gender equality and development, or ignoring men's needs

World Bank's Gender Equality and Development doesn't appreciate the history of civilization

The World Bank’s World Development Report 2012, entitled Gender Equality and Development, addresses gender equality in a way so widely supported and so beyond criticism that one can only laugh heartily, or tremble mightily for the future of the world. The very first paragraph of this prestigious publication’s summary states:

in a third of all countries girls now outnumber boys in secondary school.  And more young women than men attend universities in 60 countries. Women are using their education to participate more in the labor force: they now make up for 40 percent of the global labor force and 43 percent of its farmers. Moreover, women now live longer than men in every region of the world. [1]

Given this recognition that men are falling behind women in formal education in many countries, what recommendations does the World Bank make to improve the attractiveness of formal education to boys and men?

Given that women are now participating more in the labor force, what is the World Bank doing to improve opportunities for men to drop out of the paid labor force to do non-market work for their families and for volunteer organizations?

In many countries, men are awarded custody of children much less frequently than women are.  Children to most persons are much more important work of their lives than their labor market jobs.  What is the World Bank doing to address gender inequalities in child custody?

No gender inequality is more fundamental than gender inequality in lifespans.  What is the World Bank’s gender equality and development agenda doing to promote gender equality in lifespans? [2]

Across its 458 pages of earnest, detailed text, the World Bank’s Gender Equality and Development shows no concern for gender inequalities hurting men.  Gender equality in Gender Equality and Development doesn’t encompass concern for men’s shorter lifespans and for improving men’s opportunities for true, meaningful relations with their biological childrenGender Equality and Development ignores men’s needs.[3]  That’s an outrageous inequality in a leading institution’s leading report on gender equality and development.

Gender Equality and Development glibly declares the gender equality is a “core development objective” and also “smart economics.”  Ignoring men’s needs is a prevalent aspect of current, implicitly universalized elite values.  Ignoring men’s needs, however, surely isn’t smart economics.  More importantly, the stakes for gender equality and development are broader than economics.  Gender Equality and Development points to a more general problem in the development of public reason.  Institutions and societies that don’t foster high-quality public reason will not be able to respond effectively to crises and are unlikely to endure.  The challenge for every country is to find a better developmental path than that which the World Bank displays in Gender Equality and Development.

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[1] The full text of Gender Equality and Development is available for free online.

[2] Essential to human capabilities is being alive. The World Bank has declared:

Because of the natural female biological advantage, when female child mortality is as high as or higher than male child mortality, there is good reason to believe that girls are being discriminated against. (World Development Indicators 2003, p. 31)

That’s naturalizing a gender inequality that hurts males.  In the United Nations’ Gender-Related Development Index (GDI), equality of lifespan among males and females is defined as females having a five-year greater life expectancy at birth than males.  See UN, Human Development Report, 2005, p. 343.  Thus inequality is defined to be equality.

Life expectancy changes greatly in response to highly mutable environmental factors.  Across the world, male and female life expectancies vary from under 40 years to over 75 years. From 1790 to 2000, life expectancy at birth for males and females in the U.S. increased from about 44 years of life for males and females to 74 years for males and 79 years for females.  Unequal lifespans for males and females are not natural.  Policies to promote gender equality in lifespans are feasible.  Given prevalent differences in male and female labor market preferences, promoting gender equality in lifespans is probably more feasible than promoting gender equality in labor-market earnings.

[3] The only section of Gender Equality and Development that focuses on men is a three-page spread entitled The Decline of the Breadwinner: Men in the 21st Century.  That title unself-consciously echoes the social reduction of men’s value to providing food (money) to others.  Using selected quotations, the text re-enforces disparaging stereotypes of men, e.g. men as brutish dominators, resisting change.  The text presents a pseudo-quantitative analysis of power based on survey data that could easily be tainted by the observer basis readily apparent in the section itself.  Appropriate to its misandristic bias, the text concludes with a pernicious stereotype of male domestic violence.

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