As we mark International Women’s Day 2018, there has never been a more critical time to invest in people, especially in women and girls.
Skills, knowledge, and know-how – collectively called human capital – have become an enormous share of global wealth, bigger than produced capital such as factories or industry, or natural resources.
But human capital wealth is not evenly distributed around the world, and it’s a larger slice of wealth as countries develop. How, then, can developing countries build their human capital and prepare for a more technologically demanding future?
The answer is they must invest much more in the building blocks of human capital – in nutrition, health, education, social protection, and jobs. And the biggest returns will come from educating and nurturing girls, empowering women, and ensuring that social safety nets increase their resilience.
According to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school, and 15 million girls of primary-school age – half of them in sub-Saharan Africa – will never enter a classroom. Women’s participation in the global labor market is nearly 27 percentage points lower than for men, and women’s labor force participation fell from 52 percent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2016.
What if we could fix this?
Labor and Social Protection
Yesterday morning I participated in the “Ring the Bell for Gender Equality” event at the opening of the Mongolian Stock Exchange. A global event sponsored by the IFC and other partners*, the event highlights how economies and individual companies benefit from efforts to close gender gaps in their operations and governing structures.
Earlier I had dug out my notes from a survey of listed companies conducted in 1996. Only 25 of the 249 companies we surveyed counted women as general directors. Today, women lead around six percent of the top 100 listed firms – that is, fewer than 20 years ago. This does not mean that there has not been progress. The last time the World Bank Group enterprises surveys were done, Mongolia had a similar or larger share of firms with women in top management. This number is higher than the region’s average, but such leadership roles were more heavily weighted to smaller firms. Whereas 31 percent of medium-sized firms – that is, those with 20-99 employees – had female top managers, only 17 percent of firms with over 100 employees had women in senior management.
Getting to equal at the top requires more systematic scrutiny of the factors that support or hinder women’s economic empowerment throughout their lives. No one is born a CEO.
So, where are the gender gaps?
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.
. 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.
Over the past decade, delivery systems for safety net programs in developing countries, particularly in Africa, have been largely paper-based. Social assistance projects in these settings often conjured pictures of tedious long lines to fill out paper registration and attendance forms, ink-based thumb printing to receive payments, manual verification of beneficiaries using a combination of different ID cards, as well as high levels of unintentional administrative errors, corruption and fraud.
About a decade ago, we started a project to improve solid waste management for waste pickers like Ibrahim and the 840,000 people in the southern West Bank governorates of Bethlehem and Hebron. One of the project components included the closure of the Yatta dumpsite, where illegally dumped and burned household waste was reaching a very unsanitary and hazardous level.
But here came the challenge.
While the closure of the dumpsite would mean putting an end to a serious environmental and public health problem, it was terrible news for the waste pickers and their families. It meant that the livelihoods of those families would come to an end.
Meanwhile, back in the capital, members of Peru’s local and national government, as well as representatives from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, gathered in Lima at the “Experiences of Women in Rural Roads” conference to discuss the role of women in the transport sector.
The event highlighted women’s participation in rural road construction and maintenance as a significant step toward gender equality: it gave participants a chance to discuss the impact of these projects, share lessons learned, and inform a Gender Action Plan for the ongoing Support to the Subnational Transport Program. Indigenous women from rural communities in in Arequipa, Junín, Huánuco, and the Amazon attended the event and emphasized the importance of these projects in the development of their communities and the role of these employment opportunities in their own lives, their self-esteem, and their aspirations for a better future.
Since 2001, the World Bank Group (WBG) and the Peruvian government have worked together to promote women’s participation in rural transport projects, expanding employment opportunities for women in rural areas. The Peru Decentralized Rural Transport Project has seen the female participation in rural road maintenance microenterprises reach almost 30%.
There are many positive effects of women’s participation in these projects.
Can cash transfers increase trust that citizens bestow upon their government… and even help it work a little better? Yes they can, according to a new paper (and accompanying blog) by Evans, Kosec and Holtemeyer. In 2010, Tanzania launched a pilot conditional cash transfer program, with a randomized roll-out in half of a set of 80 villages. After 2.5 years of transfers, beneficiaries – relative to potential beneficiaries in the waitlisted villages – report a stronger belief that their elected village leaders can be trusted in general, but not their appointed bureaucrats. Beneficiaries are more likely to report that local government leaders take citizens’ concerns into account, and that their honesty has improved over time. Notably, this increased trust does not translate into political activity. Beneficiary households are no more likely to vote in Village Council elections, or attend more Village Council meetings. The research even suggests that the program improves record keeping in the government, but only in sectors linked to transfers (education and health).
Like many Sri Lankans across the country, I joined Sri Lanka’s 70th Independence Day festivities earlier this month. This was undoubtedly a joyful moment, and proof of the country’s dynamism and stability.
The country’s social indicators, a measure of the well-being of individuals and communities, rank among the highest in South Asia and compare favorably with those in middle-income countries. In the last half-century, better healthcare for mothers and their children has reduced maternal and infant mortality to very low levels.
Sri Lanka’s achievements in education have also been impressive. Close to 95 percent of children now complete primary school with an equal proportion of girls and boys enrolled in primary education and a slightly higher number of girls than boys in secondary education.
The World Bank has been supporting Sri Lanka’s development for more than six decades. In 1954, our first project, Aberdeen-Laxapana Power Project, which financed the construction of a dam, a power station, and transmissions lines, was instrumental in helping the young nation meet its growing energy demands, boost its trade and develop light industries in Colombo, and provide much-needed power to tea factories and rubber plantations. In post-colonial Sri Lanka, this extensive electrical transmission and distribution project aimed to serve new and existing markets and improve a still fragile national economy.
Fast forward a few decades and . Yet, .
Notably, the current overreliance on the public-sector as the main engine for growth and investment, from infrastructure to healthcare, is reaching its limits. and the country needs to look for additional sources of finance to boost and sustain its growth.
As outlined in its Vision 2025, the current government has kickstarted an ambitious reform agenda to help the country move from a public investment to a more private investment growth model to enhance competitiveness and lift all Sri Lankans’ standards of living.
Now is the time to steer this vision into action. This is urgent as . As it happens, private foreign investment is much lower than in comparable economies and trade as a proportion of GDP has decreased from 88% in 2000 to 50% in 2016. Reversing this downward trend is critical for Sri Lanka to meet its development aspirations and overcome the risk of falling into a permanent “middle-income trap.”
Is the era of industrialization and manufacturing exports growth miracles – a period of rapid economic growth exceeding expectations, last seen in East Asian countries, most notably in China – over? If you listen to Harvard’s Dani Rodrik, the answer seems to be: pretty much! Does that mean, Africa, the only continent which hasn’t seen rapid export-led manufacturing growth, would not have many growth miracle stories?