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Taking On gender norms to empower women

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
All societies are guided by a certain number of rules - formal or not, written or unwritten, that define how members of the community are expected to behave, how they should interact with each other, what is acceptable or not. These so-called “social norms” permeate many aspects of our lives. They are often so deeply-entrenched that individuals may have a hard time distinguishing norms imposed upon them by society from their own individual preferences.
Gender relations are one aspect of our lives where the role and impact of social norms are particularly obvious. Even today, gender roles and stereotypes continue to exert significant influence over the way men and women behave, and how they interact with each other.
That is why it is critical for us to acknowledge, understand, and, if necessary, challenge existing social norms when designing and implementing projects that are meant to improve the lives of women. From reducing fertility rates in Bangladesh to combating gender-based violence in Haiti, Senior Social Development Specialist Maria Beatriz Orlando gives us examples of World Bank projects that effectively empowered women by addressing the reality of gender norms on the ground.

Improving the quality of skills training: What the Adolescent Girls Initiative pilots can teach us

Sarah Haddock's picture
Also available in: Español

The Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) through its eight pilots taught us a great deal about how to make skills training more female-friendly and support young women's transition to productive employment. In addition to all the lessons we learned about working with young women, the pilots also taught us a lot about how to improve the overall quality of skills training.

Our Top 5 quality enhancement lessons, along with links to more information, can be found online in our Resource Guide and here:

Lesson 1: Skills training projects need to set realistic expectations for self-employment versus wage employment. In contexts with limited opportunities for wage employment, skills training projects should help orient youth to the likelihood of self-employment and develop content suitable to different levels of aspiration in that sphere. In Liberia, for example, we offered a job skills track and a business skills track. We ended up having to gradually reduce the size of the job skills track from 35 percent of trainees in Round 1 to just 18 percent in Round 3 after our impact evaluation showed the employment rate in the business skills track was much stronger. This wasn’t easy—it involved changing the orientation of the client, the training providers, and the girls themselves.  

Lesson 2: Involving the private sector can improve the market relevance and overall effectiveness of training. AGI pilots partnered with the private sector in the implementation arrangements by hiring private companies to provide training tailored to the needs of a specific firm/sector—as in the Rwanda AGI—and by hiring private sector training and employment service companies to deliver training and assist with job placement—as in Haiti, Liberia, and Nepal. We also took low-cost steps to engage the private sector throughout implementation. For example, the Liberia AGI organized Private Sector Working Groups to provide routine guidance on project activities and enlisted members of the private sector to inspire the trainees by serving as guest speakers in the classroom.

Lesson 3: Post-training support is critical and must be planned and budgeted for early on. Even Getting the training up and running always seems like priority number one, but over the course of implementing the AGI pilots we learned that we needed to do a better job planning and budgeting for more structured and intensive post-training support from the very beginning of each project. The AGI pilots provided three to six months of post-training job placement assistance—such as internships, job search coaching, and so on—or business advisory services—such as business mentoring and check-ins, linkages to micro-franchises and business capital, etc. The exact balance of classroom training versus placement support hasn’t been rigorously tested, but our experience suggests this support can really help trainees put their new skills to use in the labor market. An extended follow-up period may be particularly important for young women just entering the labor market or breaking into non-traditional trades.

Lesson 4: Improving the monitoring and verification of employment outcomes is essential if we want to improve employment outcomes in skills training projects. Many projects don’t monitor attendance or performance during training, let alone keep track of participants after training ends. AGI pilots monitored business and job performance and verified employment outcomes up to six months after classroom training ended. The pilots relied on self-reporting by service providers, then verified these claims among a random sample of trainees (about 25 percent) by talking with employers, local women, and community members, and by accessing the trainee’s business records. The percentage of employed youth in the sample was then extrapolated to the population that the training provider claimed to be employed. In Liberia and Nepal, where pilots implemented results-based contracts, this extrapolation was used as a basis for the final payment. Any inaccurate claims by training providers proportionally reduced their payment and could jeopardize eligibility for future rounds of training. In the Resource Guide, you can download the employment/business verification strategy from the Liberia AGI, as well as tools for monitoring and placement verification.

Lesson 5: Performance-based incentives are operationally feasible—even in fragile settings—and seem to improve outcomes, though this is an area for more rigorous testing. We used results-based contracts for training providers in the relatively small program in Liberia, targeting 2,500 young women, as well as in the Nepal AGI, which was embedded in a larger program that trains 15,000 youth annually. Both projects achieved impressive results and we hypothesize that the performance incentives for the service providers accounts for this in part.

