls have on average five years less education than do boys.  In Niger, where only one in two girls attends primary school, just one in 10 goes to middle school, and stunningly only one in 50 goes to high school. That’s an outrage.

Why Inclusion of Sexual Minorities Is Crucial to Gender Equality

Fabrice Houdart's picture
In previous articles we discussed why inclusion of sexual minorities is instrumental to the World Bank’s goal of shared prosperity and constitutes smart economics. This piece focuses on how sexual minority inclusion is crucial to achieve progress on our gender equality agenda.

One of the background papers to the World Bank’s 2012 Gender World Development Report, “Masculinities, Social Change and Development,” alluded to Raewyn Connell’s theory of “hegemonic masculinity” as well as the strong correlation between heterosexism and gender inequalities.

Hegemonic masculinity is defined as the gender practice that guarantees the dominant social position of men and the subordinate social position of women. As summarized by Schifter and Madrigal (2000), it is the view that “Men, by virtue of their sex, [are] naturally strong, aggressive, assertive, and hardworking, whereas women [are] submissive, passive, vain, and delicate.” Hegemonic masculinity justifies the social, economic, cultural, and legal deprivations of women.

A Lesson from Malala: Girls’ Education Pays Off

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture



When I heard the news last autumn that 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan had been shot simply for standing up for her right as a girl to get an education, I was horrified.

It also reminded me how lucky I was.

When I was offered a rare scholarship to study abroad, it wasn’t acceptable for me, as a young married Indonesian woman, to live apart from my husband. My mother laid out two options: Either he would join me, which meant giving up his job, or I had to decline the offer.

I know it was her way to advocate for my husband to support me, which he did without hesitation. We both went to the United States to complete our master’s degrees. I combined it with a doctorate in economics, and we had our first child, a daughter, while we both were graduate students.

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