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Gender Equality Focus of Berlin Conference

©World Bank/Curt Carnemark
28 February 2007—Women today live longer and better lives than their mothers and grandmothers. But unless they can achieve their full economic potential, families and countries will continue to pay a heavy price.

Why? Because despite the enormous progress achieved in social indicators, women and girls still lag behind economically.

Since 1970, their average life expectancy has increased by some 20 years in developing countries, while the global gap between girls and boys going to primary school was reduced dramatically.

But women still trail men in the workplace, at the bank and on the farm. Women earn some 22 percent less in salaries than their male counterparts, and their access to credit is very small –in Africa, for instance, they just receive one percent of the total credit going to the agricultural sector.

Leaders from governments, industry, finance and the international community met in Berlin last week at the international conference on Women’s Economic Empowerment as Smart Economics, A Dialogue on Policy Options.

The high-level event on 22 and 23 February, is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, in partnership with the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the governments of Norway, the UK, and Denmark.

The conference, opened by Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, looked at gender, governance and growth in Africa; the role of women in finance and private sector development, women’s contribution to production, and their legal status and access to economic resources.

“Empowering women economically is smart economics,” explains Mayra Buvinic, World Bank Director for Gender. “Investments in roads, energy, water, agricultural inputs and financial services will yield higher economic returns if they are designed to benefit women.”

To help unleash the economic potential of women in developing countries, the Bank has launched a Gender Action Plan to collaborate with development partners to increase the productivity and earnings of women producers and their access to formal financial services. The Plan will also help women start agribusinesses and boost their access to essential infrastructure services like transport, water and energy.

“The World Bank Gender Action Plan is an important step in boosting gender equality in an area that has received far too little attention in the past: the economic empowerment of women,” said Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, who announced the Plan with World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz during last September’s Annual Meetings in Singapore.

The Gender Action Plan will particularly benefit women in some of the poorest countries in the world such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan and Tanzania. The World Bank provides support for these countries through the International Development Association (IDA), which gives interest-free loans and grants to the poorest nations to boost economic growth, reduce inequalities and improve living conditions.

And what better way to improve living conditions than by empowering women. After all, countries’ successes are also the success of their women. In Bangladesh, where 65 percent of workers in the garment sector are women, the industry’s exports constitute some 74 percent of annual total foreign exchange earnings. And in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, it is estimated that agricultural activity could be raised by as much as 20 percent if agricultural inputs were more equally distributed between men and women.

As the evidence shows, restricting economic opportunity for women is unfair, but also bad economics.

See full story at the World Bank website:




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