A forthcoming and final blog in this series will address recommendations for future learning and research from the AGI.

What I learned from the BEES about women’s empowerment and nutrition

Melissa Williams's picture

About four years ago, I started coordinating a knowledge and learning network, which we ultimately named Business, Enterprise and Employment Support (BEES) for women in South Asia. This network was a first for the Bank in South Asia because it comprised leading civil society organizations in eight South Asian countries* —not our typical clients—and it focused on sharing knowledge across borders about what works for women’s economic empowerment. I remember being told at the time to focus only on economic empowerment of women—don’t give in to “mission creep.” That was impossible. 

This International Women’s Day, three women who inspire me

Zubedah Nanfuka's picture
Also available in: 中文 | العربية | Español | Français
March 8 is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality." The United Nations is encouraging the world to envision a world where women and girls can have the choice to participate in politics, get an education, have an income, and — an area I hold dear to my heart — live in a society free from violence and discrimination.

“We love our daughters. But we need a son.”

Giorgia DeMarchi's picture

“We love our daughters. But we need a son.”

This refrain captures the common sentiment in Armenia, and is at the heart of the growing issue of sex imbalances in the country. Armenia today has one of the most imbalanced sex ratios at birth in the world, with 114 baby boys born for every 100 baby girls, above the natural rate of 105. We recently met with groups across Armenia to dig deeper into the root causes of sex preferences, with the hope of helping find an effective policy solution.
This issue has long affected countries like China, India and others in Asia, but it has emerged only recently in the South Caucasus. In Armenia, the ratio of boy births to girl births started increasing in the 1990s, when economic disruption and the desire to have smaller families, combined with the availability of sex detection technology, led many families to choose sex selection in the quest to have a son. The result? A generation of “missing girls,” as Amartya Sen first called this phenomenon.

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:

Making skills training female-friendly: What pilots from the Adolescent Girls Initiative can teach us

Sarah Haddock's picture
Also available in: Français | العربية
The global jobs crisis has fueled interest globally in how to improve the quality of skills training programs to prepare people for productive employment. The Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) has some of the best results to-date among skills training projects that have been rigorously evaluated, so it makes sense to ask what made these pilots successful.

From 2008-2015, we implemented pilots in eight countries, with the aim of supporting young women’s transition to productive employment. The AGI marked the Bank’s first experience working with this population—adolescent girls and young women—on this topic—skills and employment. We learned a great deal lot along the way, which we have collated in an online Resource Guide to share with other teams.

Two models

We tested two main program models—a classroom-based Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) model that delivered job and business skills plus life skills, and a Girls’ Club model that delivered life skills and short livelihood trainings in community-based safe space clubs. Both significantly impacted economic outcomes for young women, though the Girls’ Club model was far less expensive.

In Liberia, for example, the Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (EPAG) project—a TVET, classroom-based program—increased participants' employment by 47 percent and earnings by 80 percent. In Uganda, meanwhile, the Girl's Club program raised the likelihood of girls’ engagement in income-generating activities by 35 percent and had large impacts on risky sexual behaviors and the girls’ experience of violence.

A recent meta-analysis of Active Labor Market Policies (ALMPs) suggests that average program effects tend to be larger for females, and that training and other human capital interventions are particularly effective among women. This suggests that both AGI models—classroom-based vocational training and community-based Girls' Club training—should continue to be implemented and tested across a variety of settings.

Lessons learned

So what made the AGI projects effective for young women?

First, AGI worked hard to get girls into the projects and to keep them there—which is challenging in itself, especially for younger girls. We know that attrition from training programs is high, but we don’t really know the magnitude of the problem because so many projects don’t monitor or report individual attendance. When projects do report attrition and disaggregate by sex, they often find young women drop out more than young men and for different reasons. AGI pilots were able to successfully recruit young women and maintained completion rates above 90 percent.

Here are some of the steps AGIs took to recruit young women and retain them: Another key female-friendly feature of AGI projects was their explicit aim to steer women towards more profitable trades. By default, many skills training programs channel young women into traditionally female fields that are often less lucrative and less secure. Breaking down job segregation isn’t easy, but it is possible—and should, arguably, be an objective of projects aimed at improving economic outcomes for women.

