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.
A question dominated discussions ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8: How can we make it count?
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.
The first thirty minutes of Elzbieta’s day are the most precious.
Between five and five-thirty in the morning is the only time she gets to herself, which she uses to work out, or read a book. After that, the grind of everyday life in Poland’s countryside takes over. She cooks, washes, cleans, irons, and cooks for her seven children, aged two to fifteen. And it doesn’t stop until late at night.
Elzbieta’s family and other families with multiple children are rather unique in Poland, which has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. When asked why they didn’t have children in a recent country-wide survey, 71 percent of Poles said unstable employment and difficulties in balancing work and family life were big factors.
Their fears are not without reason -- with each child, the risk of poverty increases tremendously -- families with three or more children are more likely to be in the lowest income group, with 26.6 percent of households with four children living in poverty in Poland, according to the Main Statistical Office.
Even buying clothes for children is a daunting task, in such cases. “We have started participating in lotteries organized by local clothes stores, with no luck so far,” Elzbieta said. “We do it because taxes for children’s clothes and shoes were recently raised, and families like ours are most affected. Families with children are just not given a chance.”
Elzbieta talked to me as she picked flowers in a nearby field, while watching her five-year old daughter. The flowers she collected would later be dried on a bench outside her rural home and used for making herbal teas for the family. Even buying tea is a financial challenge for Elzbieta’s family, whose income, a total of PLN 3,280 (about $1,100) comes from social assistance for children, including a disabled child (PLN 2,000) and her husband’s income – after the payment of a home renovation loan – of PLN1, 280.
But hospitality is not to be spared.
“What a shame you cannot be here in two weeks,” our driver said, as we entered Toplica District in Southern Serbia, the poorest part of the country. It is an open countryside of rolling hills, with thick forests on the horizon. Next to the road, neat rows of bushes and low trees appear, dotted with red.
“In two weeks, everything will be red,” he said. “And what do you do with all these cherries?” I asked, half dreaming of one of my mother’s best tarts.
Export to Russia, came the reply. A river of sour cherries flowing from this small corner of Serbia, across Europe and into Russia is a less interesting image than my mother’s spectacular tart, but in a country where signs of the ongoing economic crisis abound, this is good news.
Every field we looked at had new plantings alongside more established trees. A new parasite is apparently threatening these cherry orchards, and foreign experts are working with local growers to control it. Still, it seems clear that people are investing in the business, and this means jobs – though only temporary, tough and lasting long hours of cherry picking, these jobs are a blessing for those who have little else to rely on.
Ivan and his wife Daniela, in the village of Vlahovo, are a case in point - and the face of poverty in the region.
The World Bank recently interviewed several families in Armenia to depict the hardships people face when they cannot earn more than $5 a day per person. The country faces long, harsh winters and paying to stay warm and eat enough to survive the cold can quickly eat into the poor's meager incomes.
The Face of Poverty package aims to show how tough life can be for these families and their belief that education is the singular way out of poverty for their children.
Watch the full documentary here.
DAVOS, Switzerland – When we talk about particularly difficult issues at the World Bank Group, I always ask my team a simple question: What’s the plan?
If they have a plan, the next question I ask is whether the plan is serious enough to match the scale of the problem. Here at the World Economic Forum at Davos, one of the main issues before us is an extraordinarily tough one – how do we reduce the growing income inequality around the world? Income inequality has grown to enormous proportions but my question to World Bank staff and folks here in Davos is the same: What’s the plan to lessen income inequality across the world?
Income inequality can appear to be an intractable problem. But the fact is we already know a lot about how economies can grow in a way that includes even the poorest. We need a plan to tackle inequality and we think there are at least five things that we can do right now that could help.
I got together with my friend Asma'a one evening at a popular Cairo café overlooking the Nile. Like many of the young Egyptians I had met that summer, Asma'a was smart, motivated — and unemployed. Since graduating with a law degree, she had applied for countless jobs to no avail, and had all but given up on finding a job in her field of study. She was particularly upset that evening because her parents had forbidden her from accepting a waitressing job, deeming the work to be morally inappropriate. Feeling ever more desperate, Asma'a said she would be willing to take any job just to be able to work.
Asma'a is one of 865 million women worldwide who have the potential to contribute more fully to the global economy. These women represent a powerful resource for driving economic growth and development. Yet the underuse of women's talents and skills is holding many countries back. An International Monetary Fund study estimates that if women like Asma'a were to participate in the labor force at the same rate as men, they could raise GDP in Egypt by 34 percent. Employed women also invest more of their income in their children's health and education, helping families to escape the cycle of poverty.
Tim Richards, Mine Manager of the Amulsar Gold Mine explains the mine
lay-out to Chris Sheldon, Sector Manager of Mining at the World Bank.
Until recently, Armenia was not only landlocked, but also policy locked: a restrictive aviation policy limited options and increased prices for passengers and cargo coming in to or leaving Armenia’s Zvartnots airport outside of Yerevan, the capital. The government had granted exclusive rights to a private, Armenian-owned airline, Armavia, for ten years starting in 2003, and therefore restricted competition from foreign airlines. So, even a regular holiday sometimes started with a long road trip to Georgia’s capital Tbilisi to connect with cheaper flights there.
The World Bank Group is searching internally and globally for 18 experienced and driven professionals to help achieve two ambitious goals: reducing the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day to 3% by 2030 and promoting shared prosperity by fostering the income growth of the bottom 40%. These leaders will be crucial to our plan to improve the way we work, so we can deploy the best skills and expertise to our clients everywhere, to help tackle the most difficult development challenges around the world.
Last month, the Bank Group’s member countries endorsed our new strategy which for the first time leverages the combined strength of the WBG institutions and their unique ability to partner with the public and private sectors to deliver development solutions backed by finance, world class knowledge and convening services.
Instrumental to the success of our strategy is the establishment of Global Practices and Cross-Cutting Solution Areas, which will bring all technical staff together, making it possible for us to expand our knowledge and better connect global and local expertise for transformational impact. Our ultimate goal is to deploy the best skills and expertise to our clients at the right time, and become the leading partner for complex development solutions.
We are accepting applications for the Global Practice senior directors who will lead these pools of specialists in the following areas: Agriculture; Education; Energy and Extractives; Environment and Natural Resources; Finance and Markets; Governance; Health, Nutrition, and Population; Macroeconomics and Fiscal Management; Poverty; Social Protection and Labor; Trade and Competitiveness; Transport and Information Technology; Urban, Rural, and Social Development; and Water.
- Public private partnership
- fiscal management
- Rural Development
- disaster risk management
- health nutrition and population
- Natural Resources Management
- global practices
- Urban Development
- Social Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Labor and Social Protection
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Financial Sector
- Agriculture and Rural Development
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — I arrived in the Sahel on a four-country trip thinking of the trouble in the region: drought, hunger, and conflict. I left impressed by the political leadership and the resolve of the people. To learn more, please watch this video blog.