Why Identity Matters: Legal Barriers to Women's Economic Empowerment

Thursday, May 31, 2018
A woman in Iran holds her identification in front of her face after voting March 2, 2012. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl
Caren Grown

Senior Director on Gender, World Bank Group

Hardin Lang

Vice President for Programs and Policy, Refugees International


Adjunct Senior Fellow, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

Around the world discriminatory citizenship and identification laws hinder women’s ability to fully participate in and contribute to economies. The majority of the estimated 2.4 billion people who lack a national identity card are women. This has profound implications for women, families, communities, and nations. Caren Grown and Hardin Lang join us for a timely discussion on how national identification and citizenship law reform can help advance women’s economic participation and grow economies, not only in developing nations, but also in the context of humanitarian crises. This meeting is generously supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.



LEMMON: (In progress)—on so many of these issues from such different perspectives. And I’m really delighted to be here. I want to start by introducing myself. (Laughs.) So I am Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. I’m an adjunct senior fellow here at CFF. And I could not, actually, be happier to have the folks that we have here today. Many of whom—many of you know them already, but Hardin Lang of Refugees International and Caren Grown of the World Bank. And I want to start also by thanking Rosita Najmi, who is our amazing supporter, funder, and leader in thought, and partner in conversation, and also doing tremendous work at Gates, for those of you who aren’t following the reports that they’re putting out.

As Hardin was just mentioning, there’s been just a tremendous amount of output just in the past few weeks about, you know, looking at the costs of keeping women out of work, and looking at the costs of not tapping into potential. Because the thing that always drives me, even in days where you feel like am I the only one who cares about this, is that suffocated potential is the enemy of global stability. And if you care about where the world is going and the stability and prosperity and security of where the world is headed, then you have to care about the contributions and the potential of half the population. And I am just back from northern Syria. Hardin is also just back from northern Syria.

I’m working on a next book which is really about what ISIS has left in its wake, which in many ways is the most radical experiment in women’s equality and the absolute least-likely place in the world. And it really is—you know, so many of the discussions I just had in Raqqa 10 days ago were about women who said two things: One, ISIS pushed us too far, and we wanted to come back to work. You know, I interviewed a woman who had a store in Raqqa who was—she pointed to me, she said, you know, it was always my dream to have a shop, but women didn’t do that before. But ISIS pushed us too far, and then when we were in some other areas we saw women out and about and working and we thought, well, there’s no difference. They’re women. We’re women. Why, you know, we can come back and rebuild.

And so I think that this goes to this whole discussion we really want to have today about how do we unlock the potential of people who are keen, able, and capable of contributing to their economies, to their communities, to their countries, and to their neighborhoods, right, and their families. And so many times I think we see these as niche issues in the world beyond this room, right? And the truth is that half the population is not a special interest group. It’s a source of untapped potential. And really I just—I offer that as framing remarks as we go forward to have a conversation that could not be either more urgent or more pressing in terms of what it means for where the world is headed.

So with that, I want to start—because, you know, national ID can be this kind of abstract conversation, but it really comes down to: Do you have the papers that you need to contribute to your society? Do you have the identification? So, Caren, I know that you have at the Bank this—I want to get the name right—the Identity For Development, ID4D initiative, right? And why is having an identity card or having an ID important for women and their contributions to the economy? Why does this matter?

GROWN: So I think that’s a great question. But if you allow me, I’m going to just start with something. Yesterday we released a study on the costs of gender equality to the wealth that countries can accumulate. So it’s a study that adds to the literature not just in terms of the cost to GDP but the cost to wealth. And wealth is composed of three things. It’s composed of natural capital, you know, our forests and our streams and our oceans. It’s composed of produced capital, which is plants and—plant and equipment and, you know, physical capital. And the largest form of wealth is human capital.

So what we did in this study is we estimated the losses to human capital wealth caused by the gender inequalities in earnings and gender inequalities in labor force participation. So I just wanted, if I could, give you the headline number, which is that countries are losing about 160 trillion (dollars) in wealth because of the differences in lifetime earnings between men and women, which really comes down to about $23,620 for each person in the 141 countries that we estimated in the study.

Now, the largest losses are in the OECD world, because that’s where the largest amount of human capital wealth is. But the losses are actually significant in countries like—in sub-Saharan Africa and in South Asia. So the study’s on our landing page and we hope that you’ll check it out and, you know, starting with the premise that, you know, boy, what a waste—$160 trillion. Imagine what we could do with that if we equalized labor force participation and earnings for women.

So now coming—I just had to make a plug for that since—

LEMMON: Of course. And that’s trillion with a T.

GROWN: That’s trillion with a T. And when you—you know, it’s a huge number to kind of wrap your heads around. But when you put it on a per person basis for 141 countries and you say $23,000 per person, you know, it makes the number a little bit more manageable. But countries have millions of people. So when you think about it it’s not so—it’s no so big.

OK. So Identification For Development. The Bank Group—and I’m really pleased that I’m joined by Vyjayanti Desai. She’s actually a guru, our test team leader in the World Bank Group, who leads our—it’s Identification For Development. We started this initiative back in 2014 to help—and we did it with the support—we have partners in this room. The Omidyar Network and, of course, the Gates Foundation. And we have other partners. And it’s been a pleasure to be part of this initiative. And I have to say, you know, people don’t—always say, Identification For Development. Why would gender be at the table thinking about this? Why is gender an issue for identity? Well, as I’ll speak to in a few minutes, it’s actually hugely foundational.

