Despite progress, the world is still under-investing in gender equality, a panel of experts agreed at the World Bank’s September 21 Open Forum on Getting to Equal.
More girls are in school and women are living longer, but there is also a “mixed story” on gender equality, said World Bank President Robert Zoellick. While there is “huge potential” for more progress, significant changes are needed to achieve it, he said.
“We haven't been ambitious enough for girls and women,” said Maria Eitel, president and chief executive officer of the Nike Foundation. “[Empowerment] needs to go to a completely different scale.”
Zoellick and Eitel were among 10 panelists debating the issue at the Open Forum, webcast September 21 and hosted by CNN International’s Hala Gorani. Thousands joined a 24-hour chat that began a day earlier. The event came on the heels of the release of a major World Bank research publication, the World Development Report 2012 on Gender.
Panelists said women need economic and political empowerment, job opportunities and access to finance. Although women have better loan repayment records than men, and make better decisions with household finances, they have far fewer economic opportunities. They produce 75% of the world’s food, but hold only 15% of the land. They are 35% of the world’s entrepreneurs, but have only 1% of the wealth.
Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala--until recently the managing director of the World Bank—said market failures block women’s access to economic opportunities, and “waiting for people to do what is right” won’t happen. “You need institutions like the World Bank and policymakers to change things.”
“We strongly need programs that target women, because if we don’t do that, they’re not going to have the access that is needed.”
Over the last month, people from all over the world submitted more than 250 ideas for “getting to equal” and cast nearly 5,000 votes in a poll on gender equality. On Twitter, celebrities like Deepak Chopra, Goldie Hawn and Scooter Braun tweeted about the issue, along with United Nations agencies, business leaders, nonprofits, charities, and activists; 10,000 tweets used the hashtag #thinkequal.
In an idea submitted prior to the Open Forum, Maria Alegre of Argentina proposed a worldwide initiative that would expose male policymakers and CEOs to the inequality borne by a woman “living under unequal circumstances. “ The men would “live, work, interact and experience just like these women do. They will be aware of the potential exclusion overshadows and feel compelled to act.”
The Open Forum is part of an initiative to open up World Bank knowledge and data and to engage the public. Previous Open Forums have focused on the food crisis, open data, jobs, and open development.