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Countries with Smaller Gender Gaps Have Less Poverty:

Available in: Français, Português, Español
Press Release No:2001/253/S
Contact Person:
Lawrence MacDonald (202) 473-7465
Ana Elisa Luna (202) 473-2907
Cynthia Case McMahon (TV/Radio) (202) 473-2243

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2001
--Countries that promote women's rights and increase their access to resources and schooling have lower poverty rates, faster economic growth and less corruption than countries that do not, says a recently published World Bank report, EnGendering Development – Through Gender Equality in Rights, Resources and Voice.

Countries with smaller gaps between women and men in areas such as education, employment, and property rights not only have lower child malnutrition and mortality, they also have more transparent business and government and faster economic growth which in turn helps to further narrow the gender gap.

"Increasing gender equality is central to the idea of development as freedom, of expanding the choices and control that people have over their lives," says Nicholas Stern, World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice President for Development Economics. "The evidence in this report shows that education, health, productivity, credit and governance work better when women are involved."

Released to coincide with International Women's Day, Thursday, March 8, EnGendering Development is the most extensive study yet of the links between gender and economic progress in developing countries. The report's recommendations reflect extensive research and engagement with women's groups, as well as a comprehensive on-line consultation of the draft, and a discussion of the research findings at last year's UN Special Session of the General Assembly on Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century.

"Gender disparities are very closely associated with poverty," says Elizabeth King, co-author of the report. "The gap between men and women in such things as health and education is greater in poor countries than in rich countries, and within countries it is greatest among the poor. Experiences from cross-country analysis and case studies show that economic development and institutional change are both necessary to improve the status of women."

Gender inequality hurts all members of society, not just girls and women. The report recommends that societies with high levels of gender inequality adopt specific measures to improve the status of girls and women. Examples include ensuring equal rights to land and other property, and designing infrastructure and services, such as water, transportation, education, health, and credit, to better meet women's needs. Other steps include eliminating gender bias in the workplace and increasing women's participation in politics.

"Societies that discriminate on the basis of gender pay a significant price – in greater poverty, slower economic growth, weaker governance, and a lower quality of life," says Andrew Mason, co-author of the report. "Although income growth and economic development are good for gender equality in the long run, growth alone cannot deliver the desired results. Societies progress more rapidly if they also adopt specific measures to narrow gender gaps."

According to the report, countries that reduce the gender gap in access to resources and opportunities achieve more rapid economic growth. In Africa, for example, improving rural women's access to productive resources including education, land, and fertilizer could increase agricultural productivity by as much as one-fifth.

Cross-country studies suggest that if the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa had been as successful as East Asia in narrowing the gender gap in education during 1960-1990, GNP per capita in those regions would have grown by 0.5 and 0.9 percentage points higher per year, substantial increases over actual growth rates.

The report also confirms that girls and women have made significant progress in recent decades. For example, over the past 25 years girls' primary school enrollment rates doubled in the Middle East, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. In the past half century, women's life expectancy has increased by 15-20 years in developing countries, to the point that in the 1990s, for the first time, women in South Asia began living longer than men.

Despite this progress, women continue to have less control than men over important resources. In South Asia, women have only about half as many years of education as men, and female secondary school enrollment rates are only two-thirds of male rates. Control of land and of other forms of capital is also highly unequal. In Latin America most female household heads in rural areas are either landless or own very small, fragmented holdings. The same is true in Sub-Saharan Africa, where women are the major producers of food crops. Throughout the developing world, female-managed enterprises are often undercapitalized, having less access to credit and using fewer inputs and machinery than male-managed enterprises.

Beyond the direct effects on women's welfare and their ability to generate income, these factors reduce women's power to allocate family resources and to shape such basic family decisions as how many children to have. This lack of power to influence family resource allocations has a negative impact on children's well being. Lack of control of resources also means that women are made more vulnerable in the face of personal or family crises.

In politics, women continue to be vastly underrepresented in national and sub-national assemblies, accounting for less than 10 percent of the seats in parliament in all but a handful of countries. In Eastern Europe, female representation has fallen from 25 to 7 percent since the beginning of the economic and political transition.

Countries that reduce gender inequality can reap significant rewards. Some benefits, such as falling infant and child mortality, improved nutrition, and lower fertility rates, are already well known. The report demonstrates how the positive impacts of reducing gender gaps also include lower AIDS prevalence, less corruption, higher economic productivity, and faster growth, outcomes that have not been traditionally linked to gender equality. Countries where women have greater rights and participate more in public life tend to have cleaner business and government. The report notes that several studies have found that as the influence of women in public life grows, the level of corruption declines. This is true even when comparing countries with the same civil liberties, education, legal institutions, and income levels.

The report underpins ongoing World Bank efforts to help reduce gender inequality through the programs and projects it supports in developing countries. Other Bank activities include:

· Education: In the five years ending 2000, lending for girls' education has totaled $3.4 billion. The Bank's education programs give special emphasis to the 31 countries where gender gaps in elementary and secondary education are especially large.
· Health, nutrition and population: To date the World Bank has lent more than $4 billion to support population and reproductive health activities throughout the world. In 1999, two thirds of the loans in these areas included actions aimed at promoting gender equality.
· Credit and savings programs: The Bank is integrating credit and savings programs that cater to women's needs into its projects in many sectors; and it is working with partners to strengthen microfinance programs.

"There has been important progress on gender issues in recent years, both in the work of the World Bank and among the countries that look to us for assistance," says Karen Mason, World Bank Director for Gender and Development "Those of us who have been working on gender issues are proud of what has been achieved but we are also keenly aware of how much remains to be done. We hope the report will help policy makers more fully appreciate the central role of gender in fostering development."


The Consultation Process for the Report

A wide range of consultations with researchers, policymakers, grassroots leaders in developing countries, nongovernmental organizations, private sector representatives, and donor agencies was undertaken for this report. Early in the writing of the report, the authors sought the assistance of members of the World Bank's External Gender Consultative Group to obtain comments and suggestions from groups in civil society on the report's concept note via global electronic listserves. There was also a five-week electronic discussion between May 29 and June 30, 2000, which generated over a hundred contributions.

On June 6, 2000, a workshop was held on the draft as part of the Women 2000 Conference at the United Nations where the main findings and messages of the report with a wide group of policymakers and activists.

In addition, as part of its efforts to expand the empirical evidence on gender and development, the report's authors invited policy researchers from within and outside the Bank to contribute background papers on selected topics. These papers fill some of the gaps in the existing literature. Many of these papers are available on the report's website,

For more on the World Bank's work on gender issues, click here:

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