Gender Equality

The World Bank’s recently released 2012 World Development Report on gender equality and development has some encouraging news and some not-so-encouraging news.

First, for the glass-half-full perspective: The report found that in all developed countries and a third of developing countries there are more girls in universities than boys. At the same time, more girls and women are literate than ever before. And women now make up over 40% of the global work force. Another finding: it took about 110 years in the United States for the average number of children a woman has to tumble from six to three. In India it took just 35 years, while in Iran it took just eight. And in the U.S. it took 40 years to increase girls’ school enrollment to a level it took Morocco just a decade to reach.

Yet women and girls in developing countries still die earlier than those in developed countries. And women in both the developed and developing worlds still do a disproportionate amount of the housework and family caretaking as men.

Growth and Gender Equality

The gaps are even more pronounced for women living in poverty, living in remote areas, and those who are disabled or belong to minority groups.

The report makes it clear that gender equality matters both for development and for policies.  

The reality is that economic development alone will not eradicate all gender inequality. Policies are needed to close the gender gap as well. These policies need to focus on gender-based violence as well as improving health and reproductive care in communities.

When women’s status in their communities is improved through education or economic development, other development outcomes, including those for their children, are also improved. And when women take part in the political leadership of their communities and countries, it is more likely that representative and inclusive institutions will be formed.

While the report focuses on the economics of gender equality and development, it also focuses on the role of social and political institutions in determining gender outcomes.

“Gender equality is at the heart of development,” wrote Robert B. Zoellick, President of The World Bank Group, in the foreword to the report. “It’s the right development objective, and it’s smart economic policy.”