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This International Women’s Day: let’s design infrastructure better

Caren Grown's picture

Photo: Carol Mitchell | Flickr Creative Commons

As the backbone of development, infrastructure provides vital support for the twin goals of poverty reduction and shared prosperity. Considering the different needs, roles, and responsibilities of men and women in infrastructure design makes the achievement of these goals more sustainable.

Women and men face constraints both as beneficiaries and producers of infrastructure services. For example, there can be inequitable access to roads, financing for electricity connections, or clean water. There are also inequities in the infrastructure business value chain: Do utilities have a balance of women and men on technical and leadership teams? Is there diversity on boards, with regulators or policy makers? Are women-owned firms in supply chains?

How many companies are run by women, and why does it matter?

Masako Hiraga's picture

Happy International Women’s Day! This is an important year to celebrate – from global politics to the Oscars last weekend, gender equality and inclusion are firmly on the agenda.

But outside movies and matters of government, we see the effects on gender equality every day, in how we live and work. One area we have data on comes from companies: what share of firms have a female CEO or top manager?

Only 1 in 5 firms worldwide have a female CEO or top manager, and it is more common among the smaller firms. While this does vary by around the world – Thailand and Cambodia are the only two countries where the data show more women running companies than men.

Better representation of women in business is important. It ensures a variety of views and ideas are represented, and when the top manager of a firm is woman, that firm is likely to have a larger share of permanent female workers.

The invisible door: Three barriers limiting women’s access to work

Namita Datta's picture
Women’s labor force participation worldwide over the last two decades has stagnated, and women generally earn less than men. (Photo: Tom Perry / World Bank)
How can we Press For Progress —the theme of International Women's Day 2018— to improve women's opportunities at work? Despite progress on women’s health and education in the past few decades, the gender gap on access to jobs has remained a stubborn challenge.

Rural Women Entrepreneurs: What does it take?

Shobha Shetty's picture

“Sabse jyada munafa chuski mein hai (The biggest margin lies in small ice pops)”, says Shanti Devi with the definitive confidence of a seasoned entrepreneur. Shanti, a resident of Kotwana village in Bihar’s Gaya district runs an ice-cream production and sales unit that has an annual revenue of INR 1.9 million and employs 22 workers for a significant part of the year. While sharing the long list of ice-cream flavours she vends, Shanti also signals at a much larger phenomenon. “Every third shop in this market is run by a JEEViKA member, ranging from grocery and utensil stores to a newspaper agency.”

Shanti is the microcosm of a transformative ecosystem that has nurtured 1.8 million new and existing women entrepreneurs while creating 800,000 new jobs in India. The JEEViKA that Shanti refers to, is a World Bank supported program of the Government of Bihar aimed at empowering women through Self-Help groups (SHGs), commodity specific producer groups and higher federations. The approach scaled up nation-wide under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) is driving growth and job creation in rural areas through women-owned enterprises.

Today there are 45 million rural women across India that are mobilized into self-help groups under the NRLM umbrella. Some 3.9 million SHGs and their federations have been empowered with skills, access to finance, markets, and business development services.  This is triggering a huge change in the lives of the rural women.

Redefining women's empowerment in Bangladesh

Sabah Moyeen's picture

What does empowerment really mean? The Northern Area Reduction Initiative (NARI) project has forced me to ask this question several times. And the answers are apparently not as neat and foldable into the pre-set indicators as one would think.
Bangladesh’s garment industry has been at the heart of the country’s export boom ever since the first factory opened in 1976. Today, the industry accounts for 80% of Bangladesh’s total exports. 85% of the workers in the garments sector are women. The NARI program aims to facilitate the entry of skilled women into this sector. However, this program is not just about technical skills aimed at churning out yet another RMG worker. The girls learn how to adjust to life outside their homes and villages, open and manage bank accounts, and learn about their rights and responsibilities as workers. They also negotiate contracts and rent, understand what sexual harassment is, and learn how and where to report it. They build networks, allow ideas to form on the basis of newly discovered confidence and self-esteem. Some graduate and join the earmarked jobs, often in positions several steps ahead of what they would have been offered without the training.

Can blockchain disrupt gender inequality?

Alicia Hammond's picture

Blockchain is the subject of considerable hype, thanks largely to the rise (and fall and rise...) of high profile digital currencies. Beyond this spotlight, development experts and innovators are exploring whether the technology behind cryptocurrencies can be leveraged to advance gender equality.
Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology  that facilitates peer-to-peer transactions without using an intermediary. (The technology is also notoriously difficult to follow, but we find this brief video helpful and this talk explains blockchain well, if you have a bit more time.) Put simply, the system is maintained by collaboration, code and sometimes competition. Many experts refer to Google Docs to explain the concept: multiple users can access the same document simultaneously and they can all see the changes. This feature potentially makes it suited for validating records and processing financial transactions in the absence of strong institutions.

