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Global Women’s Leadership Project Fellows submit report to World Bank on gender disparities in access to legal identification

May 06, 2019

This spring, Penn Law’s Global Women’s Leadership Project Fellows submitted a report to the World Bank Identification for Development (ID4D) Initiative on the subject of gender-based differences in access to official forms of identification, and the impact on financial inclusion, access to education, and more. Developed under the supervision of Associate Dean for International Programs Rangita de Silva de Alwis, the report, “Informing the World Bank’s Gender and Identification for Development Initiative,” analyzes the gender implications of the legal system and the application of international legal instruments to women and identification.

The World Bank Group’s Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative, in conjunction with the Gates Foundation, estimates that globally one billion people are unable to prove their identity. The majority of the one billion live in low-income countries (LICs), particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Women and the poor are less likely to have an ID than other population groups. There is little evidence about what causes the gender gap in possession of officially recognized IDs and how it might vary within countries between the rich and the poor and different ethnic groups. In the report, the students argue that it is important to address the gender gap because women’s lack of access to IDs will constrain potential progress in other areas critical to poverty reduction such as financial inclusion, ownership of mobile phones, health services, social protection, and other development goals that are critical for the empowerment of women and girls.

Fumnanya Ekhator L’20 led the research on Nigeria, Sophia Gaulkin L’20 on Tonga, and Brendan Holman L’20 examined comparative case studies. Sabine Cardio L’19, Jessica Rizzo L’21, Radhika Saxena LLM’19, and Makenzie Way L’20 served as research assistants.

In the report, the students surveyed Tonga’s current identification coverage and regulatory landscape, including the country’s digital identification potential, and found asymmetries in Tonga’s laws, culture, and human rights commitments. These asymmetries revealed the gaps in Tonga’s frameworks for ensuring substantive equality in women’s access to legal identity and financial inclusion. As a potential solution, the students envisioned that the use of digital identity might transform Tonga’s natural disaster prevention, response, and recovery efforts.

Students also examined the identification infrastructure of Nigeria, considering the issue in light of Nigeria’s parallel legal systems, the socioeconomic disparities between the North and South, the current status of gender rights and politics, the effects of corruption, and inequalities between rural and more developed regions. In the report, the students argue that birth registration is best suited to Nigeria’s sociopolitical landscape, and identified an entrepreneurial model as a case study for the best way to implement such registration.

Read the full report here

For International Women’s Day, de Silva de Alwis interviewed World Bank General Counsel and Senior Vice President Sandie Okoro, for whom the students produced the report. Read the interview here