Today is International Women’s Day--though personally I think women deserve to be celebrated more than one day a year!
My colleagues and I who work at the Bank on enabling equity in agriculture celebrate women every day and recognize their contributions to their families, communities and countries. We wanted to use this global celebration to update you on some of the things we’ve learned from our work to make women’s lives better.
Women have a big need for reliable and timely access to technical and market information: We believe that information and communication technologies (ICT) have the potential to completely change rural women’s lives, especially women farmers who often have less access to information compared to male farmers. Our recently completed study , which looked at practical ways to integrate ICTs into agriculture projects in Zambia and Kenya, found that rural and agricultural women have a lot to gain from access to ICTs. However we know that the use of ICTs to help women farmers depends on a number of factors, such as literacy, infrastructure and cost. Among the things we learned: ICT can enhance and expand the impact of programs for rural women; it is essential to listen and learn through focus groups and other research approaches to understand women’s specific information needs that can be met by ICT; and women often learn better from other women. This study is the first step in a growing program to understand how we can best support women farmers with ICT.
I recall a visit to a Bank-funded project in a rural Bolivian community. An enthusiastic Quechua woman was proudly telling me that she was about to undertake the 3-hour journey to Sucre with her “wawa” (baby) to get the three price quotes she needed to purchase wire for the community fences. She was participating in one of over 600 investments designed to help vulnerable rural communities in Bolivia lift themselves out of poverty, within the scope of the Community Investment in Rural Areas Project (PICAR) executed by the Ministry of Rural Development of Lands.
“You just have one wawa, right?,” I asked. She replied: “Well, this is the youngest of six children; the others will stay home. My ten-year-old daughter will look after the younger ones. Right now my husband is working in the Chapare, harvesting coca leaves. He only comes home occasionally.”
After talking with her I had mixed feelings. One the one hand, I was worried that our gender-targeted project was asking too much of her and might be harming her kids in some way. On the other hand, I realized that it was giving her a unique chance to engage in tasks historically performed by the men.
Women are emerging as a major force for change. Countries that have invested in girls’ education and removed legal barriers that prevent women from achieving their potential are now seeing the benefits.
Let’s take Latin America. More than 70 million women have joined the labor force in recent years. Two-thirds of the increase in women’s labor force participation in the last two decades can be attributed to more education and the fact that women marry later and have fewer children. As a result, between 2000 and 2010, women's earnings contributed to about 30% of the reduction in extreme poverty in the region.
In fact, for countries to leave poverty behind, both men and women need to get to equal and push the frontiers of equal opportunities even further. But to get there, we need to tackle three issues.
First, violence against women needs to end. More than 700 million women worldwide are estimated to have been subject to violence at the hands of a husband or partner. Domestic violence comes with great cost to individuals but also has significant impact on families, communities, and economies. Its negative impact on productivity costs Chile up to 2% of its GDP and Brazil 1.2%.
Many girls and women have little control over their sexual and reproductive health: If current trends persist, more than 142 million girls will be married off over the next decade while they are still children themselves.
This solid social network is an essential element in understanding and responding to the challenges that Armenia faces – and it can, if well-mobilized, help boost the country’s ability to reduce poverty and ensure that economic growth and prosperity are shared among all.
So, for me this is an opportune moment to pause and reflect on some of the gender realities that I am learning about in Armenia, including their influence on socio-economic dynamics.
We were ready to probe the effect of male out-migration from rural areas in Guatemala on women’s role in farming. But when we approached surveyors, experts, policymakers, and municipal officials, they were, quite simply, puzzled.
Can we envision a time when we will no longer be surprised to hear that a woman is leading an energy or technology company? Can closing the gender gap in leadership, especially in male-dominated industries, be a possibility in fewer than 100 years?
Today’s dynamic women in top leadership positions are opening up the possibility of answering these questions with a resounding “Yes!” They have shattered glass ceilings and paved the way forward for countless others trying to uproot deeply entrenched ideas about women’s and men’s differing roles and opportunities in business and society. As a result, more and more women are now recognizing and making progress towards transcending the glass walls that also silo them in certain managerial functions, such as human resources and communications.
However, a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) released last week reminds us that gender diversity gains are not always sustained. Featuring unique data collected from 1,300 private sector companies in 39 developing countries, the report states that concerted efforts are required to consolidate progress and change mindsets while fighting unconscious biases at all levels of society.