In recent decades, the status of women and girls has improved around the world, but much more needs to be done. The vicious rape and death of a young woman in Delhi recently horrified us all, and also underlined just how far the world needs to go in order to protect women and girls. Violence against women is far too pervasive - an estimated 510 million women alive today will be abused by their partner in their lifetime.
There are many other sobering statistics as well: Women in developing countries die in childbirth every 1.5 minutes. The number of missing women and girls - due to sex selective abortions and premature mortality - amount to some 3.9 million annually. And fewer than half of women have jobs, compared to almost four-fifths of men.
What can we do to accelerate progress? Ahead of next week's International Women's Day, here are three priorities to consider for a global agenda:
Ensure that women have the basic freedoms they deserve. In over 100 countries, men and women still do not have totally equal status under the law. Such differences can prevent a woman from opening a bank account, getting a job without permission from her husband, or being able to own and manage property. In Tanzania, Morocco, and Nepal, for example, daughters do not inherit equally with sons. In Chile, the Philippines and Cote d'Ivoire, women cannot manage marital property on equal terms with their husbands. And in the Middle East and North Africa, although women were central to many of the protests during the Arab Spring, today some countries are suggesting a lowering of the legal age of marriage and decriminalization of female genital mutilation.
Enforce laws that jail rapists and those who abuse women. One hundred countries around the world now classify rape as a crime, but half of those still do not criminalize rape within marriage and enforcement remains weak. As the aftermath of the tragedy in India reminds us, communities and governments need to act together, to tackle underlying constraints like low public awareness about the nature and scale of the challenge, and the lack of training and sensitization of police and judicial agencies.
Significantly increase women's political voice. Just one in five national parliamentarians worldwide is a woman, demonstrating a need for quotas and broader measures to improve representation and women's political voice. Polls show most people favor women holding leadership positions; in the Middle East and North Africa, for example, 70 percent of Gallup Poll respondents agree that women should be able to hold national leadership positions, while in Sub-Saharan Africa 88 percent agree.
We at the World Bank Group will continue to push for progress in these priority areas. One way for us to help is to collect better data that measure equality for women and girls. We have precious little data, for instance, on women's earnings, property ownership, and political voice. Right now, we're improving data collection in 10 countries on equality issues; we'll look at 10 additional countries after that, and still more after those 20. Also, internally, the World Bank Group is making sure leadership positions are balanced equally for women and men. We are working toward reaching that goal in four years.
Achieving equality for women and girls is an enormous challenge. I will do whatever it takes to ensure that we at the World Bank are helping to lead the way forward. We'd like to hear from you about ways that we can move ahead on the gender equality agenda with a renewed sense of urgency.