World Bank admits gender equality not just about growth

31 March 2014

Following on from its 2012 World Development Report on gender (WDR) (see Update 79, 78) the World Bank’s new companion report, Gender at work, published in February, shows a global decline in female labour force participation over the last two decades, including as much as 25 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa. Drawing attention to the limitation of the 2012 WDR which emphasised that “economic development is positively correlated with the share of female workers in wage employment”, the companion report concedes that “the direction of cause-and-effect is difficult to untangle”. It is “the type of growth [that] matters”, pointing to East Asia’s increased female employment, but also “the drive for global competitiveness” which has ”reinforced occupational segregation and downward pressure on women’s wages”.  The report finds that “on virtually every global measure, women are more economically excluded than men.”

Professor Stephanie Seguino of the University of Vermont, US, commented “Though the evidence for convergence in growth rates is elusive, this World Bank report demonstrates a movement towards convergence in thinking about the relationship between gender and economic growth. Not too many years ago, the Bank argued that growth was ‘good for women.’ Feminist economists, however, point out that neoliberal macroeconomic policies have tended to undermine gender equality in a variety of dimensions. This report underscores a shift in thinking at the Bank, acknowledging that growth may in fact be insufficient to promote gender equality. This is encouraging, and I hope the Bank looks more closely at the gender effects of specific macro-level policies, such as trade, investment, and financial liberalisation, inflation targeting by central banks, and the constraints the Bank often proposes on public sector spending.”