South Asia’s prosperity will require more women to work for pay

Annette Dixon's picture

Women in the Work Force

South Asia has enjoyed a growth rate of 6 percent a year over the past 20 years. This has translated into declining poverty and improvements in health and education. While worthy of celebration as we mark International Women's Day, the success could have been more dramatic if more women worked for pay. Only 28 percent of women in South Asia have a job or are looking for one, compared to 79 percent of men. This is the second lowest in the world, after the Middle East and North Africa region at 21 percent.

With the largest working-age population and growing middle class, South Asia’s development potential is vast. But the lack of women in employment and economic participation reflects lost potential. In India and Sri Lanka, tens of millions of women have dropped out of the work force over the last twenty years.

Many factors are holding them back. Almost half of South Asia’s adult women are illiterate and its girls suffer from the highest malnutrition rates in the world. Rates of violence against women and maternal mortality remain among the highest in the world. All these factors translate into a labor market characterized by low participation, high unemployment and persistent wage gaps for women.

What can be done to better prepare and encourage women to participate in the work force? It starts with valuing our daughters as much as our sons – providing them with the same access to nutritious foods and investing in their education for them to reach their potential. Let’s spark the interest of young girls in subjects like science and mathematics, and convince them that they are just as capable as boys –that they too can build careers in engineering, scientific research, IT, and other fields that are in demand by employers. We must also raise our sons to respect girls and women, and make it clear that there is zero-tolerance for gender-based violence.

This International Women’s Day, 3 things you can take from behavioral science for a more equitable world

Caren Grown's picture

Many insights from behavioral science apply directly towards better understanding and addressing inequalities between men and women, in education and health, ownership of assets, access to more and better jobs, and the capacity to act on one’s own behalf and interests.

Here are three insights that stand out as critical to closing these inequalities by 2030.

What does the global economic outlook tell the debt managers?

M. Coskun Cangoz's picture
Global Economic Growth

2018 started with the good news. The World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects and the IMF’s World Economic Outlook both show that the global economy is in a recovery. Furthermore, it is expected that the upturn is broad-based as the growth is increasing in more than half of the world economies. Global Economic Prospects report that in advanced economies, growth in 2017 is estimated to have rebounded to 2.3 percent while emerging and developing economies (EMDEs) were projected to have higher-than-expected growth of 4.3 percent. Overall, global growth is projected to edge up to 3.1 percent in 2018.

Over the last decade debt managers, like the central bankers, fiscal policy managers and regulators, had to deal with the global financial crisis. During this period, while debt levels were increasing in many countries, thanks to the unconventional monetary policies, interest rates went down, maturities lengthen up to 100 years, and portfolio capital flows moved across markets. In the end, those were very unusual times. Now the question is: Is this the end of the global crisis? Are we back to the “normal” times?

Indeed, it doesn’t look so.

Nepal hotline helps women suffering violence

Annette Dixon's picture
Women in Nepal
Violence against women remains a pervasive issue in Nepal. There's now a
24/7 helpline to support victims. 

On my visit to Kathmandu in January, I visited the Khabar Garaun 1145 (Inform Us) helpline set up to support survivors of Gender Based Violence (GBV).

In a small room, two operators respond tirelessly to callers as part of a 24 hour, seven days a week service. They assess callers’ needs, and refer them to receive legal aid, psycho-social support, child support and shelter. Each entry, whether it comes in by phone, email or text message, is carefully recorded through an online system, that eases the task of tracking and referring cases. The referrals connect them to response service providers including the Nepal Police, One-Stop Crisis Management Centers run by the Ministry of Health, and Non-Governmental Organizations.   

Since its launch by the National Women Commission (NWC) in December 2017, the helpline has received 1,938 calls from women seeking assistance to deal with GBV, with 180 cases being registered. Cases are registered only after a preliminary assessment is conducted, and immediate necessary support provided. It is heartening that so many survivors are coming forward to report cases. But the numbers are clearly alarming.  

Launching the NWC helpline
Launching the NWC helpline. Photo Credit: Richa Bhattarai/World Bank

There are various social restrictions that prevent women from speaking out and reporting incidents of gross injustice. With the introduction of the Khabar Garaun 1145 helpline, we hope that GBV survivors can find shelter, legal, psycho-social and remedial measures quickly and effectively. In fact, this is pioneering work by a government agency that can be a model for other countries, an innovation to note as we mark International Women’s Day. But it also illustrates the disturbing extent of GBV in Nepal, which is a leading cause of death for adult women. We need to eliminate GBV because it has devastating consequences on individuals, families and communities, along with large economic and social costs.   

Recently, an incident of a gang rape of a 21-year old woman was reported to the helpline. As follow up, the NWC counselor personally visited the survivor and traumatized family members and provided psychosocial and legal counseling, before referring the case. The survivor's husband was grateful for the support NWC provided – from counseling to collecting evidence and strengthening the case that resulted in a verdict to arrest perpetrators. “When our entire world seemed to collapse, this support helped restore a little of our faith in humanity,” he said. This is the kind of concrete support that is needed for women across the world.