The lives of women around the world have improved dramatically, at a pace and scope difficult to imagine even 25 years ago. Women have made unprecedented gains in rights, education, health, and access to jobs and livelihoods.
Despite the progress, gaps remain in many areas. The worst disparity is the rate at which girls and women die relative to men in developing countries. Excess female deaths account for an estimated 3.9 million women each year in low- and middle-income countries. About two-fifths are never born due to a preference for sons, a sixth die in early childhood, and over a third die in their reproductive years.
The World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development argues that closing these gaps is a core development objective in its own right. It is also smart economics. Greater gender equality can enhance productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation, and make institutions more representative.
The analytical core of the Report constitutes a conceptual framework that examines the factors that have fostered change and the constraints that have slowed progress. The analysis focuses on the roles of economic growth, households, markets, and institutions in determining gender differences in education and health, agency, and access to economic opportunities.
The analysis leads to the identification of four priority areas for domestic policy action:
- Reducing excess female mortality and closing education gaps where they remain
- Improving access to economic opportunities for women
- Increasing women's voice and agency in the household and in society
- Limiting the reproduction of gender inequality across generations
While domestic policy action is crucial, the Report calls on the international community to complement efforts in the four priority areas and also support evidence-based public action through better data, impact evaluation and learning.