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The gender gap in financial inclusion won’t budge. Here are three ways to shrink it

Kristalina Georgieva's picture
Also available in: العربية
Marie Hortense Raharimalala visiting a bank agent in Antananarivo, Madagascar. A biometric fingerprint is used for identification. © Nyani Quarmyne/International Finance Corporation
Marie Hortense Raharimalala visiting a bank agent in Antananarivo, Madagascar. A biometric fingerprint is used for identification. © Nyani Quarmyne/International Finance Corporation


I opened my first bank account as a new student at the London School of Economics in 1987. This seemingly small act meant that I could manage my own finances, spend my own money, and make my own financial decisions. It meant freedom to decide for myself.

That financial freedom is still elusive to 980 million women around the world. And, worryingly, this does not seem to be improving. Our Global Findex database shows that while more and more women are opening bank accounts, a global gender gap of 7 percentage points still exists—and it has not moved since 2011.

There are some bright spots. In Bolivia, Cambodia, the Russian Federation, and South Africa, for example, account ownership is equal for men and women. And in Argentina, Indonesia, and the Philippines, the gap we see at the global level is reversed—women have more accounts than men. 

But there are also some very troubling, and persistent gaps. The same countries that had gender gaps in 2011 generally have them today. In Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Turkey, the gap in account ownership between men and women is almost 30 percentage points. Morocco, Mozambique, Peru, Rwanda, and Zambia also have double-digit differences between men and women.

One of the main reasons that both men and women cite for not having a financial account is that they simply are not earning enough to open one. We need to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to work, earn, and participate in his or her economy. This is at the core of our work at the World Bank Group, especially as we look at the skills people will need for the jobs of the future.

But there are some reasons that keep women specifically from opening accounts. The gender gap in financial inclusion can be traced back step by step through unequal opportunities, laws, and regulations that put an extra barrier on women’s ability to even open that simple bank account.

Countries have to do better in unraveling the complicated web that women face when they try to do something that for a man, is quite simple. How can we level it up? Let me suggest three things as a start: 

Empowering women toward peace and stability

Hartwig Schafer's picture
Chorty Tabo, 25, holds her son, Simon. She fled South Sudan a year ago. She is part of a women’s association, working together in a hair salon in Meri refugee site in the DRC. © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse


More than 1.5 billion people worldwide live in areas plagued by violence and conflict. According to the UN, women in conflict-ridden countries are disproportionately affected. They are actively targeted as a tactic of war to humiliate, terrorize, punish, or forcibly displace them. In fact, women and girls are disproportionately exposed to sexual violence during conflict. And, as more men die, more women and families are left destitute. The World Bank Group is committed to doing more to prevent this cycle of violence against women, as set out in this IEG report.

Entrepreneurship is an important mechanism to help women rebuild their lives and dignity after conflict and during protracted conflict and crisis situations. Take the example of Chorty a war widow who successfully banded together with other war refugees from South Sudan to open a hair salon in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to the UNHCR story, the business is small, but the women are earning money to feed their children and take care of their families. These women are vital role models in their communities and give others hope to rebuild their lives.

Sexual harassment – Where do we stand on legal protection for women?

Paula Tavares's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español | Français
Women abused in her home holding her hand up. Stop sexual harassment against women. Violence and abuse in family relations. © Fure/Shutterstock.com
Woman abused in her home holding her hand up. Stop sexual harassment against women, violence and abuse in family relations. © Fure/Shutterstock.com


The #MeToo movement is transforming the way we perceive, and hopefully, deal with sexual harassment.

For too long women have suffered from this type of violence that has negative consequences on their voice and agency as well as their capacity to fully participate in the economy and society. There is ample evidence of the cost of sexual harassment to businesses – in legal settlements, lost work time and loss of business. But sexual harassment also has negative effects on women’s economic opportunities. For example, if no recourse is available to protect them, instead of reporting the problem, women facing sexual harassment in the workplace often say that they have no other choice but to quit. This may mean starting over, missing out on pay raises, career growth opportunities, and earning potential. Studies suggest that sexual harassment reduces career success and satisfaction for women. Yet, many countries still do not afford women adequate legal protection against this pervasive form of gender inequality.

To build a brighter future, invest in women and girls

Jim Yong Kim's picture
Also available in: 中文 | العربية | Español | Français


Arne Hoel

As we mark International Women’s Day 2018, there has never been a more critical time to invest in people, especially in women and girls. 

Skills, knowledge, and know-how – collectively called human capital – have become an enormous share of global wealth, bigger than produced capital such as factories or industry, or natural resources.

But human capital wealth is not evenly distributed around the world, and it’s a larger slice of wealth as countries develop. How, then, can developing countries build their human capital and prepare for a more technologically demanding future?

