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Gender equality: what do the data show in 2016?

Eliana Rubiano-Matulevich's picture

This is part of a series of blogs focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and data from the 2016 Edition of World Development Indicators.

Disparities between men and women are fewer + smaller than 20 years ago, but critical gaps remain

We have seen significant progress in closing gender gaps over the last two decades, especially in education and health. Most countries have reduced disparities between girls and boys in enrollment and completion of primary school, and in transition to secondary school.  And both women and men are living longer and healthier lives. But critical gaps persist: Women have limited access to economic opportunities, and their ability to make decisions about their lives and act on them—their agency —is restricted in many ways.

Hurdles to gender equality

These gaps are related to entrenched social norms and biases that constrain women and girls and prevent them from fulfilling their potential. In many economies, women face legal provisions that restrict their capacity to access opportunities—these include requirements that they obtain a husband’s permission or produce additional documentation to open a bank account in their own name. Persistent gender-based violence is pervasive and reflects the imbalance of power relations in the household and society more generally. Women’s responsibility for family care and household chores, which is necessary for social reproduction, restricts the time they can spend on paid work and disadvantages men.

Sustainable Development Goal 5 seeks to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” and represents an opportunity to tackle structural constraints and shift social norms, which would potentially enable permanent pathways out of poverty and achieve the gender equality targets of the 2030 agenda.

Shifting entrenched norms isn’t easy. A key step in this process is to create an enabling environment by changing legal frameworks. Countries have taken important steps in enacting laws to protect women from harmful practices: In 2016, 137 countries have laws on domestic violence and 149 countries prohibit or void child marriage. On the other hand, many economies still have legal differences affecting women’s economic opportunities. Almost 60 percent of the 188 countries for which data are available lack legal frameworks that mandate equal opportunities in hiring practices, equal pay for equal work, or allow women to perform the same jobs as men.

Campaign art: Is slavery woven into your clothing?

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

The textile industry, in particular the manufacturing of apparel, has long been a key industry in South Asia.  It provides those with relatively low skills with job opportunities. It also has a unique ability to attract female workers; women’s share of total apparel employment is much higher than in other industries in nearly every country in the region. In recent years, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have made substantial investments in world apparel trade. In 2012, for example, apparel represented 83% of Bangladeshi exports and 45% of Sri Lankan exports.

Nevertheless, the apparel industry in many locations is burdened with poor working conditions and hazardous, degrading policies that damage the environment.  The harsh conditions that many workers in the developing countries must face have been qualified as “slave labour” by The European Parliament.

The Behind the Seams initiative is a new campaign dedicated to improving the conditions of workers in the international fashion industry and to raising awareness about the environmental impact of the industry. Because bad conditions throughout the production of clothing has a greater impact than just the factory. They started with a clear idea: transparency is the first step to transform the industry. There should be no mystery as to who is making your clothes, and all aspects and impacts of a brand’s supply chain should be known and regulated.
There should be no mystery
Source: Behind the Seams

Using fieldwork to ask better questions

Maira Reimao's picture
Evaluate the following statements according to whether they are “not at all true”, “hardly true”, “moderately true” or “exactly true”:
  • I can always manage to solve difficult problems if I try hard enough.
  • I am confident that I can deal efficiently with unexpected events.
  • I can solve most problems if I invest the necessary effort.
  • I can usually handle whatever comes my way.

If, after reading the statements above, you were a little confused and found your eyes going back and forth between them, trying to figure out how they are different, you are not alone. When we tested these and similar survey questions on women in rural Guatemala, we found that they not only confused our respondents but also perhaps deflated them.

Remnants of the Soviet past: Restrictions on women's employment in the Commonwealth of Independent States

Alena Sakhonchik's picture

My father is a long-distance trucker based in Belarus. As a young girl, I spent long hours on the road with him. I loved traveling to neighboring and faraway cities and—even though I could barely reach the pedals at the time—dreamed of becoming a truck driver myself one day. Life ended up taking me on another path, but it wasn’t until I was older that I learned that the option of being a truck driver was never open to me to begin with.


Because my native country prohibits women from being truck drivers, one of the 182 professions out of bounds for women.

Higher education for the 21st century in action

Joe Qian's picture
The graduating class of the University of Moratuwa’s Department of Textile and Clothing Technology. Photo Credit: Isuru Udara

Imagine a school that teaches knowledge and provides hands-on training. A place where students express confidence in their skills, and are excited to make a difference in their future jobs. A bastion of confidence and optimism, where 100% of graduating students have jobs lined up before graduation.
Sounds too good to be true? I found this haven at the University of Moratuwa’s Department of Textile and Clothing Technology, supported by the Higher Education for the 21st Century Project (HETC), which is designed to modernize education by its increasing its quality and relevance. 24-year-old Malaka Perera, who is graduating next month, told me how the program has helped him build a foundation for his career. “The program taught me how to deal with people, along with communications and problem solving skills that I used during my internship. As a result, finding a job was quite easy.”
Sri Lankans have enjoyed the benefits of broad education access for decades, which has allowed the country to build human capital to rise and become a middle income country. However, as a country with rising aspirations in an increasingly globalized world and competitive region, the quality and relevance of its education system is key for the country to maintain its edge and reach new heights.

