Voice and Agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperity

Published: January 2014

This document presents Voice and Agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperity is a major new report by the World Bank that shines a spotlight on the value of voice and agency, the patterns of constraints that limit their realization, and the associated costs, not only to individual women but to their families, communities, and societies. It highlights promising policies and interventions, and it identifies priority areas where further research and more and better data and evidence are needed. Underlining that agency has both intrinsic and instrumental, concrete value, this report puts advancing women's voice and agency squarely on the international development agenda.

Key Findings

  • Progressive constitutions and legal reforms can support the transformation of social norms surrounding agency.
  • Expanding women's economic opportunities can have wide-ranging benefits, including benefits for women's agency.
  • Programs that go beyond protection per se and include elements to tackle regressive gender norms have had promising results.
  • In South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, women with more education are less likely to have to ask their husband's or family's permission to seek medical care. In all regions, women with more education also tend to marry later and have fewer children.
  • Interventions to expand life opportunities for women and girls offer promise when they include provision for safe spaces, life skills, and job skills.
  • Women's sexual and reproductive agency can also be supported through more equitable laws related to marriage and property, among others, provided such legislation is coupled with strong implementation and enforcement.
  • New information and communication technologies (ICTs) are opening up new spaces for collective action and women's participation in public life.
  • By ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 188 states have committed to advancing gender equality by confronting "any distinction, exclusion, or restriction made on the basis of sex which [impairs] the enjoyment or exercise by women...of human rights and fundamental freedoms."
  • Gender-based violence is a global epidemic, affecting women across all regions of the world.
  • Many girls have limited control over their sexual and reproductive rights.
  • Fewer women than men own land and housing.
  • In too much of the world, women are grossly underrepresented in formal politics and positions of power.
  • Social norms can limit women's mobility and ability to network, restrict women's representation in politics and government, and be enshrined in discriminatory laws and practices.
  • Legal discrimination is pervasive.
  • Poverty increases the likelihood of agency deprivations. Girls living in poor households are almost twice as likely to marry before the age of 18 as girls in higher-income households, as are girls from rural areas versus their urban counterparts.
  • Ethnic minority status can further magnify disadvantage. Nearly three-quarters of girls out of school globally belong to ethnic minorities in their countries.

Populations Adolescent Girls, Women

Complementary Outcomes Gender-based Violence, Sexual And Reproductive Health

Publishers World Bank, The