TWENTY years ago in Mexico the First World Conference on Women inspired a movement that has helped to reduce gender inequality worldwide. Illiteracy among women is declining, maternal mortality and total fertility rates are beginning to fall. and more women are participating in the labor force than ever before. However. much remains to be done.
In low-income countries women are often denied health care and basic education. Worldwide. women face limited access to financial services, technology. and infrastructure. They are locked into relatively low-productivity work. In addition to performing household tasks and child-rearing duties, women work longer hours for lower pay than most men. And. most discouraging of all. hundreds of thousands of women each year are subject to gender-related violence.
Persistent inequality between women and men constrains a society's productivity and, ultimately slows its rate of economic growth. Although this problem has been generally recognized evidence on the need for corrective action is more controlling today than ever.
This report written for the Fourth World Conference on Women is intended as a reference to strategies for promoting gender equality and. consequently enhancing economic efficiency. It pulls together evidence, including case studies, that demonstrates the need for governor action to improve the economic status of women. It points out how public policy can and should support services and infrastructure that provide the highest social returns and that are most heavily used by women. The report also aims to stimulate creative solutions to the problem of gender inequality by high lilting innovative and sometimes not obvious strategies that have proved successful. A study in Morocco, for instance, shows that paving public roads to schools increases by 40 percent the probability that local girls will attend classes.
Policy reform that provides an enabling environment for economic growth goes hand in hand with investing in people. The success of one strategy draws on the success of the other. No efforts at gender equality. however, can be successful without the participation of women themselves.
As the international community gathers in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women, the World Bank stands ready to assist client governments in response to the challenges ahead. The Bank believes that by advancing gender equality, governments can greatly enhance the future well-being and prosperity of their people.
Armeane M. Choksi Vice President Human Capital Development and Operations Policy The World Bank