But just a quick word on the initiative. The initiative started to help countries build inclusive, robust, and responsible identification systems, and that provide all people to have an official proof of identity. So we talk about foundational identity versus legal identity, foundational identity is just having something that says who you are. You’re—you know, you’re a—you were born, you have an identity. It’s a little bit different than legal identity. Legal identity involves citizenship. And they’re—but we’re about setting up systems so that every person has something that documents who they are. We had a seminar yesterday at the Bank on blockchain. And I have to say that I think blockchain has a lot of potential to help set up identification systems, but let’s park that going forward.

So why does it matter for women? Well, and it matters for women and men both because it helps people open bank accounts. So if you want to save. If you’re a small business owner and you need to have an account at a financial institution, you need some form of identity with the financial institution. It’s important for being able to register to vote. So in terms of showing your identity card or your identification number or your thumbprint when you go to a poll. It’s really critical in being able to access the justice system to make claims, whether it’s in small claims court of whether it’s in family court. It’s critical to register businesses and land. And it’s probably, for the countries that we work in, really essential in terms of being able to access services—for instance, welfare services, like conditional cash transfer.

Proof of identity is needed for women, particularly—and we’ll come to this I hope in the discussion—on financial services, because financial services are really a game changer for women. And I don’t know if you follow another new data—another new report that we put out, it’s called the Findex Report, and we know that on average women in developing countries are 9 percent less likely than men to be access—to have access to financial services, to have a bank account, to have a mobile phone account, transaction accounts. And this is really, really critical. And the fact—the thing that’s so startling to me is this 9-percentage point gap has not budged since 2011. And one of the things in the areas where it has closed, in the countries where it has closed, in a country like India, identification programs like Aadhaar in India, has been really foundational in helping women access financial services.

LEMMON: I think the survey—I actually visited some of the folks in India—some women in India who were getting ID for the first time as part of this work. And it was really funny because I was asking them—you know, it’s biometric, right, which is a whole other CFR—other parts of CFR discussing that. But what was fascinating was they had to provide, you know, for their bank account access—and they were open—and bank accounts were opened for them, right. They had to provide thumbprint to get access to their bank account. And so I asked them in this training that this private sector bank was giving them about financial services: Do you prefer an ATM card or your thumbprint?

And all the hands went up, but they went up like this. And I said, but why? And so the translator said, you know, why do you prefer your thumbprint to an ATM card? And I thought it was going to be because you, like me, can’t lose it. And they said, no, it’s because our husbands can’t take. (Laughter.) And, you know, and they said, you know, our husbands can’t take it, so we get access to our money. Now, what happens after it comes in the house is another story, but nobody else can go in—money cannot be gotten without them. So it’s a whole fascinating intersection of this conversation.

Hardin, I wanted to get to ask you a question about access to employment for a population we’ve been talking a lot about, the refugees and the displaced. And how do you think about access to employment? Because in many ways it’s hardest to access when it’s most urgently needed for women, right, when families are displaced, and income is out the door. Men who have been working are no longer able to provide an income. And yet, there are so many barriers to women working. And how do you think about that?

LANG: I mean, it’s—what you’re saying is absolutely true. I mean, the thing you have to think about is, you know, I think most people around the room are pretty familiar with the traditional obstacles that stand in the way of women’s access to workplace in this country and a number of other countries. If you take all of those conditions or all those obstacles and you put them into a situation where you’re part of, you know, hundreds of thousands of people who have crossed a border, usually after immediately sort of physical trauma or threat of some form, I mean, all of those issues obtain but, you know, in a much higher degree—almost on steroids. And with that, you’re dealing with, like, levels of violence and instability that complicate access to some of the most essential needs that you have.

But let me sort of back up and make a couple of framing remarks about how the international community has started to rethink how it approaches issues of employment for refugees, because this has become a much bigger issue in the whole set of conversations over the last three to four years in this space, mostly because—for a couple of different reasons. First, sort of like the advent of the global refugee crisis, just the sheer number of people who have been displaced. You know, we’re looking at 66 million at this stage. We have 22 million having crossed borders as refugees, leaving, you know, 44 million internally displaced. These numbers are higher—we haven’t seen anything like this since World War II. I think most people are familiar with that part of it.

You take that, and then you factor into the timeframe. This is no longer a matter of people going into refuge for a year, a year and a half, 18 months. It’s matter of 10 years to 17 years in many cases, depending on how you count it. So it’s a protracted crisis. And then you take that and combine it with the fact that the amount of money that’s required to respond to these kind of emergencies—that just there’s general sort of global donor fatigue setting in, in trying to manage it. All of those are a point—you end up in a gap of services that’s quite significant.

And part of the issue has been the way in which basically international assistance is done—humanitarian assistance has been provided over the last, you know, 30-40 years, that people who are in protracted crises find themselves basically receiving humanitarian assistance in a model based around a camp or living right outside of a camp, over, and over, and over again. When, in actuality, what they want is access to a job and a chance for their kids go to go to school. Like, these are the things that make them—give them a sense of dignity and give them a sense of autonomy, right, that they’re not just dependent.

