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My Own View on Women

Otaviano Canuto's picture

On Monday, the world marked International Women’s Day. As a husband and father of strong, wonderful women, I am always very much aware of the occasion. But as the Vice President responsible for the gender portfolio at the World Bank, women’s day became a powerful reminder of all the things we still need to do in the quest for gender equality.

Women earn some 22% less in salary than their male counterparts, and their access to credit is limited. In Africa, for instance, women receive 1% of total credit going to agriculture though they represent a majority of workers in the sector. In addition, women’s risk of dying from maternal causes in developing countries is 13 times higher than in industrialized nations.

The Bank has done its share in trying to overcome these problems, but we haven’t always been a shining example. It took us 33 years from our creation to appoint a Women in Development Adviser. Twenty years after that, Jim Wolfensohn gave his first major speech as Bank president at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, and proposed universal primary education for girls and boys by 2010. Finally, we established a Director position for Gender and we adopted a gender strategy in 2001.

Between 1995 and 2000, the Bank lent over US$3.4 billion for girls’ education programs and was the single largest lender in the world for health, nutrition and population projects, three-quarters of which contained gender-responsive actions.

Unfortunately, some other areas did not perform as well. In fact, our operations in sectors where we historically invest most money, such as infrastructure and agriculture, often lacked gender consideration. So in 2007 we came up with a Gender Action Plan to include gender issues in the activities and operations taking place particularly in these areas. Here are some of the reasons.

Development outcomes improve when a road project accounts for women’s particular needs in its design. Bank-financed projects in Peru and Guatemala that incorporated women’s needs from the beginning led to women’s reduced work burdens, increased access to markets, earnings and employment.

And in land rights, a recent example in Ethiopia is striking.  About 20 million land use certificates were issued to some six million households in less than two years through a highly participatory process. The project showed how relatively simple and cheap measures such as having two lines printed on the title deed to indicate joint ownership between husband and spouse made a key difference for women—the majority of agricultural workers in sub-Saharan Africa.

So I am optimistic. And not because we have all the answers, but because progress is a reality. Today, women govern in countries as diverse as Germany, Chile and Liberia; live longer than their mothers and grandmothers; and have an increasing participation in the labor force.

Here at the Bank we will continue to make every effort to achieve gender equality. And not only because it is good for women but because there cannot be development without them.


Submitted by Paulo C. de Sá Porto on
Caríssimo Otaviano, Perdi seu contato de email e telefone. Saí da Vale em dezembro de 2008, e, após dar aulas no Ibmec Rio por seis meses, voltei para Santos e estou como professor da UniSantos na graduação e como coordenador do curso deles de Comércio Exterior. Em agosto assumo uma cadeira na pós, no doutorado em Direito Internacional e Ambiental. Qual o seu novo email? Se puder me escreva: [email protected] Grande abraço, Paulo C. de Sá Porto

Submitted by Women for Women on
Thanks for the post coinciding with Women's Day. I just wanted to mention that the Ethiopia land titling example is very interesting. Great example that shows economic empowerment of women is also very critical not just educational or health-related aid for women.

Thank you for this great blog post. I wanted to point readers to this SmartLesson from Bangladesh on women and agribusiness. Sita Four Hundred Women Light the Way! SmartLesson by Anika Ali and Mrinal Sircar Link: Abstract: The SouthAsia Enterprise Development Facility (SEDF), IFC’s Advisory facility in Bangladesh, partnered with a sponsoring organization and worked with 400 women to help them enter the seed business. The project results demonstrate that women can do it, that it is profitable, and that it is sustainable. Being convinced of the huge potential for women to reshape the seed sector, we took the approach: Think big and act in small steps. IFC-SEDF, the Ministry of Agriculture’s Seed Wing, and Rural Development Academy partnered to scale up the initiative by working with 400 women in groups of 20. The women were trained not only in seed production, storage, and processing, but also in bookkeeping and business management. Toward the end of the project, the women entrepreneurs were mobilized into the first-ever Women Seed Federation. Also, in-depth thought and efforts went into making these groups sustainable by integrating them into the seed value chain, particularly linking them with the large seed companies. Access to required support services from within the community was also initiated. Lesson learned include: (1) Take an innovative approach to dealing with the socio-cultural aspects; (2) Use women touchpoints whenever possible; (3) Do not downplay the value of indigenous knowledge and practices; (4) Find ways to assure the use of quality inputs; (5) Draw continued attention to a good initiative; (6) Government agencies can prove very effective, contrary to conventional belief; (7) One success breeds the next.

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