World Bank report: Gender gap stunts economic growth

Renz Luigi Dahilig, Zoe Rodriguez

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World Bank report: Gender gap stunts economic growth
The report says women with less education are more likely to live in poverty, suffer from domestic abuse, be married as children, and have no say in household and health matters
MANILA, PHILIPPINES – Barring rights of women can stunt economic growth.
This was according to the World Bank report “Gender, Voice and Agency” launched on Monday, June 2, at the Asian Development Bank headquarters in Mandaluyong City.
Jeni Klugman, the World Bank Group’s Director for Gender and Development, explained the need to study “agency” and “voice” of women.
“Agency” is the capability to make decisions that matter, while “voice” is being able to speak up and be heard.

The World Bank’s study focused on (1) freedom from the risk of violence, (2) control over sexual and reproductive rights, (3) ability to own and control land, and (4) capacity to be a voice and influence in society. 

According to the report, constraining such rights affects development. Women who marry and bear children at an early age lose their ability to gain higher education and enter the workforce. Moreover, limiting jobs available to women and restraining the properties women can legally own create “huge losses to productivity in income.”

Gender discrimination remains a reality in many parts of the world and Asia is no exception. The report showed that certain regions in Asia reflected various degrees of constraints on women empowerment and participation, called agency deprivations. 

Current status of women

In the Asian region, the Philippines is regarded as having excellent gender equality rankings as in the WEF’s Global Gender Gap report. Compared to other countries, only 15% of Filipino respondents condone domestic violence. In addition, the Philippines is among the few countries where women participate in government.

There is still room, however, for improvement in the country. Legislation on sexual and reproductive health rights remains weak in the Philippines; certain laws still discriminate against women.

The report also said that South Asia remains one of the top regions where women report physical or sexual violence from their husbands or boyfriends, with 43% of the respondents reporting such cases.

East and Southeast Asia came close with 30% of respondents saying they experienced intimate partner violence (IPV). Aside from violence, certain discriminatory laws and customs on family and marriage exist within the region.

According to the report, the lack of education makes women more susceptible to gender-based inequalities. Around 90% of women with primary education or less experience at least one of the said agency deprivations, while 65% experience all 3.

The report said women with less education are more likely to live in poverty, suffer from domestic abuse, be married as children, and have no say in household and health matters.

Meanwhile, 18% of women with secondary education are prone to one of these constraints, and 5% all 3.

Solutions to closing the gap

The WB emphasized social norms as key to undermining the multiple deprivations of women. Klugman called for change in social norms as “social norms and behavior determine the outcomes” in policy.

Engaging and working with boys, men, families, and communities paves the way to more gender-equal perspectives and aspirations.

In addition, policy and public action also make a huge difference in addressing these issues. Progressive constitutions and rigorously enforced legal reforms ensure that sources of law follow principles of gender equality and give better access to justice and social protection for women, Klugman added.

Customary laws are deemed necessary in incorporating gender-equal norms, as with the case of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which was ratified by 188 states including the Philippines. The treaty covers key areas such as equality in marriage, citizenship rights, mobility, and family information.

Various media and information and communication technologies also serve as powerful tools in amplifying women’s voices. Access to the Internet allows more women and girls to gather information and develop networks.

Collective action is brought about by online petition sites such as, gathering global momentum for causes. Social media also helps, as evident in the recent trending topic in social networking website Twitter – #WomenCan – which has gathered more than 10 million impressions to date.

The launch of the WB report is its first regional launch and is part of a workshop on the same topic. The workshop ran from June 2-4 with the ADB as host and with various multilateral development banks participating. –

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