And so probably starting—like, the first real examples we have of this are going back to 2016, where particularly around the Syrian portion of the global refugee crisis you’ve had donors and host countries experimenting with new models. And so they tend to be called compacts. We have one in Jordan. We have one in Lebanon. There’s one in Ethiopia. There’s some version of it in Turkey, but less so. And the basic deal is donors are going to give, you know, money, access to concessional finance, and then potentially, in the case of the EU, access to their markets for goods that are produced in those host countries. And in trade, the host country, like Jordan, will give Syrian refugees access to their labor market. And the idea is that part of what they’re producing is then actually going to be sold a country like—I mean, in the EU.

And so it turns out to be a win-win. So the idea in theory is that both the local population, the Jordanians benefit from some of this, but also the Syrian refugees have access to new jobs. The devil, of course, in the detail on this. And all these things are still in beta mode. It’s early days. But it’s not clear that they’re really providing access to livelihoods. In some cases they’re providing access to some jobs but not really livelihoods. And more importantly, it’s far from clear that it’s working for women. And we can sort of go through some of the statistics as we get into the specifics. But the people who are entering the labor market, the refugees who are entering the labor market formally in many of these situations, the vast majority of them are men and out of balance from what you would see in the countries that they fled from.

LEMMON: Well, and I want to connect these two because it’s even harder and even more urgent in that kind of a context. And then we can back out to talk about it more broadly. But I do want to talk about this context of refugees and displacement. You know, why is it that it’s so hard? And why is it so important for ID in refugee situations?

GROWN: Yeah. This is something that’s really important that we’ve started to work on. So a lack of official identification makes refugees much more vulnerable to exploitation during their displacement. And it makes it much more difficult for them to obtain refugee status and protection, and to participate in economic life in terms of getting a job, registering a business, being able to earn a living. A lack of ID prevents refugees from documenting life events, such as registering a birth, for instance, or divorce, or a marriage in the host country, and that makes it much more difficult then to establish the identity of children. So you have a group of children who really are at very, very high risk, particularly in terms of being stateless.

One of the things that we’ve learned in countries like Lebanon and Jordan is that rates of child marriage increase among refugee populations when they don’t have access to economic opportunities. So legal identification is really important for girls to be able to prove their age, and if there are minimum age of marriage laws, to be able to have legal recourse. A recent statistic from UNICEF shows—suggests that the number of registered marriages in Syria involving girls 15 to 17, between the years of 2003 and 2011, was 13 percent. And with the eruption of conflict and the influx of Syrian refugees into Jordan, the percentage of registered Syrian marriages involving girls 15 to 17 grew from 12 percent in 2011 to 25 percent in 2013, and 36 percent in 2018.

Now, we can talk a lot about early marriage. I’ve done a lot of work. I was just talking to Gayle about this, about the costs of early marriage—not only the monetary costs, but the health costs, the development costs, the stunted potential, as you call it, is really, really critical. So in a country like Jordan, the minimum age of marriage is actually 18. So if girls have identity, they actually could do something—they would have legal recourse in that context. And the bank is starting to do a little bit more on this. We’ve just actually—and we don’t only work in countries like Lebanon and Jordan, but we’re working on contexts, for instance, in Nigeria, in eastern—northeastern Nigeria, which has the huge flux of—has influx of refugees and a lot of internally displaced.

But one of the things that we’re doing with Nigeria—we’ve done a lot of work on identification systems. Nigeria currently has 16 different agencies that collect separate IDs. So there’s a lot of efficiency to be brought into that system. And as we’re working with the Nigerian government to set up a national identity program, the Nigerian government is actually prioritizing early registration in the displaced persons camps, and so—and targeting females in particular. So there’s things that can be done.

LEMMON: Why is that? Because, you know, why do they see early—targeting populations in camps and early registration as a priority?

GROWN: Because I think that they recognize the host of development issues that are really, really critical for them. And also, in terms of the stabilizing some of the issues in these countries, in this particular area, it’s really important in terms of the ways that they’re responding to the conflict, and the issues—the threats from extremism and other things. You know, it’s really important when you think about, you know, that there’s mass kidnappings and mass rapes. How many of you know—I’m sure other people in this room know more than me—how many of you know how many girls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria? Does anybody know the number? Do you, Hardin? And it’s much more than Chibok. Five thousand, which was of the last count. Not all of these girls have legal identity. So tracking them is really, really important, and rehabilitating them.

LEMMON: I want to sort of press on—come back to and talk about barriers to getting IDs in a moment, but I really think it’s important to stress this, is that it’s not that we talk about identity for identity’s stake. Identity’s at the center of the whole discussion around access to education, access to economic opportunity, access to physical security so that people know who you are if, God forbid, you go missing. And access to opportunities for development. So, for example, cash transfer programs or things like that, right? All of this is much harder, if not impossible, if you don’t have either a card or a fingerprint, or something—if you are not registered. And so I think sometimes people think, national ID, why does that matter? It’s at the very center of everything positive that can happen from there. And, you know, you can’t count what you don’t see.

GROWN: That’s exactly right.

LEMMON: Hardin, can you talk to me a little bit about the Jordan compact? Because, you know, I have to admit, I feel like this—we don’t really understand what it actually means. Or, I’ll plead guilty, I read about it and I was like, wait, what is this? You know, the first few times I read about, because it feels like in some ways policy-speak, and I don’t know what it actually means in terms of people’s lives. What does it mean to a mom in Jordan who is trying to figure out what to do next?

LANG: It turns out, not a lot right now. (Laughter.) In that particular case. But I just wanted to very quickly comment on some of the points that Caren made.

