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.
"Five years ago, I was no one," said Kunti Devi to me, sitting up straight against the wall of her one-room mud hut in Bara, a small village in India's eastern state of Bihar. "Now, people know me by my own name, not just by the name of my children."
I was sitting on the floor, across from Devi, a mother of eight, who belonged to one of the most vulnerable and socially excluded castes in India. She recalled how when her husband got injured and lost his job a few years ago, the family was pushed over the brink — from subsistence to hunger and poverty. At the time, Devi took a bold step for a poor woman used to living in the shadows of society. She joined a women's self-help group in her village and took a small loan to raise goats. With the income she generated, she repaid her first loan and took another one — this time to lease land to produce grain. She borrowed again when her family faced a health crisis. Today, Devi has several sources of income. She is also planning ahead. She wants to open a food outlet on a busy road. And now, with two of her sons married, she wants to find a larger living space for her growing family.
This week I had the pleasure of attending Women Deliver 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — the largest global gathering of the decade to focus on the health and well-being of girls and women. The conference convened several thousand people from 140 countries — including many ministers and parliamentarians — to generate momentum and political commitment for girls’ and women’s rights and reproductive health.
We heard the voices of the wealthy and powerful — like Melinda Gates and Chelsea Clinton — as well as the voices that too often go unheard — including young people, sexual minorities, widows, women with disabilities, and women living with HIV and AIDS. I was really inspired by the passion of all the participants — of whom, by the way, 40% were male, quite a high proportion for gender events — and was reminded that the safe and healthy experience I had having my own kids is so far from the reality of many millions of women around the world.
For almost a year, the World Bank has been supporting the Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) in Haiti, where much of the country is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake. Through this program, 1,000 low-income Haitian girls between the ages of 17 and 20 who did not complete secondary school have been able to receive vocational and technical training in areas of work not traditionally open to women.
The program seeks to ensure that these young Haitian women can enter the labor force with skills and experience. Internships are an integral component of the training they receive. In this context, the acquisition of technical skills suited to labor market needs and a change in mindset are critical to altering this situation in tangible ways.
I had the opportunity to go to Port-au-Prince when the program was launched and meet the future beneficiaries. I returned a few weeks ago to observe the progress made.
In a new study on gender equality, researchers asked 4,000 people in 20 countries to describe the gender norms in their communities and the influence those norms have on their lives and their every-day decisions. The researchers spoke with men and women, youth and adults, living in villages and cities in developing countries, as well as higher income countries.
Here, three of the researchers describe their most memorable experiences from the interviews and the findings that surprised them the most.
KABUL -- On my first trip to Afghanistan as World Bank Group president, I met with many of the country's senior leaders, including President Hamid Karzai, as well as leaders in business and among women's groups. The challenges for Afghanistan, like many fragile or conflict-affected states, are huge, but it's critically important that we build on successes that we've achieved in the last decade. Learn more by watching the video.
Available in Spanish
In celebration of International Women's Day on March 8, the World Bank hosted a live web chat with gender specialists from around the world.
For just over an hour, World Bank Vice President of Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte joined World Bank Director of Gender and Development Jeni Klugman along with the authors of the report "On Norms and Agency" to discuss how women and men overcome the challenges posed by gender norms.
By Mirjana Popovic and Vesna Kostic
Mar. 8: Working Women’s Day or Jobless Women’s Day in Serbia?
By Mirjana Popovic, Online Communications Producer
In the former Yugoslavia, where I was born, International Women’s Day used to celebrate respect and appreciation for women in society: mothers, wives, female colleagues – in this order.
What is it like in today’s Serbia? The glory of the holiday has faded and new challenges have arisen.