Written laws often fall short of adequately protecting women’s tenure rights; while in some countries, formal national laws explicitly discriminate against women.
On March 8, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Habitat for Humanity International launched its first global advocacy campaign, “Solid Ground,” which envisions a world where everyone has access to land for shelter. Promoting gender equality and addressing inequitable or unenforced laws, policies, and customary practices affecting women’s rights to security of tenure and inheritance, has been a primary focus of the campaign.
Now mid-way through the campaign, Solid Ground has grown to include 37 national Habitat for Humanity organizations, 17 partner organizations, an active microsite solidgroundcampaign.org (and in Spanish, SueloUrbano.org), and has provided direct financial assistance to country programs working on gender and land issues. In its first year, over 1.3 million people are projected to have improved access to land for shelter through the Solid Ground campaign with a goal of reaching 10 million people, especially women.
Through a variety of efforts to build capacity, mobilize allies, influence policymakers, and work together with our partners, A sampling of some strategies, cases, and upcoming plans are highlighted below.
International Women's Day
In common with many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, Morocco and Tunisia have a huge untapped source of human talent.
Last week, I took a journey on Mumbai’s suburban train system, which carries a staggering 8 million women and men, equivalent to the entire population of Switzerland, every day to where they live, work, and spend time with family and friends. Although stretched, the system has reduced mobility constraints and increased independence for millions of women who rely on safe transport to access education and job opportunities; contributing to the city’s dynamism and growth. There are similarly inspiring examples from all countries in South Asia.
As we mark International Women’s Day, we celebrate the progress made in improving women’s inclusion and empowerment, while seeking to better address continuing challenges, which are estimated to cost South Asian economies $888 billion, through devising and implementing solutions that will bridge remaining gaps.
Much to be proud of—a lot more remains to be done
South Asian countries have seen encouraging increases in greater access and gender parity in education. At the same time, the region has achieved substantial decreases in maternal and child mortality. Countries have made great strides in healthcare access through training more female healthcare workers while providing affordable care for mothers and children. The region also boasts many inspiring female leaders and role models, as well as the countless individuals positively contributing to their communities and societies against difficult odds.
However, much more needs to be done in order to nurture all women and men to realize their potential. As South Asian countries become more prosperous, their growth trajectory will be less assured if hundreds of millions of women remain excluded from education and employment opportunities. South Asian countries will need to substantially expand their workforce in order to meet their economic growth goals and, at the same time, adequately support their increasingly large populations. Studies show that only around 1 out of 4 women in South Asia participate in the labor force, about half of what is typical in middle-income countries in other regions. Too many women face restrictions in decision-making, mobility, public safety; and far too many experience gender-based violence—the most egregious cases making headlines around the world. What can help bridge these gaps?
Women and men agree on Afghanistan’s development priorities according to the findings of the country’s most recent Living Conditions Survey of 2013/14 where more than 20,000 Afghan women and men were separately asked what they thought their government’s main development priority should be.
Both women and men picked service delivery, infrastructure development and increased security as top development priorities. Three-quarters of men and women said that the main priorities were improved access to drinking water, construction and rehabilitation of roads, and improved health facilities. About 15 to 18 percent of the respondents picked more jobs, access to agriculture and veterinary services, and improved local education facilities. Not surprisingly, in districts rated as insecure, priorities for both women and men shifted toward increased security. This emphasis on security meant that men and women in these districts gave a relatively lower priority for infrastructure services especially for road construction and electricity provision.
As we mark International Women’s Day this week, and its call for bold pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity, the role of law in fighting for the human rights and gender equality of women is paramount.
When governments use the law to discriminate against women in some way that disadvantages them in relation to men, they clearly violate the letter and spirit of Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which reinforces equal protection under the law.
The political participation of Arab women in post-revolutionary Arab countries has been the subject of various studies and academic research. The 2011 revolutions marked a significant shift in the female political role in the region because women were involved at the head of the Arab uprisings. The revolutions, which were initially secular and egalitarian, also unleashed long-repressed conservative forces, which have been eating in to the gains made by Arab feminists over the past decades.
From my corner of the World Bank, the development objective of promoting gender equality can seem vague or unrelated to what we do. We can give three cheers for our colleagues who focus on gender issues for successfully developing and releasing the World Bank’s new Gender Equality, Poverty Reduction and Inclusive Growth Strategy -- and then return to our work of closing the infrastructure financing gap and helping governments prioritize their infrastructure projects.
But are there areas in our own work on public-private partnerships (PPPs) where we can and should evaluate the role gender plays? Based on the quantity of literature my colleagues at the PPP Infrastructure Resource Center (PPIRC) have amassed in version 1.0 of their impact of PPPs on gender inclusion page of their website, the answer is yes.
During the last few months, I have brainstormed with my team at the Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility to examine how gender considerations overlap with the technical assistance we facilitate. I have also recently joined the “gender leads” group of the World Bank on behalf of the PPP Group. As I have become more aware of the challenges women face around the world, I see these issues more and more through a PPP lens.
So in honor of International Women’s Day, which pushes us to “step it up for gender equality,” I’ve identified five areas that point toward ways PPPs can be part of the solution:
Thirteen of the 15 countries with the lowest rates of women participating in their labor force are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), according to the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report (2015). Yemen has the lowest rate of working women of all, followed by Syria, Jordan, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Oman, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Turkey.
Achieving gender equality and the economic empowerment of women is both a moral and social imperative — and it's also good business.
A study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that, if all countries matched the level of progress toward gender equality of the most advanced country in their region, annual global GDP could increase by up to $12 trillion in 2025.
Over the past two decades, significant progress has been made toward raising living standards and closing the gap between men and women, particularly in health and education. Life expectancy at birth has risen in tandem with reductions in maternal mortality, while differences in access to primary education between boys and girls are diminishing steadily.
These gains — although significant — conceal differences between countries and regions, and are insufficient to ensure equal access to economic opportunities for boys and girls.