LEMMON: Please, absolutely.

LANG: So the access to finance and the child marriages issue. If you sort of survey—well, there are a couple of surveys that have been done of Syrian women refugees in Jordan in the larger camps, and then also in two of the major urban areas where there are population centers. And the two things that come back consistently in terms of barriers to entering the workforce are, one, access to finance and then, two, the early child marriages piece that people are being forced into. And then once that happens, it’s very, very difficult for them to break out of that and to get access to a labor market.

And just very quickly, on Nigeria, this is really interesting. We had a team that just came back from Borno and Bama. And they were looking at this question of sort of women living in the IDP camps, right, which the government is now in this process of saying, look, it’s safe enough for some of you to go home now, and it’s not clear those conditions are—actually have been established. And one of the stats that came up that was really interesting is that a number of women that we surveyed said that they had a much harder time getting out of the IDP camps than the men did. There were a certain number of passes that were granted every day for people to leave the IDP camps to go out and basically engage in livelihood activities. And women were not getting access to the same degree or rate that men were.

And when they sort of probed and interviewed the security officials involved in this, they said: Look, it’s basically like if it’s a guy in the camp we kind of assume they fled Boko Haram. If it’s a woman, maybe she’s a wife or maybe when she’s leaving she’s bringing sustenance to—so, none of that makes any sense, right? But it’s, like, this is the way—it has impacted just—I mean, the contours of the conflict have led to a moment where women have a much harder time accessing whatever, like, scant livelihoods they can around those camps, simply because of these misplaced security concerns.

On the Jordan compact, I guess the easiest way to describe it would be in 2016 in the conference in London the EU and some other donors agreed with Jordan that they would give Jordan 1.7 billion (dollars) over three or four years, if memory serves. Maybe a little bit longer. And in terms of grants to build infrastructure and then also access to finance at concessional terms. And then access to goods coming into the EU—particular types of goods. And in trade, Jordan would give Syrian refugees 200,000 work permits. And the idea being that the businesses that they would move into, these sectors, some of those would be sectors into which goods would be exported into the EU. And that’s how that sort of feedback loop was supposed to work.

Now, of the 200—the way the 200,000 work permits were originally conceived of, a good chunk of them were for agriculture. A good chunk of them were for construction. These are—tend to be, at least in Jordan—have been male-dominated industries. It’s not clear that they play directly to some—they play into some stereotypes and comparative advantages of different gendered populations. But in addition, the part that was supposed to be very clever was there was a section—there was some special economic zones in Jordan that have been kind of moribund for a while. And the idea was that they were going to jumpstart sort of textile businesses in these economic zones and export those textiles to the EU. And they were going to employ Syrian women and Jordanian women—because that tended to be a majority female workforce in the sector—to do this.

Now, a couple things. So, first off, the big sectors that are designed for—like, agriculture and construction, not easily accessible in some cases for women. The second part was that Syria had had a textile industry, right? But that textile industry has been based in Aleppo, in the northern part of the country. And so most of the women who had experience in this had fled to Turkey. And the actual—the women who were in Jordan, most of them had come from Daraa, from a sort of a religiously sort of—from a conservative section of Syria and had a much harder time overcoming barriers—cultural barriers about leaving and going to a textile factory to work.

So in general, it wasn’t sort of set up with any real attempt or reflection of how you would provide women refugees access to the labor market. And if you actually look at the numbers—so, of the 200,000 work permits, there’s about 90,000—88-90,000 that have been issued. Only about 40,000 of those are actually being used, which is interesting. And of the total 90,000 under 4,000 have gone to women. So the vehicle that was set up to get women access to the formal economy—or, to get refugees access to the formal economy just simply isn’t working for women.

GROWN: Maybe I can actually add onto that, because we have a refugee window now as part of our IDA18 capital replenishment. And part of this is to give support to countries like Jordan and Lebanon. One of the things that we did in both countries is recognizing exactly the barriers that Hardin outlined. Is we actually had to work with the national governments, particularly in both countries, to change other laws and regulations. So the first thing that we did, actually, when we’ve given a loan to Lebanon and to Jordan—we have large loans in both countries—was to actually start to work on home-based business exclusions because this is an opportunity.

If women face barriers to working in factory employment, but there’s prohibitions on being able to operate a business from the home, we’ve had to work with them. And in both countries, we did get exceptions for the refugee population to be able—to be able to work in areas, whether it’s textile or in services, which is particularly important, but to operate businesses from their home. So it’s a—quite a complicated chain. And there’s many things that we need to think about, because, you know, the barriers are often hidden. And who—I mean, nobody thought that the home-based—you know, this is in a completely different part of the law. But it’s something that is really critical for women’s self-employment and enterprise development.

LEMMON: So I’m going to ask Caren one more question, and then we’ll go to the—to the conversation. So Caren, we’ve been talking about this, you’ve been talking about this, Hardin’s been talking about the centrality of ID and displacement and economic opportunity. Why is it still so hard in so many places, well outside the refugee context, right, to get ID to women, or to have women—to get the opportunity for having national ID to women?

