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In the midst of the financial crisis, women can be agents of change.

Keynoting the Bank Group’s celebration of International Women’s Day, President Zoellick urged staff to pay special attention to gender equality in the midst of the current economic crisis both within the Bank and in their development work.
President Zoellick“We expect that it will be a human and social crisis, and in some cases, with political implications,” said Zoellick. “When economies start to crumble, jobs and incomes lost will disproportionately impact women.” Girls are the ones who are most likely to be withdrawn from school or become malnourished, he noted.

As staff set about rebuilding economies in both developed and developing countries, they ignore women empowerment issues at a cost, emphasized Zoellick. “Women can be the agents of change. Investing in women and girls is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.”

President Zoellick also stressed the Bank’s clients look to the institution as a role model, repeating an ambitious target he first announced last year: “Currently, women make up about 30 percent in management … Our goal should be gender parity in management, so by the end of 2012, I think half our managers should be women.”

Of Zoellick’s 10 senior appointments, 5 have been women. “I firmly believe that gender equality will not or need not compete with other [diversity] goals,” he said. In fact, the new tools and outreach necessary to achieve the goal will help the institution attain other diversity goals as well.

Today, new Bank estimates identify 33 developing countries where women and girls in poor households are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the global economic crisis. Fifteen of these, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, are likely to see a particularly dangerous mix for women and girls, with slowing economic growth, fewer girls in school, and higher levels of infant and child mortality.

The World Bank’s Gender Action Plan features more than 120 projects in about 60 countries, where investments will go a long way empowering women and improving development outcomes. More work remains to be done. President Zoellick identified six additional focal points. First, the Bank is working harder to improve integration of gender equality into agricultural projects, ensuring women are beneficiaries of emergency food response. Second, the IFC has provided an additional $48 million in credit lines to women entrepreneurs in 12 countries, with the goal of expanding this to $100 million by 2012.

Third, in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Managing Director Ngozi. N. Okonjo-Iweala launched the Private Sector Leaders Forum. She led discussion on women’s opportunities in key areas, including targeted lending programs; and inclusion and diversity initiatives to promote women into corporate leadership roles.

Zoellick also highlighted a Bank commitment to increase IDA resources for women empowerment. Progressing well is an initiative with Country Directors to increase the share of country portfolios that help women access economic markets. Moreover, the Adolescent Girls Initiative, which supports young women’s transition from school to productive adulthood, has launched as well. “So, while we’re here today to reflect on progress toward advancing women’s economic opportunities,” said Zoellick, “We still have a huge job to do.”

VP & Head of the PREM Network, Danny Leipziger launched the festivities: “Today, gender equality is not a reality, although we are getting closer, and we are here to honor the men and women who came before us in this struggle.” Leipziger recalled the broad arc of gender struggle, including battles for equal rights at the voting booth and in the workplace.

Pamela Cox, VP of Latin America & Caribbean Region, pointed out three components to reaching gender parity for women—committed leadership, credible implementation, and monitoring: “We are a diverse organization, but we are not quite diverse enough. I’m hoping that all of you can be agents of change.”

Contributed by Diversity and Inclusion Team.