Published on Voices
Basira Basiratkha, principal of the Female Experimental High School in Herat, Afghanistan. Her school benefited from an IDA-supported program. © Graham Crouch/World Bank

At the World Bank, we believe no country, community, or economy can achieve its potential or meet the challenges of the 21st century without the full and equal participation of women and men, girls and boys. This is particularly true in developing countries supported by the International Development Association (IDA), the arm of the World Bank that supports the poorest countries.

IDA countries have made encouraging progress on closing the gaps between women and men in recent years, especially in health and education.  For example, women in IDA countries on average can expect to live longer than men (66 years vs. 62 years). With education, girls have caught up with or overtaken boys in enrolling in and completing primary school, as well as in transitioning on to secondary education.

But in many areas, persistent gaps make it so important for IDA to continue focusing on the issue of gender. Overall, IDA countries still lag in critical areas that prevent women from fulfilling their individual and economic potential. For example:

  • Maternal mortality rates are still alarmingly high in many low-income and FCV countries—one in 36 women in Sub-Saharan Africa risks dying due to maternal causes.
  • Women in IDA countries are more likely than men to work in informal jobs, work as unpaid family workers, or transition in and out of the labor force.
  • Women and girls in IDA countries often lack access to quality, affordable, reliable, and safe transportation—cutting them off from better economic opportunities.
  • Women in developing economies continue to trail men in financial account ownership by 9 percentage points, with even wider gaps in many IDA countries.
  • Women and girls in IDA countries often lack an equal role in making decisions in their lives, households, and communities.

Closing the gaps between women and men of all ages can help set low-income countries on a sustainable path toward more diversified economies, better jobs, and improved prospects for the next generation.  In supporting countries, IDA continues to raise its ambitions in its support for women and girls.

For example, IDA seeks to help women access quality jobs. In Nepal, a project to improve rural transport infrastructure also gives employment opportunities to poor women, particularly from vulnerable groups. Along with these jobs, rural women are provided with facilities for safer working conditions; free monthly checkups; access to free bank accounts and digital banking; and skills development training. The program has created 2.5 million workdays of paid employment, recruiting over 70% women workers who have been able to earn and save money for themselves and their families.

IDA programs also increasingly promote women’s participation in the governance of public services, such as the water sector, where women in IDA countries are almost universally underrepresented. For example, as part of a water and sanitation project in Malawi, IDA support is promoting the representation of female professionals among the sector’s leadership by providing career training for women as a component of institutional capacity strengthening. This approach is setting a new standard and is being incorporated into the planning of future IDA projects.

In addition, when women have the chance to hold leadership roles and actively participate in their community’s challenges, they can make a positive impact, even in fragile and conflict-affected settings. Research has recognized that when women are able to participate more fully in resolving conflicts, peace agreements endure longer and participants are more satisfied with the outcomes.

Women can also play leading roles with difficult challenges, such as addressing the issue of gender-based violence (GBV).  IDA is building a portfolio of evidence-based interventions to support women and address GBV in a holistic manner. With the Nigeria for Women Project, for example, the creation of targeted groups helps to build networks for women in rural and semi-urban areas and to facilitate access to social support and trainings on GBV risk monitoring, responses, and confidence building, along with other critical skill building activities to build the entrepreneurship and technical skills of women. 

IDA is also working to fill other critical gaps on gender—in data and knowledge. Country-level data on gender gaps is limited and the dearth of data in IDA countries limits our ability to design interventions that address gender disparities. IDA is working in a range of countries to build government capacity to collect more data and produce sex-disaggregated statistics in a timely manner in key areas such as jobs and asset ownership.

As we look toward 2030, we know that the Sustainable Development Agenda cannot be realized unless IDA countries make considerable progress in gender equality.  Through the collective effort of IDA, our partners, and the countries and communities we support, I believe we will continue to close the gaps between women and men, girls and boys, so that opportunities are available to all.

That’s why for IDA, every day is Women’s Day.


Akihiko Nishio

World Bank Vice President of Development Finance (DFi)

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