GROWN: Let me just give you some basic facts, because I think it’s really important to set the context. We have a database. It’s called the ID4D global data set that we’ve been putting together. And when we constructed this data set, we wanted to ensure that we could sex-disaggregate the information in it. So according to the most recent analysis of the data, 1 billion people around the globe face challenges in proving who they are—1 billion. That’s a lot. Eighty-one percent of those live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Forty-seven percent of those are below the national identity age of their country. So this highlights particularly the need to stand up civil and vital registration systems—birth and—particularly registering births. Our ID4D team partnered with our Findex that I mentioned earlier, the financial inclusion data set, to gather for the very first time nationally representative survey data from 99 countries on foundational ID coverage, the use of the ID, and the barriers to access.

So the preliminary analysis of the lowest income countries show that women, and then just generally the bottom 40 percent, are most effected by lack of ID. So what is it? Some of it has to do with legal and regulatory issues. For example, in Afghanistan, Benin and Pakistan, these are all countries that have—I’m going to get another set of statistics—all countries that have gender gaps of over 15 percentage points in financial inclusion. A married woman cannot apply for a national ID in the same way as a married man. And so our latest Women Business and the Law reports show us that there are differences between unmarried women and unmarried men in being able to get a passport in three economies, between married women and married men in getting a passport 37 economies. Total of 54 legal differences between men and women in just the laws. So the laws are really important.

I think a second issue has to do with the lack—the distance, and the lack of infrastructure and services. And here, this is where I—with all of its caveats, I think that technology like blockchain is going to be really, really important. A third issue I think is literacy, whether it’s legal literacy or basic literacy and knowledge—knowledge of what identity can give to women, and rights, issues that I think are really, really important. And then I think that sometimes there’s other cultural barriers at work. You know, in economies where women need husbands’ permission to travel or to access services, that is also a problem.

But I’ll just say, it’s not inescapable. I was in Pakistan two years ago, three years ago. And we were in the process of—Pakistan has one of the largest and most impressive social protection programs. It’s called the BISP, the Benazir Income Support Programme. And one of the conditions for actually being able to access a cash transfer or benefits through the BISP is having an identity. And I was asking my colleagues about those areas which are fraught with conflict or where there’s instability. How do they actually get to households to be able to register women? Or what about households where women were secluded, how did they do it?

And my colleagues were—which are—who are local, came back with some really clever approaches. They said, well, in these households, what we did is we restored to religious reasons. We went to the head of the household, often a man. And we said: Do you want your wife to be able to do her duty under the Koran, and do you want her to be able to make the pilgrimage at some point, to make the Hajj. And the men said, absolutely. And they said, well, to be able to do that, your wife actually needs a passport. And in order to have a passport, she has to have her picture taken. And in order to have that, she’s going to need an identification card.

And often, men were very responsive to those arguments, because it was part of fulfilling a religious function. And so the correlation between identification and access to service—this was a very interesting story. And I’m really interested in talking to my colleagues, and Vyjayanti may have some stories as well about the different techniques that are really needed to get into very hard to reach—whether it’s distance or culture—hard to reach places, so that we ensure that women are really brought into these national systems.

LEMMON: We have much terrain to cover, but I would love to open it to questions. And as we do, I—it’s interesting. I did some interviews with a program in India called Apni Beti Apni Dha, which was Our Daughters, our Wealth. And this program in its earliest phase had basically offered parents whose daughters reached 18 unwed a savings bond, which—but they had to have registered their daughter from the day of birth to be in the pipeline to receive this. And so I went and did the first set of interviews with ICRW, who some of you might know, when the first round of—group of girls were turning 18. And it was absolutely fascinating, because, you know, all of these girls were registered.

Now, there was a lot of other change happening on the ground in India at the time, right? So it was hard to say that it was because of this. But parents would say, well, as long as she was home and we weren’t marrying here, we let her to go to school. And then in some cases, what you would see is the fathers and the mothers, but especially the fathers, would talk to you about how they’d seen their girls become good at math, or they’d seen their girls become good at a particular subject. And then they thought, well, wait a minute, maybe she can earn more if she’s working, potentially, than if we marry her off and then her wealth goes into somebody else’s household.

And so families—some would say, well, we didn’t marry our daughter—the money isn’t enough to make a difference. Which it was very low. But I’d say, OK, well, then why didn’t you marry her? Well, we figured, you know, as long as she’s going to be here, you know, we might as well, you know, take the money and let her turn 18, and then we’ll use it. Now, there were obstacles. You know, people would say, oh, they’re going to use it for their wedding or whatever. But, you know, talk—at the very least girls were getting to 18. And you would see real—in some of the families we spoke with, you would really see a different recognition, because really what you’re trying to do is revalue the girl. And no one really likes to talk about it in terms of assets, right, but that is in a lot of ways—we come from the financial services world—I mean, that’s what you’re doing is changing the value of the girl, because they have access to more, and because they were brainwashed.

So with that, if we have questions then I will take them. If not, this is a very quiet group. Oh, yes, Masuda. And I would just ask you to please just flip your card if you have a question.


Q: Yeah. Masuda, Insight Group and Women for Afghan Women.

So this question of wealth and movement of women is something that really interests me. How do you—do we have any stats on how women, especially the refugees, move their money, how much money they typically have on them, and what their challenges are? Because I would imagine in a world where blockchain does change some of this, that people could actually have mobile wallets, that they could take their wealth in and use their fingers to access. I’m just wondering what your thinking is on that. And I asked this question at the Gates Foundation some time ago. And I know that there wasn’t a lot of response from folks. So I know that the private sector’s supposed to solve some of these problems. I was curious to know if you think they are.

