My Own View on Women

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 World 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.

At the World 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.