(New York) – Melinda Gates and Hillary Clinton agree, better data is vital to achieving lasting women’s empowerment. The gains made over the past few decades are encouraging they said while speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative, but there is still a long way to go.
One of the major obstacles is legal equality. A World Bank report released on Tuesday showed 50 years of gains for women around the world, but said that restrictive laws are harming economic opportunities for women. Though the trend is promising. Legal changes have been made in 44 countries over the past two years that improve economic opportunity for women.
“When women and men participate in economic life on an equal footing, they can contribute their energies to building a more cohesive society and a more resilient economy,” said World Bank President Jim Kim. “The surest way to help enrich the lives of families, communities and economies is to allow every individual to live up to her or his fullest creative potential.”
Laws in some countries prohibit women from participating in some jobs. Russian women, for example, are not allowed do drive trucks for the agricultural sector. A woman living in Belarus can never dream of being a carpenter. She is legally not allowed to be one.
But there is progress. Women in Côte d’Ivoire and Mali are now able to work without permission from their husbands. The tracking of legal changes over half a century by the World Bank is exactly what Clinton and Gates were talking about.
“I am making sure we gather and present the data of what we have achieved that is user friendly,” said Clinton. “I want to know exactly what we have accomplished and exactly what we have to do to accomplish it.”
Doing so will help accelerate empowerment for women and improve countries around the world. Access to contraceptives is a part of that answer, said Gates. She helped raise more than $3 billion in pledges through the London Summit for Family Planning last July. The international community rallied around the idea of expanding family planning access to 120 million more women by 2020.
Ensuring that access is increased and that the needs of women are met requires better information on what is already available and what women want, stressed Gates yesterday. Condoms are widely available, but they are not always used and are tools that make it hard for women to control their reproductive health lives.
“If we didn’t have the data to know what tools women want in the developing world, we wouldn’t know what to do,” said Gates. “It’s about putting these tools in the hands of women and letting them to make the decisions.”
Doing so must start at the village level, said Gates. An idea shared by fellow panalists Nobel Prize winning economist and Grameen Bank founder Mohammad Yunus and Jordan’s Queen Rania. He described how he slowly built up his bank and the number of microloans when he realized that investments in women were good bets and led to financial and social gains.
As the number of women lenders began to exceed that of men, his fellow bankers recommended that he change the name to “Grameen Women’s Bank.”
He replied,“OK. As long as you agree to change yours to X Men’s bank and Y Men’s Bank.”
The embattled leader who was forced out of his position at Grameen said that increased mobile access will help continue the health gains made in his home of Bangladesh. Clinton gave Yunus the opportunity to speak publicly about the way he was treated over the past few years, but he largely dodged the issue.
Queen Rania made the case that gender cuts across all issues. While only two of the Mellinnium Development Goals discuss women and girls, all are touched by women, she said. More work to support women will help meet the MDG targets
“When you look at some of the goals that are off track, such as HIV and primary education, if you look through a gender lens you can see where we went wrong,” she said.
Ensuring the health of children also requires a focus on mothers. That idea is reflected in the World Bank’s announcement this week to put $700 million behind women’s and child health through 2015.
“We are committed to using evidence-based approaches to help ensure that every woman and every child can get the affordable, quality health care necessary to survive and live a healthy, productive life,” said Kim.