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gender and development

It’s Everybody’s Business – So Make Social Issues Strategic: The Private Sector’s Stake in Fighting Gender-Based Violence

Christopher Colford's picture

If you’re in the private sector, and if you somehow imagine that social issues don’t have anything to do with your business, then you’d better think again. The dollars-and-cents costs of chronic social problems and dysfunctional behavior have a direct impact on private-sector productivity and profitability.

As Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter told a World Bank Group audience not long ago, explaining his theory of “creating shared value”: If business leaders are serious about ensuring future private-sector-led growth – and about the long-range stability of the economy – then the corporate sector had better prioritize pro-active steps to address serious social issues as a significant part of their strategy.

Social issues might not readily rise to the top of corporate leaders’ in-boxes, since many hard-headed businessmen – and I use the suffix “men” advisedly – might presume that “soft” human concerns aren’t central to day-to-day business operations. Yet the painful human toll inflicted by social dysfunction is everybody’s business. Corporate executives who truly aim to fulfill a positive leadership role in society, to which they so often aspire rhetorically, have a duty to raise their voices about the many kinds of social trauma that impede socioeconomic progress.

If a sense of social responsibility isn’t enough to get corporate leaders thinking pro-actively, they should at least consider their business’ long-term enlightened self-interest. A workforce that’s de-motivated or demoralized – or, worse, physically injured or emotionally abused – will suffer lower morale and higher absenteeism, will trigger higher health-care costs, will be distracted from seizing new business opportunities, and will fall short of fulfilling its full productive potential. That economic reality should spur the private sector to take constructive, preventive action.

An event on Wednesday at the World Bank Group will offer a reminder of how one vicious form of extreme antisocial behaviorviolence against women and girls – acts as a drag on society, a drain on the economy and an impediment to achieving every development priority. The 2 p.m. event in the J Building auditorium will launch a new World Bank Group report – the “Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide” – that surveys a wide range of analyses on the human suffering and social pain caused by gender-based violence.

Jointly sponsored by the Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Women’s Institute based at George Washington University, the afternoon event will follow a morning panel discussion – at 10 a.m. in GWU’s Jack Morton Auditorium – featuring the authors of a landmark series of analyses of gender-based violence in The Lancet, the UK's pre-eminent medical journal.

Recognizing gender-based violence as a medical and public-health emergency – and reinforcing the World Health Organization’s recent declaration that gender-based violence is a global threat “of epidemic proportions” – The Lancet’s special edition is blunt about the grim toll of violence that deliberately victimizes women and girls: “Every day, millions of women and girls worldwide experience violence. This abuse takes many forms, including intimate physical and sexual partner violence, female genital mutilation, child and forced marriage, sex trafficking, and rape.”

Yet the special edition of The Lancet asserts that this social scourge is preventable. The analyses “cover the evidence base for interventions, discuss the vital role of the health sector in care and prevention, show the need for men and women to be involved in effective programmes, provide practical lessons from experience in countries, and present a call for action with five key recommendations and indicators to track progress.”

In a parallel, practical initiative, the government of the United Kingdom – through its Public Health England arm – has published a “toolkit” to help businesses identify, analyze and take protective action for those who may have been victimized by domestic abuse, psychological trauma or gender-based violence. PHE’s toolkit and awareness-building initiatives redouble the efforts of the UK’s Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence.

In the spirit of the United Nations’ recent observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – and occurring amid the current “16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence” campaign – the Wednesday discussions with experts from The Lancet, the Global Women’s Institute, the IDB and the World Bank Group will help highlight the pervasive gender bias that hardens social inequality, and that can take the extreme form of violence targeting women and girls.

Corporate leaders who aim to take a leadership role in society have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment: by rededicating their organizations to activist steps to mend a society too often torn by violence and the causes of violence: economic insecurity, social-class stratification, winner-take-all rapacity, misogyny, discrimination and exclusion – all of which threaten the ideals of eradicating extreme poverty and building shared prosperity.

Wednesday’s forums on gender-based violence will remind us that building a stronger, safer, more inclusive society is everybody’s business. That challenge should inspire private-sector leaders to include the long-term welfare of society as one essential factor as they calculate their bottom-line summation of success.


#TakeOn Violence Against Women and Girls

What does it take to have vibrant growth for all?

Paula Tavares's picture

Photo Credit: Mauricio Santana – Women’s Forum 2014

The question was posed at this year’s Women’s Forum Brazil held in São Paulo, Brazil, on May 26 and 27. In a country bustling with the World Cup and gearing up for presidential elections, "Vibrant Growth for All" was a fitting topic. As more than 500 women and men involved in politics, business, civil society and academia from all regions of Brazil, countries of Latin America, the United States and Europe gathered together, women’s full participation in the economy and society was center stage in the discussions. The setting was quite appropriate: Women have made great strides and have increasingly taken the stage in the country. And starting from the top – the country’s President – and in all sectors of society and the economy, women are present and continue to take on leading positions, with many good examples present at the plenary room and throughout the two-day event.