GROWN: So just on the blockchains, at our event yesterday, I think it was a colleague of U.N. Women who asked this question of how blockchain is being used in humanitarian contexts. And we heard a little bit about how World Food Program and some of the other humanitarian organizations are really trying to use blockchain and set up these systems. I really think that digital finance is really critical for displaced populations. And this is something that is a big agenda, as you just recognized, for the Gates Foundation, as well for the World Bank, because I think it will help them to carry their property with them. You know, but digital finance also needs to have that foundation of the digital identity, which it doesn’t always have, so.

LEMMON: Tell me about the intersection. I want to piggyback on Masuda’s question. What is the intersection—and I’d really like to go to both of you on this—what is the intersection between financial—access to financial services and having something that shows who you are, some form of ID?

GROWN: You start, and then I’ll join in.

Q: So I think the recent Findex was similar to the last Findex in that, you know, in think about 20 percent—so, one in five people who are unable to open up a bank account, it’s because of lack of documentation. Now with the know your customer regulations, you need a form of identification to prove who you are. And that’s where that—

LEMMON: You cannot open up a bank account if you do not have ID?

Q: Yeah, some form of—it doesn’t necessarily always have to be a national ID. It can be other forms of ID. But without a form of identification that’s recognized by government or some other official form, you’re unable to open it. So that’s, I think, the direct link. It’s—particularly with the new—the new regulations in place.

I think a digital form of ID, what that allows is something in addition to just having a more paper-based form of ID. You know, for example, in India, with the electronic know your customer rules, you’re able to open up a bank account now in a couple of minutes as opposed to what may have taken a week or two, because you can authenticate biometrically right then and there. And so that’s where the digital form of ID—

GROWN: And I think for us, at the Bank Group, going forward, pushing for us the intersection—whether it’s through blockchain or other promising disruptive technologies—the intersection between digital finance and digital identification has a lot of potential and a lot of promise. And one of the things that we don’t yet see is the connection yet between these systems, except in a few places.

Q: Yeah. I think the one thing with blockchain—and I know everyone’s excited about it, and it’s a new technology—I think it’s still unproven in certain—and I think it—so we’re all watching carefully, learning, trying to pilot and understand, I think, collectively. But there’s still a-ways to go in terms of what blockchain can and cannot do.

GROWN: So there’s pilots right now. There’s nothing that has—

LEMMON: Where is there—or, are there any pilots—

Q: So not with ID specifically, but the Bank Group has a blockchain lab that—

LEMMON: Yeah, we have—we have pilots in three different countries. And I heard this yesterday and I should remember what they are, and I’m apologizing. (Laughter.) I’ll tell you which ones they are later. (Laughter.)

LANG: The only thing I would say on this, I’m not aware of how this has been used yet to help people cross borders, like people who are actually getting ready to flee, because in those kind of situations if your money’s not already in a form where you can take it with you in that way, then it’s almost too late at that point. And people are just taking what they can carry. And there, I’m kind of thinking what’s happening with the Rohingya in Bangladesh most immediately.

But one of the things that—and this, while the blockchain, what she’s talking about, people are sprinting, there’s a little bit of jogging going on, on the humanitarian side of it, where in places like Jordan, for example, they’re now—and most people have probably heard about this—they’re using iris scans to—at bank teller machines—in order to dispense, you know, the like limited cash supplements that have been coming from WFP or from UNICEF or from other forms. So that it’s a way of sort of jumping around some of the identification issues in order to make sure that, you know, women are getting—women and men are getting the basic allotments that they’re supposed to get under the electronic currency.

LEMMON: It’s so interesting. The iris scanning for this—sort of for verification, how—have you seen any reaction to it? Have you heard any reaction to it? Or are people generally—I mean, in some ways, because you don’t have the leakage of, like, somebody getting your money, but then it’s also your iris. So I mean, it’s—

LANG: Yeah, it’s interesting. I’ve heard a couple of—so, anecdotally when we interviewed a bunch of people there as a great deal of sort of suspicion about what exactly this is all about, and also deep concern on behalf of a number of Syrian refugees, some of whom were formerly registered about there had been a period of time where if you were sort of caught outside of a camp or if you were seen trying to access part of the labor market that you shouldn’t, that the security forces sort of moved you not one of the less interesting, one of the less-hospitable camps. So there was a very strong disincentive for engaging directly with the economy or the government in a way that would bring in the national security apparatus. Now, I don’t know how much that’s cleared up, like, since the—in the last year, in particular, as the compact has improved. But it was definitely an issue early on.

LEMMON: Yeah, please. Oh, if you have more to add.

Q: No. Go ahead.

Q: Actually, I just wanted to sort of come in and echo your comments that—and Caren’s. So the U.N.—and I can speak specifically to U.N. Women—has been very much looking into the blockchain application, particularly in humanitarian settings. We haven’t jumped in yet. We’re talking to lots of people. But, you know, it’s attractive because, talking about Zaatari, we partnered with WFP a few years ago and ran the biggest cash reward program for women then. And, you know, Gayle’s comment about why women wanted to use their thumbs, that was not—you know, it’s not surprise, if you’re, you know, doing this every day and you know. We want to give the money to the women and well, because we know what happens when the men are the ones in humanitarian settings getting the money or the food, right? And that’s come out for a while now.

So we—so, yeah, so the bigger picture is we’re very much exploring it. But I think before we would invest in it too deeply, we want to see a little bit more on the outcomes and figure out really how you do this because, I mean, to be frank, the U.N. isn’t on the cutting edge of technological issues. (Laughter.)

