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More than 35% of women worldwide are survivors of gender-based violence, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Thirty-eight percent of all women murdered, compared to 6% of men, are killed by their intimate partners (estimated by WHO, across all countries with available data since 1982). These are just a couple of the startling statistics that set the stage for a recent CFR roundtable featuring the World Bank Group’s General Counsel Sandie Okoro, which I had the honor of moderating.
Sandie Okoro is a true pioneer. She is the first black woman to hold the position of general counsel at the World Bank. Prior to that, she was general counsel of HSBC Global Asset Management, and has received numerous awards for her work.
Since becoming the World Bank Group General Counsel, Ms. Okoro has supported the bank’s initiative to address gender-based violence as part and parcel of economic development. While the World Bank’s charter is aimed at addressing economics, not politics, for decades the bank has recognized that gender equality is important for economic growth. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the bank’s Women, Business and Law program provides a biennial report to document the connection between formal legal restrictions on women’s equality and economic development. The focus on gender-based violence has developed as part of this effort to mainstream gender with the bank’s work.
Okoro noted that the bank’s gender-based violence (GBV) strategy is currently focused on issues ranging from reducing partner violence and GBV in conflict zones to improving safety in transportation. In the past, when the bank had supported construction of a new road in a country, it received reports that the influx of construction men hired to build the road was sometimes correlated with increased reports of sexual violence against women. From an economic standpoint, gender-based violence results in lost wages, increased health care costs, and mental health concerns.
The bank has drawn a connection between women’s empowerment and economic development, because research shows promoting gender equality is linked to prosperity and, therefore, "smart economics." As noted in the World Bank’s 2012 Gender Equality and Development, gender equality is "an instrument for development" because "it can enhance economic efficiency and improve other development outcomes" in at least three ways, which are outlined in the report. First, eliminating gender barriers in education, economic opportunities, and productive inputs can lead to broad productivity benefits. Second, improving women's status contributes to other development outcomes, including those for their children and families. And third, gender equality promotes development by leveling the playing field and facilitating more representative and inclusive institutions.
While the bank cannot direct governments to address gender-based violence, it can encourage them as partners. Okoro wisely noted that, ultimately, violence against women is not just a women’s issue, but a man’s issue as well. Societies as a whole must take ownership and work together to eradicate gender-based violence.