The answer is they must invest much more in the building blocks of human capital – in nutrition, health, education, social protection, and jobs. And the biggest returns will come from educating and nurturing girls, empowering women, and ensuring that social safety nets increase their resilience.

According to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school, and 15 million girls of primary-school age – half of them in sub-Saharan Africa – will never enter a classroom. Women’s participation in the global labor market is nearly 27 percentage points lower than for men, and women’s labor force participation fell from 52 percent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2016.

What if we could fix this? Fostering women’s labor force participation, business ownership, and improvements in productivity could add billions to the global economy.

To close the gap in women’s land rights, we need to do a better job of measuring it

M. Mercedes Stickler's picture
Also available in: Français
A woman holding her land certificate in rural Zambia. © Jeremy Green
A woman holding her land certificate in rural Zambia. © Jeremy Green

There is broad global agreement that secure property rights help eradicate poverty and that securing women’s land rights reduces gender inequality. But our understanding remains strikingly limited when it comes to the extent to which women’s land rights are – or are not – secure and the impact of women’s tenure security (or lack thereof) on women’s empowerment.

This is true even in Africa, where the most studies have been published, due to shortcomings in both the quality and quantity of research on these questions.

Be the generation that ends FGM

Sandie Okoro's picture
Also available in: Español | العربية | Français
© UNFPA
© UNFPA

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is an everyday reality for millions of girls and women around the world. I am no longer shocked when a woman confides in me that she has been “cut,” or tells me the consequences she lives with. Recently, I have had the privilege to meet with FGM survivors who are also activists, and they are fighting to stop the practice in a generation, reminding me that one person can make a difference in ending FGM. 

As we mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, on Feb. 6, we are supporting #EndFGM, a survivor-led movement gaining momentum and power around the world.

FGM/C, known as cutting, is a form of violence affecting at least 200 million girls and women worldwide. Every day, about 6000 women and girls suffer the practice, enduring prolonged and irreversible consequences during their entire lives

FGM/C is inextricably linked with ending extreme poverty; girls who experience it are more likely to be forced into child marriage, more likely to be poor and stay poor, and less likely to be educated. Beyond the data and the statistics, researchers have shown that FGM deprives women of sexual health and psychophysical well-being. 

To transform agricultural extension, give youth a voice

Hope Mpata's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français | Español
​© Neil Palmer/CIAT  ​
© Neil Palmer/CIAT


At the recent Africa Agriculture Extension week in Durban, there was a common refrain: "Demand for food in Africa is growing and expected to double by 2050." This is why we see continued growth and employment opportunities in the agricultural value chain and why agriculture extension—or training-- is more important than ever.

So what exactly is agriculture extension? Agricultural extension focuses on delivering advisory services for technologies that help crop, livestock, and fishery farmers, among others. Extension workers are trainers, advisors, project managers, community developers and policy advocators. They also conduct administrative support for local governments and help farmers make decisions and share knowledge. Agriculture extension, which services smallholder farmers throughout the value chain, is crucial in achieving food, nutrition and income security.

Can tackling childcare fix STEM’s gender diversity problem?

Rudaba Z. Nasir's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español
Girls attend school. Pakistan. © Caroline Suzman/World Bank
Girls attend school. Pakistan. © Caroline Suzman/World Bank


Growing up in Pakistan, I often wondered why boys were expected to become doctors or engineers while girls, including me, were encouraged to pursue teaching or home economics. So, when my cousin Sana became the first woman in my family to start a career in engineering, she also became my idol. But a few months later, my excitement soured when Sana quit her job halfway through her first pregnancy. Sana’s story, however, is not unique. Women make up less than 18 percent of Pakistan’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals. Traditional gender roles and lack of access to formal childcare often play a critical role in many women’s decisions to forgo STEM careers.

Cyber violence: Disrupting the intersection of technology and gender-based violence

Laura Hinson's picture
© Jeff Turner/Flickr Creative Commons
© Jeff Turner/Flickr Creative Commons

Stories of sexting, sex tapes, online dating gone wrong and cyberbullying are all over social media and the news. However, these stories only begin to scratch the surface of online – or technology-facilitated – gender-based violence (GBV). With a wide range of online predatory behaviors essentially falling under one label, how do we define it? How can we begin to tackle the problem if we can’t grasp the full breadth of the problem?

The World Bank Group and the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) has engaged the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) to develop a way to measure technology-facilitated GBV on a global scale. To do this, our team is in the beginning stages of developing a conceptual framework. The reasoning behind this initiative is that, in order to tackle a problem like online violence, we must first get to the root of the problem by understanding the many ways online violence manifests itself. As researchers, defining the problem provides us with the insights we need to determine how to approach and measure the problem. And if we can measure it, we can start testing solutions.

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