LEMMON: Yeah, and I just—(inaudible)—and I’ll come to Ricki—I interviewed a girl in Syria who was 16, two children. One was two and a half and one was six months old. And she told me every girl she knew—and she was clearly educated and had been through some schooling and was very savvy, knew Skype, you know, was talking to me about things. And we met her in really like the husk of a building that had been bombed out, that she was—they had fled to from Raqqa to Tabqah. And she said to me, you know, every girl I know has either been disappeared, forced into marriage, married, or kidnapped—every girl that I knew from school. And she said, and I’m lucky, because at least I like my husband. And I thought, you know, that’s a—she said, all my hopes now are for the next generation.

It is really startling to hear girls not even 17 talk about how all her hopes are for the next generation because the early marriage issue is very much alive and well. And there is—back to the ID—for people who are being forced into it, there’s no way to show, you know, if you could go to authorities, to the authorities, what age you really are if you don’t have that ID with you.


Q: I was going to make the point, financial services has been my field for a long time. And in 1983, I was speaking in Ecuador at a conference on ATMs. (Laughter.) And this was, of course, a kind of hot thing then. And I was making all the points about how we protect people under U.S. law, and how they could do the same thing. The main issue everybody in the room was worried about was whether the government could track them through ATM machines. So it isn’t at all surprising to me—and I was going to ask the question, I’m glad it came up—that security issues would be a great concern for people, particularly in countries with a great deal of disruption and a lack of safety. And I wonder what the international organizations can do. They have typically, at least, some additional leverage they can use to try to protect individual identification information. Is anybody looking at this?

LEMMON: Yeah. Let’s talk about, you know, can it be a danger to people to have an ID?

GROWN: It can. And I’m going to ask Vyjayanti because we’ve been working on this and she’s been leading on this.

Q: So, I mean, I think data protection, privacy issues are critical. I think there is just as much—there is development benefits for having an ID. There’s also potential misuse of digital forms of ID. But I think what we, and many of the partners are doing, is to ensure that when we are supporting some of these efforts that we support countries in putting in place the sound privacy data protection laws. So we have an ID-enabling environment assessment framework, which allows us to go in and look at the gaps and what exists, and the gaps in the country’s data protection privacy, and also other things such as exclusion and discrimination in laws, and then provide that support. And so in every single one of our country operations, there’s a—that’s one of the key foundations of any of our engagements.

I think in addition to that, what we’re also starting to look at is more of the technology and processes. So you have the legal and regulatory foundations, but then you can also look at some of the elements of design. So privacy by design in a system. So elements of user consent and control. And so that’s a new stream of work that’s underway as well.

GROWN: But one thing Vyjayanti didn’t mention is we took the lead with a number of partner organizations to establish a set of principles that we hope will set the standards for country governments, for international partners working on identification. And the commitments of these principles include safeguarding data privacy, security, and user rights through comprehensive legal and regulatory frameworks. So many organizations have now—how many have signed onto this?

Q: Twenty-four now.

GROWN: Twenty-four organizations. And I think that’s really important in terms of at least more of an ethical framework for the work that we do.

LANG: I just want to ask one question—a follow-up question on this. How does that work in, say, a country like Lebanon or a country like Jordan? And I ask this, because I remember having some meetings with the national intelligence services in both countries and sort of talking about how they saw the refugee situation, whether it was a threat or not. And it was fascinating, in Jordan, sort of behind closed doors, they would say: We got a handle on that. We know where they are. And we have a very good sense of who’s moving, and what position—like, what communities, what their family relationships look like. And part of that is some of this tech and being able to know who’s where and who’s registered under what systems. Do you have—I mean, with a country like Jordan or Lebanon where, you know, some of the—I’m just curious how the legal issues play out and how the legal protections are enforced in these situations.

Q: We haven’t engaged specifically on ID in these two countries. I think when we engage—and if we are providing, for example, both advisory and technical assistance support, but also financing, then we do have greater influence and leverage. And so in all the countries in which we are going to be supporting the systems, that’s a non-starter, where we would be looking at that and ensuring. I think the question sometimes is a sequencing. You’re not going to have all the regulations in place. So there is an element of the sequencing that is required.

I mean, this is not just an issue for ID alone. And even from all of our phones, you know, data protection and privacy is an issue more broadly. And we know from Facebook and others—

GROWN: How many of you have received more than 100 emails in the last four days, now that the European laws have gone into effect?

Q: Oh, yeah, that’s right. Yeah. And with the AI and so many other things, I think—so I do think ID ends up being a bit of lightning rod and a focus, but so we are looking at this as if that’s an opening to ensuring good regulations, then let’s do it that way.

LEMMON: Yeah. I’d like to go to Rosita.

Q: Just a couple of comments. I’ve been trying to get smart on actually some of the issues that you were pointing to. One was just I’ve noticed there are some people who are trying to get ahead of what’s being called a tech-lash. So some of it is, you know, these fears—you know, based on where you live. So you’re afraid of your government, you don’t trust your government, and there are a number of funders and others who are working in the policy space that are trying to get ahead of that. Actually, Amir Network has a body of work, Ford Foundation also is looking at that. And I think that you will soon see a number of other funders that are going to be building teams and portfolios of investments because there’s a very fine line, I think, between consumer protection, which at the end of the day, when it comes to data and its governance and ownership, it’s a sovereign issue—both at the country level, the government has to decide, but then at the individual level.

