5 things to know about gender equality and human capital


A woman carpenter in Mexico. Photo: © Jessica Belmont/World Bank

The Human Capital Index (HCI) launched by the World Bank Group in October 2018 is a simple but powerful metric that measures the future productivity of children born today, compared to what it could be if they had benefited from ‘complete education and full health’. The index is made up of important components of human capital: education, health, and survival. The sex-disaggregated HCI emphasizes the World Bank Group’s priority on gender, and specifically in ensuring equal investment in human capital of boys and girls.

On this International Literacy Day, drawing on data from the World Bank Gender Data Portal, we present five facts on gender and human capital.

1. At a regional level, much progress has been made in closing gender gaps in human capital among boys and girls.

In 126 countries where we have sex-disaggregated HCI data, girls are on average slightly better off in all regions and all country income groups in the dimensions the HCI measures, like stunting rates. In fact, the distance between a country’s human capital and the frontier (1 in the figure above) is far larger than any gender gaps.

Breaking this down by the components of the HCI, there is a similar pattern in stunting, child and adult survival rates. However, the picture that emerges in education is more complicated.

2. For many at a regional level however, gender gaps to the detriment of girls remain in education, while gender gaps to the detriment of boys have emerged in other regions.

However, in a pattern increasingly noted and discussed (see this UNESCO report), gender gaps where outcomes for boys are worse than for girls emerge in some regions, most notably in Latin America & Caribbean. The trend suggests this is on the horizon for East Asia and South Asia.

3. There is still a large gap in literacy between adult men and women in many regions.

Given the large investments in education opportunities in recent years, literacy gaps in the population of adults look quite different than among youth. Since 1985, the gap in literacy rates between young men and women shrunk everywhere. Some gaps remain among current youth in Middle East & North Africa, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. However, the gender gap is considerably smaller compared to the gap to the frontier of universal literacy.

Nonetheless, the now-adult women are still disadvantaged compared to men, and these gaps are large. Comprehensive adult literacy campaigns would be needed to close literacy gaps among current adult populations. MORE

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Why Free Trade is Bad for You (or Most of You at Any Rate)

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The institutions of democracy and sovereignty exist in tension with another powerful institution: the global market and its free trade regimes. (Photo: StopFastTrack / Flickr)

Walden Bello was invited by The Economist to debate the chief economist of the World Trade Organization, Robert Koopman, at the Asia Trade Summit in Hong Kong, on February 28. Billed as the “Great Trade Debate” in an era of rising anti-free trade sentiment, the Oxford-style 20 minute debate took place before an audience made up largely of corporate executives and government delegates. Surprisingly, the author was judged the winner of the debate. Following are his five-minute introductory remarks.

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I am all for trade. But I am not for “free trade,” because it’s a bad idea and bad policy.

Free trade is in real trouble today. But the promoters of free trade brought this on themselves. However, it is not because they have been tepid in their defense of free trade, as the description of this debate has it. They have been guilty of far greater sins.

The first sin is hypocrisy. Free trade ideologues have enshrined the WTO as the so-called “jewel in the crown of free trade and globalization.” Yet, the WTO promotes monopoly, not free markets, in its key agreements. The Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) seeks to restrict the diffusion of knowledge and technology and reserve for giant corporations the fruits of technological innovation by significantly tightening patent rules. MORE

The Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) agreement was meant to preserve and expand the markets of the existing automobile giants by outlawing local content policies that had enabled developing countries like Korea and Malaysia to develop their motor vehicle industries — industries which had, in turn, been central to the comprehensive industrialization of these economies.

The Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) has been nothing but an instrument to pry open developing country markets to highly subsidized agricultural products from EU and the United States. MORE

Once derided, ways of adapting to climate change are gaining steam

Recognition is spreading that communities need to build resilience to climatic and coastal threats even as the world seeks ways to curb emissions driving global warming.

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In the wake of Hurricane Sandy debris and destruction can be seen in and around the houses in Breezy Point, N.Y. Over 100 houses burned to the ground as flood waters isolated the community from fireman.

Signs are emerging that a significant shift is under way, dividing the climate challenge into two related, but distinct, priorities: working to curb greenhouse gases to limit odds of worst-case outcomes later this century while boosting resilience to current and anticipated climatic and coastal hazards with just as much fervor. There’s action from the top down, and—perhaps more significant in the long run—from the bottom up.

The most prominent signs of the rising profile of adaptation came with the launch in October of a Global Commission on Adaptation and a December commitment of $200 billion in climate finance over five years by the World Bank and partners. MORE