How do Causes of Death Vary Between Men and Women?

Dereje Ketema Wolde's picture

This is part of a series of blogs focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and data from the 2016 Edition of World Development Indicators.

Source: World Development Indicators and World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Estimates Note: Causes of death by communicable diseases and maternal, prenatal and nutrition conditions are grouped together by WHO.

As Emi Suzuki wrote last week, the causes and patterns of death rich and poor countires vary and they're changing.  But what about the gender dimension? 

Women can expect to live longer than men in almost every country of the world. Globally, women's life expectancy remains about 3 years longer than men's, and you see the data for different countries in the interactive chart below:

Who are the barefoot solar sisters…and how can they help forest communities?

Ellysar Baroudy's picture
Photo credit: Lisa Brunzell / Vi Agroforestry
In Kenya, a group of Maasai grandmothers provide an inspiring example of how simple actions can transform societies and how, when empowered, women can break down barriers between men and women.

These women never had the opportunity to attend school. But now aged between 40 and 50 years old, they found themselves with a new task. They received training and were tasked with installing and maintaining solar lighting systems in their villages.

African women help their communities go solar

Carolyn Lucey's picture

Also available in: Arabic | Spanish

Wamayo’s solar lantern has helped her tailoring business grow.

This number cannot be emphasized enough – more than 1 billion people around the world live without access to electricity, and 2.9 billion still cook with polluting, harmful fuel like firewood and dung.

As we celebrate Earth Day, we're looking at the ways to bring energy access to those communities and transform lives, and at the same time, protect our planet’s resources. How can we make sure that the right progress for communities is the right progress for the planet? 

The good news is that the world is constantly coming up with new technology to address this challenge. We have portable, phone-charging solar lamps and energy efficient cookstoves that are affordable and practical for communities living off-the-grid. The challenge now is how to make sure the right technologies are available in affordable and sustainable ways to the communities that need them most.

Solar Sister is a social enterprise that recruits, trains, and supports African women launch clean-energy businesses in their communities, selling lights and cookstoves to their neighbors. We are organized around the principle that women must be intentionally included in discussions around energy.

Researching violence against Syrian refugee women

Bassam Sebti's picture

He often used a stick or an iron wire to beat her. Her body was covered in bruises, sometimes in all kinds of colors. Hamada's husband, frustrated with losing his son and his job in warring Syria, directed his anger and depression towards the mother of his children.

It is a fact: War is one of many forms of violence to which women are subjected, and for some Syrian refugee women it is a prolongation of what has been happening already in their war-torn country.

They have been beaten, forced into having sex and asked to never talk about it or else get killed — by their own husbands.

For the helpless women, most of whom are mothers, the abuse has been taking physical, emotional and sexual forms.

So how do you address and understand the reasons behind this major, often undermined, issue that adds to the misery of the already miserable women refugees?


A team of researchers working with the Women and Health Alliance International non-profit organization is working on formative research to prevent intimate partner violence among Syrian refugees in Izmir, Turkey.

"Often, from a worldwide perspective, when we think about conflict, we think about the forms of violence that are highlighted in the media," said team member Jennifer Scott, a physician and researcher at Harvard Medical School.

"But what we are not talking about is what is happening in the household, and the types of violence that are related to stress, cultural norms, or social and gender norms," she added. 

To address this issue, Scott and her team talk with men, women, community leaders, policymakers and religious leaders. They ask questions about what is happening in the household, what sorts of violence women and girls experience, and how has this changed as a result of conflict and displacement.

The goal, she said, is to understand that this kind of violence does not have one dimension.

"It's really multiple layers that we need to understand," Scott said. "In our experience as researchers, when we offer women and men the opportunity to speak, they want to talk about it because it's a very important issue."  

The research project, set to start in June 2016, will take place at a community center in Izmir that offers services not only to Syrian refugees but also other refugees currently living in Izmir. The project will conduct focus group discussions and interviews among community and religious leaders to examine some of the factors that lead to intimate partner violence, and explore possible solutions.

The research data will inform the development of a future program to prevent intimate partner violence among displaced populations.

The World Bank Group and the Sexual Violence Research Initiative recently awarded this project and eight other teams from around the world a total of $1.2 million in recognition of their innovations to prevent gender-based violence.