Gender equality matters for development
By Pawlos Belete
in Capital, Tuesday, 20 September 2011, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The World Bank (WB) will release its flagship annual World Development Report – 2012 tomorrow, on September 19, 2011. The report, unlike its preceding publications, focuses entirely on gender equality. This is the first time the WB has devoted its World Development Report to gender equality. It highlights the achievement and pre-eminence of gender equality as a growing issue over the past three decades and the challenges ahead. The Ethiopian government has been praised for its effort to introduce joint title deeds for agricultural land ownership and for the introduction of a new family law.
“Gender equality matters in its own right. It is smart economics. Countries that create better opportunities and conditions for women and girls can raise productivity, improve outcomes for children, make institutions more representative and help advance development prospects for all,” reads the bank’s World Development Report.
The report which is entitled ‘World Development Report 2012 : Gender Equality and Development, explains the steps needed to be taken into account in order to narrow gender gaps. It acknowledges areas which have shown progress and also areas which need to be worked on.
The report acknowledges that the world has made major improvement in narrowing gender gaps in education, health, and labor markets in the past 25 years. Gaps between boys and girls in primary education have closed in almost all countries. In secondary education, the educational attainment disparity is narrowing rapidly, the report finds out.
In Latin America, the Caribbean and East Asia, it is the boys and young men who were found to be most disadvantaged. Among developing countries, girls now outnumber boys in secondary schools in 45 countries, and there are more young women than men in universities in sixty countries, it adds.
Similar progress can be seen in life expectancy where women in low income countries not only outlive men but also live 20 years longer than they did in 1960 explains the report. The same is true for labor force participation. In much of the world, gaps in labor force participation have narrowed with over half a billion women having joined the work force in the last 30 years, adds the report.
“We need to achieve gender equality. Over the past five years, the World Bank Group has provided 65 billion dollars to support girls’ education, women’s health, and women’s access to credit, land agricultural services, jobs and infrastructure. This has been important work, but it has not been enough or central enough to what we do. Going forward, the WBG will mainstream our gender work and find other ways to move the agenda forward to capture the full potential of half of the world’s population,” Robert B. Zoellick, President of WBG, was quoted as saying in a news release distributed to journalists last Thursday.
The report outlined lower school enrolment rates of disadvantaged girls, unequal access to economic opportunities and incomes whether in the labor market, agriculture or entrepreneurship; and large gaps between women and men both in households and societies – issues that need to be addressed in policy responses. The report strongly argues that closing these gender gaps matters most for development policies.
The World Development Report calls for four areas of intervention. The first being addressing human capital issues; including excessive deaths of girls and women; and gender gaps in education. The second area is closing earning and productivity gaps. The third is giving women a greater voice, the final one is limiting the perpetuation of gender inequality.
The report highlights the fact that the rate at which girls and women die in developing countries is still worse than that of men and globally, excessive female mortality after birth and ‘missing’ girls at birth account for an estimated 3.9 million female deaths each year in low and middle income countries. About two fifths of the total amount of females conceived are never born due to a sex preference for sons, a sixth die in early childhood, and over a third die in their reproductive years, explains the paper. These losses are increasing in SSA especially in countries smothered by HIV/AIDS, adds the report.
The World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that equal access to resources for female farmers could increase agricultural output in developing countries by as much as 2.5 percent to four percent.
In a similar fashion, removing obstacles that prevent women from working in certain occupations or sectors would have similar positive effects, reducing the productivity gap between male and female workers by one-third to one-half and increasing output per worker by three to 25 percent across different countries, the report states.
The WB team of experts who were discussing the content of the report through video conference with members of the media in different SSA countries explained to Capital that the Ethiopian joint title deeds scheme and the new family law have empowered women insofar as rural women are able to produce higher yields, have permissibly delayed marriages in urban Ethiopia, and can have leave from work without necessarily requiring permission.
However, the team of experts were unable to explain to Capital what they found out to be the root cause of gender inequality and how policy prescription alone can change that.