Kicking off with an impassioned plea for the release of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls and the keynote address given by Minister of State of Public Policies for Women Eleonora Menicucci, focusing on the achievement of economic autonomy for women in Brazil and initiatives to end violence against women such as the “Eu Ligo” campaign (with the double meaning in English: “I call / I care”), the forum throughout was indeed a vibrant event.

The plenary sessions and panels that followed were brilliantly composed of high-level women in leadership positions from Brazilian and international companies, small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and of government and civil society, including the CEO of Boeing Brazil, the CEO of Brazilian Tam Airlines, the CEO of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, and the Clinton Global Initiative Director for Women and Girls, to shed light on topics such as business and human rights, marriage, machismo, and social investment in women, incentivizing leadership and talent, among others.

Sharing Experiences and Insights to Enhance Gender Equality in Sub-Saharan Africa

Paula Tavares's picture

On February 27, a high-level regional workshop kicked off in Lomé, Togo, with the participation of Ministers of gender affairs and officials from 11 economies from West and Central Africa focusing on the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2014: Removing Restrictions to Enhance Gender Equality report. A welcome dinner prior to the official opening of the event revealed the dynamic nature of gender affairs Ministers – all women – and the common realities and issues facing their nations. Most were meeting for the first time in a unique experience that enabled sharing stories and views about laws, cultural norms and traditional roles within the family in prelude to the official discussions.
The opening remarks at the workshop reflected well the importance of gender equality for the region. In welcoming the event, Mr. Hervé Assah, the World Bank's Country Manager for Togo, noted that “underinvesting in the human capital of women is a real obstacle to reducing poverty and considerably limits the prospects for economic and social development.” Those concerns were echoed by the Minister of Social Action and Women and Literacy Promotion in Togo, Mrs. Dédé Ahoéfa Ekoué, who highlighted the importance of women’s participation in society and the economy, both in Togo and worldwide. The tone was thus set for this two-day event, which aimed at both highlighting recent reforms enacted by countries in the region and promoting the sharing of experiences, challenges and good practices among the participants in promoting women’s economic inclusion.

There is certainly much to highlight and share over these two days and beyond. Over the past two years, several Sub-Saharan African economies passed reforms promoting gender parity and encouraging women’s economic participation. For example, Togo reformed its Family Code in 2012, now allowing both spouses to choose the family domicile and object to each other’s careers if deemed not to be the family’s interests. Côte d’Ivoire equalized the same rights for women and men, and also eliminated provisions granting tax benefits only to men for being the head of household. Furthermore, Mali enacted a law allowing both spouses to pursue their business and professional activities and a succession law equalizing inheritance between husbands and wives. While the pace of reform has been accelerating in the region, it is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is the region that has reformed the most over the past 50 years: Restrictions on women’s property rights and their ability to make legal decisions were reduced by more than half from 1960 to 2010.

Breaking the Mold

Sabina Panth's picture

 Investment in gender equality is smart economics, according to the recently launched World Development Report (WDR 2012) of the World Bank.  Increasing women’s access to resources and participation in economic opportunities can increase productivity, improve outcomes for children and improve the overall development prospects of a country, concludes the report.  However, a number of factors, mainly gender roles guided by staunch social norms and rigid institutional practices, have impeded recognition of women’s participation and contributions in economic activities. To address this issue, WDR proposes focused domestic public policies.  In a recently held brown bag luncheon at the Bank, Dr. Fouzia Saeed shared her experience regarding these topics, and the resultant groundbreaking legislation in protection and promotion of Pakistani women’s rights and contributions to their country’s development.

The perfectionists versus the reductionists

Markus Goldstein's picture

coauthored with Jishnu Das

Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, and produce 50 percent of the food, yet earn only 10 percent of the income…. 

--Former President Bill Clinton addressing the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (September 2009)

Impressive, heart-wrenching, charity-inducing, get off your sofa and go do something heartbreaking.

But Wrong.

Getting serious about learning how to overcome women’s economic barriers

Markus Goldstein's picture

coauthored with Alaka Holla

 So two weeks ago we talked about how we don’t know enough about economically empowering women and last week we talked about power issues when measuring this in “gender-blind” interventions.   This week we’d like to make some suggestions about how, with small effort, we could make serious progress in learning meaningful things about how to increase the earning capacity of women.