HomeLearning CenterUnlocking Growth: The Untapped Power of Women in Political Leadership

Unlocking Growth: The Untapped Power of Women in Political Leadership

Originally published by Tea Trumbic, Silvana Koch-Mehrin, and Dominik Weh for World Bank

Progress towards legal gender equality has stalled in many parts of the world. The data published earlier this year by Women, Business, and the Law report reveals that women, on average, have less than two-thirds of the legal protections that men have, down from a previous estimate of just over three-quarters. This stark reality is a sobering reminder of the challenges that still lie ahead.

For example, the absence of legislation prohibiting sexual harassment in public spaces, such as mass transit, hampers women’s ability to access employment opportunities and fully participate in the workforce. The lack of services and financing for parents with young children places a disproportionate burden on women. Furthermore, the effectiveness of gender-sensitive legislation is often undermined by inadequate enforcement mechanisms. In many regions, women’s limited political clout fuels a self-perpetuating cycle of restricted legal rights and reduced economic empowerment.

Recognizing the importance of women’s representation in political leadership, the World Bank, represented by the Women Business and the Law (WBL) reportWomen Political Leaders (WPL), and the Oliver Wyman Forum (OWF), have joined forces to address the challenges faced by women in political leadership positions. Our collaborative efforts under the Representation Matters program aim to foster women’s participation in decision-making positions, and to promote legal equality and economic opportunities not only for women, but for everyone.

The initiative comes at a critical time. Achieving equal opportunity is not only a fundamental human right for half of the world’s population; it is also an opportunity to drive faster economic growth, fostering prosperity for all.

Expanding research on women’s political representation. The Representation Matters program will focus its efforts on analyzing the impact of bolstering women’s political representation on laws and policies that foster economic and legal gender equality. These insights could turn the vicious circle of limited legal rights and diminished economic empowerment into a virtuous one in which women participate at a higher rate in the political process, step into leadership and decision-making positions, and promote laws and policies that empower women.  

The dividends of cultivating such a virtuous circle can be substantial. Several World Bank programs have demonstrated that empowering women through information and cash transfers improves children’s health and educational outcomes and makes economies more resilient. The World Bank estimates that eliminating discrimination against women could increase the global GDP by 20% over the next decade.

Nevertheless, the political landscape remains challenging for women. Instigating a positive shift will require changes in culture and political institutions. Numerous legislative bodies still lack provisions for paid maternity leave or paternity leave, while gender balance remains elusive in many governing chambers. Hostile environments can often drive many women away from politics, with a significant proportion leaving after just one term. A global survey of female parliamentarians revealed widespread psychological violence, including sexist remarks and imagery, with 44% of respondents facing threats of death, rape, or abduction.

Political institutions could learn from the private sector. While not flawless, leading companies are actively evaluating their policies and work environments to attract and retain talent across genders, while closely monitoring recruitment performance. The recent Oliver Wyman Forum’s Global Consumer Sentiment survey showed a shift in attitudes, with fewer Gen Z women than men expressing disinterest in political leadership—a first among all current generations.

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