World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development
“Despite impressive gains in gender equality, nearly 4 million poor women “missing” each year in developing countries”
World Bank (September 2011), “Gender Equality: the Right and Smart Thing to Do – World Bank Report”, Press Release.
Table of Contents
Main Messages: Progress and Challenges
In its report, the World Bank recognises again that gender equality is smart economics – and that it matters for development
- With women now representing 40% of the global labour force, 43% of the world’s agricultural labour focre and more than half of the world’s university students, there is great potential in increasing productivity levels.
- Numerous studies have shown that better access to education for women contributes to better outcoimes for their children in terms of education, health and employment.
- Increasing women’s voice at all decision-making levels is crucial to make more inclusive policies, that respond to the needs of socity as a whole.
There has been progress over the last two decades in terms of educational enrollment, as gender gaps in primary education have closed in almost all countries, and there has been great progress made in secondary education as well, with a reverse effect in regions such as Latin America or East Asia, where boys are now at a disadvantage. Women’s life expectancy has also increased since 1980, and more than half a billion women have entered the global labour force.
There are still persisting gaps, even in developed countries. In particular, the WDR pinpoints the following issues:
- Excess deaths of girls and women
- Disparities in girls’ schooling across regions
- Unequal access to economic opportunities (especially in terms of informal employment and wage gaps)
- Differences in voice in households and in society
The WDR 2012 calls for action in the following areas:
- Addressing human capital issues (e.g. excess deaths of girls and women, gender gaps in education
- Closing earning and productivity gaps between men and women
- Giving women greater voice within households and societies
- Limiting the perpetuation of gender inequality between generations.
Specifically, the WDR recommends strong and sustained domestic public policies in developing countries that focus on the root causes of gender gaps (i.e. the constraints, such as weak service delivery institutions in the case of maternal mortality). The WDR also highlights the key role of the international community in complementing these efforts: more funding (targeting the poorest countries), improved gender -disaggregated data and more effective partnerships also with the private sector and civil society organisations are essential.
A key component to overcoming gender inequality: Women’s agency
Chapter 4 of the 2012 WDR focuses on women’s agency – the term agency” is defined as“an individual’s (or group’s) ability to make effective choices and to transform those choices into desired outcomes”. The chapter focuses on 5 expressions of agency for women, namely: control over resources, freedom of movement, decision-making power in the family, freedom from the risk of violence, and ability to have a voice in society and influence policy.
There are 3 main reasons why women’s agency matters so much: it is essential for women’s individual well-being and quality of life; it is key to improve the well-being of women’s families; and it is required if women are to actively participate in shaping social norms, institutions and the well-being of their communities.
For example, if a woman has more decision-making power, she is able to avoid the pressure to enter an early marriage, and therefore she will be able to complete her education. Numerous studies have shown that delays in marriage lead to greater eductaion, eraning and health-seeking behaviour. It also has an inter-generational effect, as educated women ensure that their children also have access to education.
See the OECD Development Centre’s Issue Paper on : “Gender Inequality and the MDGs: What are the Missing Dimensions?” for more examples of how discriminatory social institutions (such as early marriage) are linked to development outcomes (such as education, health or employment). Work around social institutions has been carried out by the OECD Development Centre, in particular via the Social Insitutions and Gender Index.
- In most countries, access to contraceptives is a less significant constraint than lack of knowledge and opposition to contraception. Read more in the related graph in the World Development Report (p.158), accessible here WDR 2012
- 3% of domestic abuse incidence rate in Poland translates to 1,465 abuses each day. Read more in the related graph in the World Development Report (p.84), accessible here WDR 2012
In the Media
- Psst! Keep it quiet, but gender equality isn’t just tied to economic growth, by Poverty Matters Blog, The Guardian
According to the author of this article, the WDR 2012 report misses an opportunity to push the discussion on gender equality beyond economic growth.
- Egypt, Middle East gender gap is hampering economic growth: latest World Bank report, by Ahramonline
This article focuses on the main findings of the WDR 2012 concerning the progress made by Egypt and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa in improving women’s education and lifespan and in lowering fertility levels; and also on the remaining challenges, such as the lack of equal economic opportunities.
- Women Hung Out to Dry in Global Labour Market, by IPS Genderwire
Amid policy battles over food production, energy resources and economic decline, one untapped natural resource that is guaranteed to boost production on a global scale has been stubbornly overlooked – the power of women in the labour force.
- More on how the press covered the World Development Report 2012 in the Community Portal.
- World Bank (2011), World Development Report
- World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development – An Opportunity Both Welcome and Missed (UNRISD, 7 October 2011)
- WDR 2012: Gender Equality and Development website