“With the momentum built up, the stage set, with a banner that in all its glory was decorated with the flags of the seven South Asian states, we sat in our respective country groups to embark on a three-day long journey that was to change my perception of South Asia forever. The dis-embarkment on this passage saw us divided by geographical boundaries, as India and Pakistan made sure to sit the farthest away from each other. The end to this voyage, however, painted a story not many foresaw – " – Alizeh Arif, Lahore School of Economics
Last week we saw two Ivorian women, Murielle Ahouré and Marie-Josée Ta Lou, fly past the finish line in a historic one-two finish in the 60 meters sprint at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England while Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba triumphed in a gritty 800 meters race. From the 60 meters to the 3000 meters, African women graced the podium or were not far from it, a testament to their athletic prowess.
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?
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.
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.
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. We must also raise our sons to respect girls and women, and make it clear that there is zero-tolerance for gender-based violence.
What’s the urgency?
; out of an estimated 7.3 million people who are considered ‘economically inactive’ 73.8 percent are women, while just 26.2 percent are men.
It is clear this challenge is too great for any ministry, development partner or corporate office.
But why do Sri Lankan women need to get to work?
Because this country’s prosperity depends on it! Sri Lanka is getting older before getting rich. Without a labor force the country cannot be competitive nor can it deliver on basic services that require revenue to be generated.
So, the question is, what will it take to really deliver change for Sri Lanka’s women? What are the challenges? How can we help motivate those able to energize change that will benefit women?
The World Bank is ready to join the government, private sector, development partners and the citizens of Sri Lanka in supporting tangible initiatives which address the realities on the ground. We are going to advocate widely.
So, let’s start with a few important announcements. We want to learn from you. Tell us where we should start, and what specific issues need attention. We want to know what your challenges are, and who inspires you most.
Egypt is a market of more than 100 million people and full of opportunities for the trained entrepreneurial eye. Like many developing nations, Egypt seems to have a struggling job market, but many see this as a blessing in disguise. In a country where millions are looking for jobs, there are also millions who give up on the search and create their own opportunities. This might seem far-fetched, but the reality is that poor people in developing nations are extremely entrepreneurial – probably even more so than in developed countries. Professor Ha-Joon Chang captured this fact in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.
One of the best decisions in my life was to reject a job offer from a big corporation and embark on an entrepreneurial start-up journey. Indeed, the journey has been tough and there were, and still are, bumpy roads, but the rising entrepreneurial spirit across the country has been extremely uplifting. I have been in the Egyptian entrepreneurial ecosystem for the past few years and I consider myself well connected and quite informed about everything that has been happening. But I can say with confidence that what the country has been seeing in the past few years is very promising and inspires us to do more.
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.
For every software developer in the United States, there are five open jobs. Africa, meanwhile, has the youngest, fastest-growing population on earth, with more people joining the labor force over the next 20 years than the rest of the world combined.
With this idea in mind, and the powerful belief that "brilliance is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not," Andela, founded four years ago, began recruiting recent graduates in Africa with the mission of connecting them to job opportunities in high-tech companies. Today, about 650 developers in Lagos, Nairobi, and Kampala work full-time for over 100 firms spread across 45 cities worldwide.