The World Bank is doubling down on women ( with a little help from Goldman Sachs ). World Bank president Jim Yong Kim explained why investment in women entrepreneurs specifically, and in improving the lives of girls and women around the world, is necessary on moral and economic grounds. Here is an excerpt: Conservative estimates of lost productivity resulting from domestic violence are roughly equal to what most governments spend on primary education. For me, the economic case for giving women and girls the same opportunities as men and boys is crystal clear. Last year Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put his support behind “womenomics” – a term asserting that the advancement of women in society improves productivity, as the best talent can be employed regardless of gender. But a strong, evidence-based economic case, no matter how irrefutable, won’t necessarily sway the hearts and minds of people for whom gender inequality is justified as a “cultural norm.” As an anthropologist, I see cultural norms as social constructs that are contested, embedded in unequal power relations, and, ultimately, changeable. But in so many societies, cultural norms can yank the rug from under women and girls just as they start to gain their footing. A math class can teach girls multiplication, but their male teachers and, tragically, their mothers and female relatives can teach them to have limited aspirations. As a result, many women enter into a small range of jobs which have lower barriers to entry, but offer less stability and lower wages. Overwhelmingly, girls and women perform the unpaid work of caretaker, penalizing them with poverty when they grow old. Worst of all, cultural norms can become institutionalized discrimination. In 128 countries, legal differences in how men and women are treated constrain their economic opportunities. This includes laws that make it impossible for a woman to independently obtain an ID card, to own or use property, to access credit, and to get a job. In 15 countries, husbands can even prevent their wives from working. Cultural norms can become deeply entrenched but we know -- based on enormous evidence from all around the world -- that customs and attitudes can change, sometimes very quickly. One good example is son preference. Countries where parents show a strong preference for sons report some 1.5 million fewer female births every year than demographers would predict. But look at South Korea. In the 1990s it had one of the worst sex ratios at birth in the world – more than 116 boys born for every 100 girls -- but now the ratios at birth are close to normal. What are our next steps? What’s the plan? Clearly, we need to address our blind spots. We need to draw more attention to the major constraints for women and girls that are right in front of us. Read the full speech here .
Filed under: government spending, global business, World Bank, women and corporate profits, women entrepreneurs, Goldman Sachs, investing in women, women and access to education, girls, jim yong kim, cost of domestic violence