This week, the World Bank, in partnership with the government of Brazil and the State of Rio de Janeiro, is co-hosting a South-South Learning Forum to promote knowledge exchange among policymakers from developing countries on ways to improve the design of social protection and labor systems at the policy, program and service delivery levels.
After more than two hours stranded at a small town train station near Tokyo, Japan, with record snowfall and freezing temperatures outside our windows, the train driver addressed us for the third time – no new updates. “Our personnel are working to fix the problem,” the voice said. At that moment, an older man seated next to me leaned over and told me, “We have to do our part; the people working in the snow are trying their best to fix the system, so we can move. We should remain calm and wait - we cannot be part of the problem.” I was starting to understand why Japanese are so resilient.
This adventure began last February, following my participation in the launch of the new, $100 million joint program between Japan and the World Bank for disaster risk reduction. This program, implemented by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), will benefit a large number of especially vulnerable countries around the world. As part of this new initiative, the World Bank also launched the Disaster Risk Management Tokyo Hub.
The launch for the Tokyo Hub was held at a high level symposium at the Japan Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) on February 3, which attracted more than 400 people and had substantial media coverage. The Senior Vice-Minister for Finance/Senior Vice-Minister for Reconstruction Jiro Aichi (a native of Sendai) spoke of Japan's commitment to disaster risk management (DRM) and thanked the World Bank for its strong support, before kicking off an intense program of inter-agency meetings to better utilize Japanese expertise in DRM practices.
My experience with Japanese solidarity and resilience, however, was best highlighted the day I was returning home. On February 9, as I was trying to get to Narita airport, more than 27 centimeters of snow fell on Tokyo and other areas of Japan, the heaviest of 40 years. Many buildings in the city collapsed, leaving at least 11 dead and more than 1,200 injured across the country.
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.
Each month, about one million people enter the labor force in Africa. Another one million start looking for work in India. Add to this millions of others around the globe, and worldwide, some one billion people will enter the labor force between now and 2030.
Why is that date important? That’s the deadline World Bank Group President Jim Kim has set for ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Making this happen will require not only a healthy and skilled labor force, but also requires creating ample job opportunities, and ensuring that young adults can find productive work.
Only half of the working age population participates in the labor force in the Western Balkans. This is low by both European and global standards - but participation among women is even worse. This rate was only about 42% in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a mere 18% in Kosovo in 2012 - the lowest in all of Europe and Central Asia. This participation gap persists throughout a woman’s life, contributing to low employment rates, and widens during child bearing years. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the gap between male and female employment rates has reached a whopping 44 percentage points for those aged 25 to 49 years with a young child living at home.
Failure to address these labor market inequalities is a missed opportunity for faster economic growth, poverty reduction and increased shared prosperity in a region struggling to recover from the neighborhood effects of the Eurozone crisis.
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.
In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked women who work at the World Bank Group one simple question: "How will ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity empower women around the world?" Here’s a sampling from World Bank women around the world.
I saw firsthand how something as simple as a gas connection could transform lives. A mother of five in Colombia told me – with tears in her eyes – how her life, and that of her family, had improved. Her children were healthier with fewer respiratory illnesses. She could cook safely and start her own business selling food outside her house.
– Carmen Nonay, program manager, Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid
If you are a poor woman, you are not allowed to make decisions about your life and the future of your children. You do not even think about such big things under the daily pressure. Ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity will allow women to get access to their basic human rights, transform their communities and contribute to changing the world.
– Maria V. Handal, office manager, Yemen
In many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, women are outpacing men in enrollment at universities. In terms of learning outcomes, girls in the region outperform boys in mathematics. And yet, these investments in human capital remain largely untapped. Women can help boost prosperity in the region if their productive potential is harnessed and barriers to their economic participation are reduced.
– Tara Vishwanath, lead economist