World Development Report 2012 – a pledge for global gender equality

This year’s World Development Report (WDR) published by the World Bank is dedicated to Gender Equality. The in-depth economic analysis shows progress and barriers in the process to set out for more gender equality worldwide. For the first time, the World Bank shows a notable shift in attitude towards recognising gender equality as a development goal in its own right. The German Development Institute (GDI) has reviewed the report and comments on it. They welcome the World Bank’s new consideration of key insights gained by the international women’s movement. In earlier reports, the World Bank took the position that economic growth was good for equal opportunities and that equal rights were an important precondition for increased productivity and market growth (but not necessarily a goal in its own right).
The World Bank’s World Development Report describes the importance of agency and collective negotiation processes for the empowerment processes in bringing about change in existing societal hierarchies and patterns of discrimination. Furthermore it features the strong binding forces of informal institutions, such as cultural norms and traditions, in the assignment of gender-specific roles. For Africa and the Middle East in particular the report documents severe findings concerning gender disparity especially on raising women’s productivity by using their skills and talents fully. For example maize yields would increase by almost one sixth in Malawi and Ghana, if women farmers had the same access as men to fertilizers and other inputs! Women’s increasing labour force participation seems to be related to the unprecedented reduction in fertility in developing countries as the Islamic Republic of Iran. In Sub-Saharan Africa, education programs for girls remain much lower than for boys in disadvantaged populations. The report also warns of higher death rates among females, mainly during childhood or reproductive years in the countries hardest hit by AIDS.
To narrow disparities between women and men in earnings and productivity, a combination of policies is requested such as South Africa’s rural electrification program or the improvement of women’s access to land as was done in Ethiopia by granting joint land titles to wives and husbands. An effort on job placement programs like in Jordan is suggested to be made confronting with institutional biases. The report welcomes measures that increase women’s control over household resources and equalize voice within households. So did recent reforms of family law in Morocco by equalizing the ownership rights of husbands and wives over property acquired during marriage. The report suggests promoting human and social capital as cash transfer programs have done in Malawi and facilitating the transition from school to work with job and life skills training programs as in Uganda.
The GDI analysis concludes that the World Bank’s business operations still show too little gender-sensitivity but the new report marks a ‘conceptual turning point’ while experts still wonder if there was ‘no change in practice?’. Everyone agrees, however, that the latest World Development Report and its focus on Gender equality is a step in the right direction.