And that’s where kind of the line is where funders kind of have to stop and respect, or at least we choose to in terms of saying, hey, this is your call, government. This is your call individual. But we’re going to enable and empower you with the facts. So that fine line—so there’s kind of the consume protection side of the argument, but then there’s the opportunities that you might be missing out on. So Vyjayanti mentioned the artificial intelligence. So the—I forget the name of the organization—but there’s this center that looks at data privacy. They issued a report on the unintended consequences of the new EU regulation on privacy.

And one of them was saying absolutely it’s going to protect—provide consumer protection on one hand, but it’s also going to thwart the impact that innovations like artificial intelligence can have. And so I think that’s that really delicate balance that all of us have to be a part of, testing and making sure stays in balance is that at the same time while we’re trying to protect individuals and their information and their privacy, we also are thwarting the same innovations that can help those people. And in our case, we’re looking at the poor and trying to get them into the system. And so there’s these laws that are trying to protect the system from itself is essentially keeping these other technologies from happening. So keeping that balance.

And then the other observations and financial services—for the poor perspective on this issue, is a lot of financial service providers feel this huge burden that many in their governments really expect them to play a role of law enforcement, particularly as it relates to the proving of identity and making sure they’re complying with anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism. That’s a huge burden and results in high costs of transactions, which results in not everyone being able to be able to afford to be a part of that economy. And results in financial exclusion.

So there—again, there’s an opportunity to lower these costs for the financial service providers if you star sharing information between law enforcements, agencies of the government, and financial services providers. And you can imagine why a consumer might not want that, because they only want their bank to have that information. They don’t want their government to have that. But actually at the end of the day, they might win or gain much more if these information flows are coming.

So I think something that I’m hoping the Council will continue to kind of provide leadership on is really looking at these points of tension, where an ideal world would have a frictionless flow of both money and information. But how do you do that in a way that really protects people? Because that’s how you’re going to get everyone in one system. And essentially all boats will be lifted, but there’s going to be these tensions both at the national sovereign level, at the individual protection level. And it’s kind of like who gets to decide in a global economy?

LEMMON: Yeah, and it’s the points of tension and the points of intersection, right, because they’re coming directly into contact. On the one hand, getting an ID for a mom in Haryana is going to be incredible in terms of she can go and get her government money with her thumbprint. On the other hand, you now know every place she’s going to move around, and a lot of times that she does it, right?

So just last—we have three minutes left. We’re going to go to Charlotte. And then we’ll wrap up. And I’m sure our folks will stay around for a moment or two if you have additional questions.

Q: So thank you. So I’m with the Peace Corps.

So just two quick things. One, I always remember visiting a volunteer in Morocco a few years ago who attended a Girls Leading Our Way camp that we do. And it was the first time that she was even leaving her family, right, going to a camp for a week. And first time she danced, first time she did a lot of the different, you know, activities. And what struck me, we were invited to have lunch—oh, the most delicious food—and the father is the one who was more transformed, because she came back and then had different conversations with the father. So it was—I’m glad you mentioned literacy and education and how the young people cannot affect—you know, have an intergenerational change. So, I’m hoping we do more investing also in, you know, girls’ education and empowerment.

And then my question was, is there a correlation between having more women parliamentarians in some of these countries to changing legal barriers?

GROWN: Some of my colleagues did a study about—well, actually, it’s dated 2013. And there’s others outside in academia as well, that shows that having more females participate at the national level in parliaments is more likely to lead to laws and regulations on the traditional women’s issues. So relating to health, to education, to social protection, to care. There is also other evidence from economists that have done work looking at the impact of reservations and quotas and set-asides at the municipal level, for instance, in India, in Afghanistan, that show that when you have this threshold of at least 30 percent of women who participate, women do express in a fiscal context different—somewhat different preferences than men for where the budge should go.

So in West Bengal, in India, both men and women wanted education for the kids. But then a second priority for the men was roads, but women wanted water and sanitation. In an impact evaluation of the local village councils in Afghanistan that was done by some of my colleagues at the Bank, Afghanistan actually has 30 percent set aside of the local village councils. There’s also been even more impacts actually on girls. So seeing girls—seeing women participate in public spaces and public roles has changed their aspirations and what they would like to do going forward.

So there’s a mounting body of evidence on this. And we can, if you’re interested, give you a lot of citations. So the bank itself does not actively work in political spaces, but we’re using this evidence to actually argue in the governance structures that we help to create or set up—whether it’s utilities in the energy sector or the water users associations—really ensure, find mechanisms to create those pipelines and ensure that women can meaningfully participate in governance. We have a strong—and there’s a lot of work in the business literature as well shows that having more women, for instance, on corporate board. So there’s a lot of emerging evidence that’s—well, not emerging—a lot of evidence that’s converging on this issue.

LEMMON: And with that, I want to say thank you for what has definitely been such an interesting and very specific conversation, because to me it’s really important that we talk about these in terms of what they mean for people’s lives, whether you’re a mom who Hardin just recently interviewed in Jordan, or, you know, a woman in India who’s really thinking about what her family’s future looks like. So this is just one more stop on the road to conversation. Continue to join us for this Gates-funded series. And we very much look forward to the next discussion. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

LANG: Thank you very much, Gayle.


This is an uncorrected transcript.


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