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Ministers, Bank President, Tout Women’s Empowerment as Key Development Goal

Available in: Français, العربية, 中文, Español

April 12, 2008—World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick joined ministers from Germany, Egypt, Sweden, Denmark and Liberia to take stock of the status of women in developing countries on the eve of the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings.

Zoellick announced several measures the World Bank Group plans to take to boost women’s empowerment at a seminar on ways to bridge gender gaps. A new book, Doing Business: Women in Africa, was also released.

Denmark brought its campaign to raise the profile of the third Millennium Development Goal—gender equality and empowerment of women by 2015—as part of an effort  to build support for gender equality before a September 25 United Nations High Level MDG summit.

Zoellick, along with the German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, accepted the MDG3 torch and Denmark’s challenge to “do something more” to promote women’s economic empowerment.

Gender in Agriculture Projects

Zoellick announced that by 2010, at least half of the World Bank’s rural and agricultural projects will address a gender inequity or problem, such as by helping women obtain title to their land, often a prerequisite to obtaining financing. The Bank plans to nearly double agricultural lending to Africa from US$450 million to US$800 million over the next year.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Dev't (l.), Robert B. Zoellick, WB President and Denmark's Minister Ulla Pedersen Tørnæs

The World Bank Group’s private sector arm, International Finance Corporation, will channel at least US$100 million toward women entrepreneurs by 2012.

The Bank is also working with Nike Foundation and Liberia to empower adolescent girls through a job training and transition-to-work program. The Bank hopes to launch the program this fall at its Annual Meetings, and later to replicate it in other countries, said Zoellick.

In 2007, the Bank launched Gender Equality as Smart Economics —a four-year Gender Action Plan (GAP) to increase women’s access to land, labor force, agriculture, infrastructure, and finance. Key donor partners include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

‘Basic Fairness and Decency’

“One motivation for women’s empowerment is basic fairness and decency,” said Zoellick. “Young girls should have the exact same opportunities that boys do to lead full and productive lives. But second, the empowerment of women is smart economics.”

Despite gains in health and education, progress on women’s opportunities is lagging. Women trail men in labor force participation, access to credit, entrepreneurship rates, inheritance and land ownership rights, and income.

“This is neither fair nor smart economics, and in fact studies show that investments in women yield large social and economic returns,” said Zoellick.

World Bank Group analysis shows that business-friendly regulation leads to a higher share of female entrepreneurs and women in the labor force.

“Women need the same rights as men, or they won’t have the same opportunity to contribute to society,” said Ulla Pedersen Tornaes, Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation.

Conditional Cash Transfers

More needs to be invested in adolescent girls—a group that has made impressive gains in school enrollment and completion in the last five or 10 years, but has had more difficulty than boys transitioning from school to work.

Young women’s employment has stagnated and is well below that of young men. Young women in the work force also earn significantly less than their male counterparts, said the World Bank’s Director for Gender Mayra Buvinic.

One strategy involves training or school-to-work programs in collaboration with the private sector, such as the Nike Foundation’s program in Liberia. Goldman Sachs recently committed US$100 million for business and management education for 10,000 women from developing countries.

The seminar also discussed conditional cash transfer programs—programs that disburse cash or some other benefit to people under the condition they take a certain action, such as attending secondary school and staying unmarried until age 18.
Female Entrepreneurs

The new Doing Business report on women’s entrepreneurship in Africa is the first in a series of regional studies. It’s a joint effort between the IFC-World Bank Doing Business project and the World Bank’s Gender Action Plan, launched by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in February 2007.

The report looks in depth at individual businesseswomen who have faced legal and regulatory obstacles in seven countries.

Kah Walla said she initially could not get financing for her management consulting firm in Cameroon because she didn’t own land. “Land and property rights is the single biggest obstacle for women in Africa,” she said.

Zoe Dean-Smith said a woman in Swaziland isn’t allowed to own a business without her husband’s consent. Dean-Smith, who is single, could have lost her business when her married partner died if the husband had not retroactively given his consent.

Dr. Victoria  Kisyombe inherited only a cow when her husband passed away. She was lucky, because most widows in Tanzania inherit nothing under traditional customary law. Her one asset—the cow—allowed her to support her family and eventually she was able to start a micro-leasing business. But many women had trouble getting finance or making ends meet.

“I looked around and saw that although we had some good laws in my country, some of our traditional and cultural customs make if difficult for women to inherit or own property, which makes it difficult to get finance from the banks. This being the case, they’re caught up in a poverty trap and can’t get out of it. Because of this, then, I thought I should do something with my life to support other women so that they could do better within our country.”

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