Evidence shows that lack of economic opportunity for women is strongly linked to intergenerational poverty. The four-year, $24.5 million Gender Action Plan launched by the World Bank and its partners aims to equip women to compete in four economic arenas—the labor market, credit, land title, and agriculture—and thereby benefit their families and the economy as a whole.
February 22, 2007—Women today live longer and better lives than their mothers and grandmothers. But unless they can achieve their full economic potential, families and countries will continue to pay a heavy price.
Why? Because despite the enormous progress achieved in social indicators, women and girls still lag behind economically.
"The most important thing that can be done for women is helping them to make a living, so they can do something to bring up their children. That is my only prayer." -- Margaret Wabire, Uganda Video: Real| Windows
Since 1970, their average life expectancy has increased by some 20 years in developing countries, while the global gap between girls and boys going to primary school was reduced dramatically.
But women still trail men in the workplace, at the bank and on the farm. Women earn some 22 percent less in salaries than their male counterparts, and their access to credit is very small –in Africa, for instance, they just receive one percent of the total credit going to the agricultural sector.
“The economic empowerment of women is not a women’s issue, it is a development issue,” says Danny M. Leipziger, World Bank Vice President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management. “Under-investing in women’s economic opportunity limits economic growth and slows down progress in poverty reduction.”
The high-level event, taking place February 22 and 23, is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, in partnership with the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the governments of Norway, the UK, and Denmark.
The conference, to be opened by Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, will look at gender, governance and growth in Africa; the role of women in finance and private sector development, women’s contribution to production, and their legal status and access to economic resources.
In fact, women’s legal status, such as their right to own land, can become a gateway out of poverty. In Vietnam, where the World Bank supports a project to re-issue titles with spaces for two names, both husband and wife, these titles allow women to have access to credit in order to start a small business or scale up to more productive agriculture. (Video: Vietnam--Land Titling).
“Empowering women economically is smart economics,” explains Mayra Buvinic, World Bank Director for Gender. “Investments in roads, energy, water, agricultural inputs and financial services will yield higher economic returns if they are designed to benefit women.”
To help unleash the economic potential of women in developing countries, the Bank has launched a Gender Action Planto collaborate with development partners to increase the productivity and earnings of women producers and their access to formal financial services. The Plan will also help women start agribusinesses and boost their access to essential infrastructure services like transport, water and energy.
“The World Bank Gender Action Plan is an important step in boosting gender equality in an area that has received far too little attention in the past: the economic empowerment of women,” said Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, who announced the Plan with World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz during last September’s Annual Meetings in Singapore.
The Gender Action Plan will particularly benefit women in some of the poorest countries in the world such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan and Tanzania. The World Bank provides support for these countries through the International Development Association (IDA), which gives interest-free loans and grants to the poorest nations to boost economic growth, reduce inequalities and improve living conditions.
And what better way to improve living conditions than by empowering women. After all, countries’ successes are also the success of their women. In Bangladesh, where 65 percent of workers in the garment sector are women, the industry’s exports constitute some 74 percent of annual total foreign exchange earnings. And in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, it is estimated that agricultural activity could be raised by as much as 20 percent if agricultural inputs were more equally distributed between men and women.
As the evidence shows, restricting economic opportunity for women is unfair, but also bad economics.