Providing girls with accurate information about the returns to various male- and female-dominated trades is a first step. An experiment in Kenya provided such information and was able to get young women to sign up for training in male-dominated trades, but later on they were no more likely to complete training or pursue work in those trades than young women who had not received the information.

Qualitative work in Uganda among women who successfully "crossed over" into male-dominated fields found the presence of male role models early in a young woman’s career was an important factor, suggesting further that information alone isn’t enough.

Here are some things AGIs did to break occupational segregation:
  • Conducted local labor market assessments that intentionally explored market demand in non-traditional trades for women;
  • Included an orientation period to educate participants about their training options;
  • Encouraged women to enter non-traditional trades in groups;
  • Supported participants with mentors, other role models from the community, and careful monitoring for potential unintended consequences.

So what’s the bottom line?

Being intentional about designing and implementing projects that work well for young women requires more planning and resources up front, but the results are impressive—making the investment worthwhile. A single program doesn’t have to do it all—strategies for making training female-friendly need to make sense in the local context.

Forthcoming blogs will explore broader "good practice" lessons from the AGI—not specific to young women—and highlight recommendations for future research and learning.

In Bolivia, being female and Indigenous conveys multiple disadvantages

Caren Grown's picture
Florina Lopez spoke movingly about her experience of double discrimination, being both Indigenous and a woman, at the recent launch of the new World Bank Group report, Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century. Lopez belongs to the Panamanian Indigenous Guna people and has spent decades working for Indigenous movements, starting at the community level and now coordinating the regional Network of Indigenous Women's Biodiversity.

She is one of many Indigenous women in Latin America who have dedicated their lives to creating more inclusive societies. While it is important to acknowledge that not all Indigenous groups and not all women have the same experiences, the concept of intersecting identities helps explain the concept of  "additive" or "multiplied disadvantage" (or advantage). Individuals are part of multiple social structures and roles simultaneously, and these structures interact and influence experiences, relations, and outcomes. 

The intersection of gender and ethnicity, for example, can deepen the gaps in some development outcomes. Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-first Century explains that, while Indigenous Peoples' access to services has improved significantly, services are generally not culturally adapted—so the groups they are meant to benefit do not take full advantage of them. In Bolivia, where more than 40 percent of people identify themselves as Indigenous or Afro-descendants, according to the 2012 Population and Housing Census, indigenous women face a higher risk of being excluded. Further, according to a 2014 Perception Survey on Women’s Exclusion and Discrimination, all women feel discriminated against in different aspects of their lives, with Indigenous women particularly affected.

How does intersectionality and discrimination play out in education and health?

Access to education in Bolivia has improved considerably in recent years. Today, overall primary schooling completion rates and secondary school enrollment rates are similar for boys and girls. Yet major gender gaps persist among Indigenous and rural students.

In urban Bolivia, females are less likely to finish secondary school than males.  In urban areas, an Indigenous female student is about half as likely to finish secondary school compared to a non-Indigenous male student. But an Indigenous rural woman is five times less likely than a non-Indigenous urban man to complete secondary school (see graph, based on Census 2012):

Many factors prevent girls from attaining higher levels of schooling in Bolivia, including domestic care work, early pregnancy, and the need for income.  But girls who persist in secondary and higher education face other barriers:  one in five female students aged 15 to 24 report having experienced discrimination in academic environments: 25 percent of Indigenous women versus 18 percent of non-Indigenous women.

The situation is similar in terms of access to key health services.  According to household survey data (2013), while almost all non-Indigenous women in urban Bolivia give birth with either a nurse or a doctor present, that is the case for only 6 out of 10 Indigenous women in rural Bolivia. While this may be explained in part by Indigenous women’s preferences to use traditional parteras, the difference in access rates may also in part be driven by perceived discrimination. According to the Perception Survey, 20 percent of Indigenous women report having experienced discrimination when seeking care, compared to 14 percent among non-Indigenous.

Investments in education and health shape the ability of men and women to reach their full potential, allowing them to take advantage of economic opportunities and lead productive lives. Limited access to these kinds of investments not only adversely affects an individual’s opportunities, but may have significant costs for entire communities and economies.

Inclusion must be front and center on the development agenda. More and better information—both qualitative and quantitative—is needed to highlight the persistent issue of overlapping disadvantages. This will allow us, ultimately, to do much more to expand every person’s capacity to participate fully and equally and achieve his or her potential. As Florina Lopez said earlier this month, "Without the effective participation of Indigenous women in society, it will be difficult to eradicate the poverty and extreme poverty that we live in."

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.