Jeni Klugman on the World Bank's new gender report

Jeni Klugman, director of gender and development at the World Bank, weighs in on the report’s findings and implications for development work.

A new report from the World Bank finds that women around the world face a number of constraints — driven by education, poverty and discriminatory laws — that limit their participation in society.

Devex spoke with Jeni Klugman, director of gender and development at the bank, to find out what the report’s findings mean for the bank and international development work around the world.

The report, entitled “Voice and agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperity,” was on Wednesday at an event hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based institution which featured World Bank President Jim Kim, former-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the head of U.N. Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Kim noted the importance of women’s participation in society as a critical element to reducing poverty around the world.

“The persistent constraints and deprivations that prevent many of the world’s women from achieving their potential have huge consequences for individuals, families, communities and nations,” Kim said. “Expanding women's ability to make decisions and take advantage of opportunities is critical to improving their lives as well as the world we all share.”

The report focused on four concrete areas of constraints on women’s agency and empowerment: unequal laws, sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence and property rights.

It found that more than one in three women have experienced violence, much of it in their own homes, and that the epidemic of violence is a global phenomenon. Data from 33 developing countries also showed that almost one-third of women cannot refuse sex with their partners and even more — 41 percent — said they could not ask their partner to use a condom.

Women and girls in the developing world face a major gap in access to information technology, are less likely to own land and property, and are often restricted in the type of work they can perform. The report also noted that 128 countries have laws on the books that treat men and women differently “making it impossible, for example, for a woman to independently obtain an ID card, own or use property, access credit or get a job.”

World Bank at a ‘starting point’ on gender

Gender is an important focus of new programming under the International Development Association, the World Bank’s lending arm for the poorest countries, as well as one of the new “cross-cutting solution areas” created by the president’s reform agenda.

Klugman sees the bank’s efforts to promote women’s empowerment through economic empowerment, education, health, and programs to reduce violence as only a starting point. In the past year, the institution has also looked for more ways to address gender-based violence — especially by looking beyond conflict zones to address violence in middle-income countries.

“It's a broad agenda, and one that we are just beginning to explore, but I think one of the important messages of the report is the role of multisectoral programs and the need for long-term approaches,” Klugman said.

As an example, the study cited multisectoral approaches to reproductive health, where “access to contraception is critical, alongside raising awareness, life skills training, mentoring and peer group training and activity clubs and sports.”

The report also calls for widespread reforms to discriminatory laws and land titling, a heavier focus on secondary education for girls and new approaches to addressing violence that includes men and boys. There is also a need for more and better data, Klugman said, adding that the agreement last year on international core gender indicators was an important first step.  

You can follow the online conversation about the report using the hashtag #womencan and find more resources on women’s empowerment through our She Builds campaign.

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About the author

  • Paul Stephens

    Paul Stephens is a former Devex staff writer based in Washington, D.C. As a multimedia journalist, editor and producer, Paul has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, CBS Evening News, GlobalPost, and the United Nations magazine, among other outlets. He's won a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for a 5-month, in-depth reporting project in Yemen after two stints in Georgia: one as a Peace Corps volunteer and another as a communications coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.