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Gender in Education, Health, and Social Protection and Labor

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Photo: Women in Nepal

Getting to Equal: Promoting Gender Equality through Human Development


The World Bank’s global strategies and country programs aim to reduce disparities between men and women and across population groups. To achieve this, the Bank’s assistance in these sectors includes expanding access to family planning and reproductive health services, promoting gender parity in education, providing social safety nets and insurance, and helping people acquire needed resources and skills.

Full Brief—4 Pages
Getting to Equal: Promoting Gender Equality through Human Development
—PDF, Apr. 2012


Women still lack voice and the ability to participate in decisions that impact them, their families, and their societies, and their economic opportunities remain very constrained. Addressing gender inequalities is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, because inequality is costly. Studies show that gender progress benefits everyone, not just women and girls. Economies thrive, women, men, girls, and boys have access to equal opportunities, and communities prosper when women and men are equally empowered. Disparities in gender equality come with economic costs, shortchange the next generation, and lead to suboptimal institutions and policies.


To respond to these challenges, the Bank has structured its investments across these sectors to help countries eliminate persistent gender barriers to women accessing quality social services, entering the job market, and building resilience to shocks. This work builds on findings that have shown that gender equality benefits society as a whole. Gender equality is affected by the household decisions that women and men make in their daily lives, and the status of both women and men is shaped by the rules and norms imposed by a range of limitations. The Bank’s strategies for education, health, social protection, and labor explicitly address gender equality.


Hundreds of Bank-supported activities around the globe have contributed to gender equality through investments in human development. There have been significant results across all three sectors at the country and global levels:

Improved education access and quality: In Punjab, Pakistan, home to 60 percent of the country’s population, the Bank is helping expand access to quality education and promote better governance and accountability in the education system. Under the government’s Bank-supported program, more than 400,000 eligible girls in the lowest literacy districts received targeted monthly stipends tied to school attendance; and the government supports approximately 2,000 low-cost private schools serving nearly a million low-income students. In the Sindh province, the Bank-supported project has helped increase the number of primary school pupils by 600,000 and raise the female-male enrollment ration from 61% to 76%.

Improved nutrition for women and children: Tajikistan faces high stunting rates, the result of under-nutrition, a condition exacerbated by the 2008 food price shock. To mitigate the risk of malnutrition, the Bank-supported community and basic health project provides food packages and micronutrient supplements to approximately 50,000 women, infants and children under age 5. By mid-2011, the project had trained 1,000 primary healthcare workers and 300 community volunteers to deliver education on breastfeeding, good nutrition and care of sick children to 1,000 pregnant woman, and micronutrient supplements and vitamins had been delivered to approximately 44,000 women and children.

Reaching gender parity in primary education: Two-thirds of the Bank’s partner countries have now reached gender parity in primary education, and girls significantly outnumber boys in secondary education in more than one-third of those countries. These successes result from a combination of effective policies and sustained national investments in education that have expanded the availability of schools even in rural areas and have lowered the cost of school, especially for the poor.


More and better impact assessments of policies and programs, and more active knowledge exchange among countries regarding gender-related barriers can enrich global debate and strengthen future policy making. To contribute to these goals, the Bank recognizes the importance of working in partnership with the international community to promote innovation and learning on human development and gender equality.

Toward the Future

There is still much work to do. Many critical gender gaps persist at country and global levels, and the Bank will continue to use and improve all of the tools at its disposal to expand and strengthen investments in quality human development programs that address these gender disparities and create equal opportunity.


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